A raid by the RCMP on Conservative party headquarters is a “PR stunt” by the independent elections agency and intended “to intimidate” the governing party in a civil court case, the Conservative party says.
The explosive charge was made in an interview with a senior party official following Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s comments in the Commons that “it is unclear in our mind why exactly Elections Canada is undertaking this action today.”
Several RCMP officers yesterday searched suites of Conservative offices on two floors at 130 Albert St. at the request of William Corbett, the commissioner of Canada elections responsible for investigating alleged violations of elections law.
In the Commons, Harper clearly linked the raid to the ongoing civil lawsuit launched by the Conservatives against Elections Canada’s interpretation of the 2006 election campaign advertising financing rules, and an alleged $1.2 million in campaign overspending.
The party insider, speaking on condition he not be identified, slammed the extraordinary raid that took place on the eve of a hearing during which Elections Canada officials were to be questioned by Conservative party lawyers. He suggested Elections Canada was seeking to distract from its own inappropriate actions against the Conservative party.
“Quite frankly they can continue to search until their face turns blue,” said the party insider. “Is it a coincidence that they visited party headquarters today when tomorrow they fully knew that their officials were going to be examined (by Conservative party lawyers) as early as tomorrow morning? We see this as a PR stunt, a tactic of intimidation.”
In an official written statement released later in the day, the Conservative party simply said that “Elections Canada visited” its party headquarters in connection with the lawsuit, and was given all the information requested. Party president Don Plett refused an interview.
At issue is a dispute over a so-called “in and out” scheme, where monies are funnelled in and out of national and local campaign coffers. The Conservatives argue it was permissible for local Tory candidates to claim expenses and rebates for some $1.2 million spending on TV commercials during the 2006 campaign that were produced by the national campaign.
Elections Canada disagrees. The chief electoral officer of Canada referred the file to Corbett, the commissioner of Canada elections — the agency’s investigative arm — for an inquiry. Corbett may, if he has reasonable grounds to believe elections laws were violated, refer the case to the director of public prosecutions. A spokesman for that office declined comment.
Yesterday, Harper went on the offensive, saying the RCMP action “may or may not delay” the planned testimony in the civil lawsuit. But he flatly insisted “our legal position is rock solid.”