OTTAWA - The Conservatives tried Wednesday to blunt the political impact of an embarrassing RCMP raid on their party headquarters, accusing Elections Canada of bias and partisanship.
With a uniformed Mountie still posted outside the party's offices where a sealed search warrant was being executed, the Tories went on the offensive.
For a second straight day, Prime Minister Stephen Harper suggested the raid was timed to forestall Conservative lawyers from interviewing Elections Canada officials in relation to a civil suit launched by the governing party.
Other Tories went much further.
Government House leader Peter Van Loan claimed Conservatives alone are being targeted for investigation of election spending irregularities, and that Elections Canada had tipped off the media - and the Liberals - about the raid in order to maximize the political damage.
"I am also given pause to wonder why it was that the Liberal Party of Canada just happened to be on the scene, camera crew at the ready," he told the House of Commons.
The Liberals laughed off the suggestion, saying they found out about the raid from TV and sprinted the two blocks to the scene.
Liberal House leader Ralph Goodale called the Tory claims of bias "absolutely outrageous."
He noted that both Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand and the Elections Commissioner William Corbett were appointed under the Conservatives.
Elections Canada, in the midst of an investigation, refused to comment.
The Conservatives say the raid is connected to a dispute over more than $1 million the Tories may have overspent in the 2006 election.
The Tory so-called "in-and-out" scheme - in Elections Canada's interpretation - would have reimbursed individual Tory candidates with taxpayer refunds they didn't deserve while hiding the true cost of the party's national campaign, which was limited by law to $18.3 million.
Tories insist they've done nothing untoward and that Elections Canada is on some kind of vendetta. Their claims, following a long string of Conservative attacks on various officers of Parliament, left opposition MPs agape.
"I think the Conservative party is at war with our institutions," said Liberal Leader Stephane Dion.
"And they are attacking these institutions to the point that now you have a search warrant of two days now in their headquarters and their answer is to attack Elections Canada."
"There's always a vendetta against them," drawled Gilles Duceppe of Bloc Quebecois.
"The problem is that Harper is a control freak. He wants to control the judges. He wants to control the journalists. He wants to control his own members."
Calls for the government to reveal the exact nature of the sealed RCMP search warrant - executed at the behest of Elections Canada - were ignored by the Conservatives.
Tory MP Pierre Poilievre accused Elections Canada of offering the Liberals unfettered access to watch the raid unfold.
"Somebody should ask who in Elections Canada invited the Liberal party to make a home video out of the visit to our headquarters," he said.
A videographer hired by the Liberals was present as the raid was carried out, alongside numerous mainstream media camera crews documenting the incident.
However, no one from Elections Canada extended an invitation to the Liberals, said the Liberal party's director of communications.
"It is ridiculous to suggest that anyone tipped us off about the RCMP raid," said Leslie Swartman.
"Unlike the Conservatives, we watch the CBC and caught their breaking news about the scandal unfolding in downtown Ottawa."
It's not the first time Harper and Tories have gone to war with Elections Canada.
In 2006, the Conservatives were forced to acknowledge they had failed to properly disclose hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of donations to the party's 2005 national convention.
The party ended up refunding a few hundred dollars to the prime minister and two other delegates who had donated more than the legal annual limit of $5,400 for political contributions.
Last fall, Harper publicly called out Elections Canada for its correct interpretation of a new law on visual identification of voters.
And in his former role as head of the National Citizen's Coalition, Harper fought a long, losing battle on third-party advertising during election campaigns.