Conservatives face election charges

Fri Feb 25, 2011 1:39pm EST
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OTTAWA (Reuters) - In an embarrassing development for the Conservative government, four senior party officials have been charged with violating financing rules during the election campaign that brought it to power in 2006.

The Commissioner of Canada Elections, the nonpartisan officer who is responsible for ensuring compliance with federal election rules, is also bringing charges against the Conservative Party itself.

The news broke ahead of what many political observers expect will be an election early this year. The minority government needs the backing of at least one opposition party to pass key legislation, such as next month's budget, and that is far from certain. Should the budget be defeated, a new election would be called immediately.

Polls indicate the Conservatives would retain power if an election were held now, albeit with another minority.

Elections Canada, the overall body supervising federal elections, said in a statement on Friday the four officials had willfully broken the $18.3 million spending limit placed on political parties during federal campaigns.

The agency contends the party had illegally assigned national advertising expenditures to local candidates, who have their own separate campaign spending accounts. In 2008, police raided Conservative headquarters looking for evidence.

In a civil case last year regarding these advertising expenditures, the Federal Court ruled that the local Conservative candidates had not broken election financing rules, but Elections Canada is appealing the ruling.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, asked about the story in a news conference in Halifax, played down what he termed "administrative charges."

Querying why the Conservatives had been singled out, he said: "Our party followed the same steps as the other political parties."   Continued...