Canada government ethics woes boost election talk

Tue Mar 8, 2011 8:48am EST
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Charges that senior officials broke campaign financing rules are causing headaches for Canada's minority Conservative government as speculation about an imminent election grows.

The Conservatives, who took office in 2006 after a major scandal about kickbacks brought down the previous Liberal government, are trying to dismiss the affair as a difference of opinion over accounting.

But charges that top Conservatives broke spending limits during the 2006 election campaign are an embarrassment for a party that came to power on a promise to clean up Ottawa.

And it could cost the Conservatives the support of a key opposition party for its 2011 budget, due on March 22. Without backing from one opposition party, perhaps the left-leaning New Democrats, the government falls, and there will be a new election.

The New Democrats want more help for seniors, more family doctors and end to the federal sales tax on heating fuel. But leader Jack Layton also says he is unhappy about the financing charges facing Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government.

"More and more Canadians are coming to the conclusion that you can't trust Stephen Harper on an issue as fundamental as our democracy," Layton told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

"Right now it appears he's tolerating cheating by his own party. That's got to stop."

Elections Canada, the nonpartisan body that oversees federal votes, said the Conservatives illegally assigned national advertising cash to local candidates to circumvent a C$18.3 million ($18.9 million) spending cap on political parties during federal campaigns.   Continued...

<p>Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa March 2, 2011. REUTERS/Chris Wattie</p>