January 1st, 2010 | 7 Comments
Two important columns in as many days from a couple of wise men three time zones apart have me taking the possibility of a spring election seriously. Don Newman is arguing in a column on the CBC Website that the Prime Minister’s prorogation is setting the stage for a spring election. And Norman Spector followed up with a column for the Globe and Mail Politics Online section, circling Tuesday April 13 as the most likely date.
I’ve taken most of the election scares over the past year with a grain of salt (even the one last September, when it put me distinctly in the minority), but the strategy and timeline proposed by Newman and Spector seem plausible now, even if they’re fraught with some risk for the Prime Minister, and are being pooh-poohed by at least one Conservative insider.
I do have a small quibble with the date currently on Mr. Spector’s column, however, because it doesn’t fit the provisions of the Elections Act. Easter Monday is April 5 this year, not April 12. Thus even though the Globe and Mail online corrected the original date from Tuesday, April 12 to Tuesday, April 13 this morning, they were right the first time. Elections have to be held on a Monday (per s.57 of the Elections Act), unless the Monday is a holiday which is the only time they can be pushed to Tuesday. Thus, April 12 would have been the correct date alright, they just corrected the wrong part of the headline.
An election for Monday, April 12 would have to be called on or before Sunday March 7 to allow a 36-day writ. The Prime Minister is calling Parliament back for a Speech from the Throne on Wednesday March 3, with a budget to be tabled the next day on Thursday March 4. Impolitical is suggesting tonight that the budget could contain a measure to eliminate the public subsidies of political parties, which the government has certainly been pretty forthright about including in their next election platform for some time. However, Spector is not suggesting the P.M. would let the budget go to a vote; he’s arguing that Mr. Harper would go straight to the Governor-General, and ask to have Parliament dissolved and an election called.
So, how ready are the parties, cash-wise?
- We’ll find out how well they did in the 4th quarter fundraising results by the end of January.
- The next installment of the public subsidy allowance is due on Monday, and will cover the period from October to December, 2009. The quarterly allowance for January to March of 2010 is payable on or around April 1.
- Central election expense rebates will have already been paid out to the parties’ headquarters. But not every candidate rebate has been paid out from the last campaign yet. Using the number of candidate returns reviewed by Elections Canada versus the number still in “as-submitted” form as a rough indicator, we get the following estimates:
- Conservatives: 196 reviewed / 307 submitted (307 candidates; 300 rebate eligible)
- Liberals: 133 returns reviewed / 298 submitted (307 candidates; 270 rebate eligible)
- Greens: 119 reviewed / 291 submitted (303 candidates; 41 rebate eligible)
- NDP: 105 reviewed / 304 submitted (308 candidates; 243 rebate eligible)
- BQ: 61 reviewed / 75 submitted (75 candidates; 71 rebate eligible)
Of course, not all the unreviewed candidates could have expected rebates either, so I’ll have to take a closer look shortly at how many rebatable candidates have not had their returns reviewed as yet.
- We don’t know what the parties’ debt situation is at the end of 2009, and won’t until their financial statements are filed at the end of June 2010. Some reporting will have to be done to see what the Liberals, NDP and Greens have to say about this now (over to you, Parliamentary Press Gallery). I don’t believe either the Conservatives or Bloc took out any loans to finance the 2008 election campaign, beyond lines of credit repayable out of their central rebates.
- We also won’t know about the riding associations’ bank balances at the end of 2009 until the end of May 2010, either. Indeed lots and lots of ridings have still not even filed their mandatory annual returns for 2008 which were due this past May 2009 (all numbers for “as submitted” state, as none have yet been posted in “as reviewed” state):
- NDP: 279 of 307 registered electoral district associations have filed their required 2008 annual returns to date
- Conservatives: 264 of 308 registered EDAs have filed, as have
- Liberals: 254 of 308 registered EDAs
- Greens: 159 of 239 registered EDAs [UPDATE: I'm advised that only 200 EDAs were registered as of May 31, 2009, however. This filing obligation would have applied to active EDAs at the end of December, 2008, which could have been fewer still, but I haven't done a thorough count by date myself.]
- BQ: 56 of 56 registered EDAs
I’ll try and assemble a picture of their net worth at the end of 2008, but it won’t be a very consistent indicator, since different associations will have been in different states of recovering from the election by the end of December of that year.
Also relevant to readiness is the number of candidates nominated, which is now at the top of my list of new year’s resolutions to catch up on.
Finally, there are a few outstanding legal issues affecting the financial situation of several political parties.
First is the case of L.G. (Gerry) Callaghan et al. v. the Chief Electoral Officer, also known as the “In and out” case, the hearings for which were being tweeted by Glen McGregor for the Ottawa Citizen before the holidays. A successful outcome for the Conservative candidates’ official agents would result in the payment of remaining disputed candidate rebates for the 2004 and 2006 elections to certain Conservative candidates. A successful outcome for Elections Canada could result in a finding that the Conservative Party overspent the limit in 2006. I don’t know when a ruling is expected.
Second is the case apparently just decided late yesterday in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice between the Conservative Party’s chief financial officer and the Chief Electoral Officer. The former sought to return a portion of the party’s central rebates for the 2004 and 2006 elections to the CEO, arguing that the amount of GST for which they received a rebate from the Canada Revenue Agency as a non-profit organization, reduced their effective election expenses in 2004 and 2006, and thus the amount of the central rebate to which they were entitled based on those expenses.
Key to the case’s implications is the fact that the Liberal Party also applied for such GST rebates, and could thus also be obligated to return a portion of its rebates, estimated at a half a million dollars or more. Unclear would be the situation for other political parties who never requested their GST payments be rebated by the CRA such as the NDP, according to Bruce Cheadle’s story for the Canadian Press last September.
A successful outcome for the Conservatives could also see calculations of their central spending for 2004 and 2006 reduced by that amount, either reducing or eliminating altogether their risk in being found to have exceeded the 2006 spending limit as a result of the first case.
The ruling is still not published, and it’s as yet unclear whether Elections Canada will file any appeal. I don’t know if any other political parties had standing in the proceedings, or would seek it in an appeal, but I’m not a lawyer and so that’s as much as I can discern about things at this stage without reading the ruling.
We are just learning about it now, because after an email bulletin was sent from Conservative Party headquarters to their own members, the victory was tweeted by Wild Rose, AB Conservative M.P. Blake Richards, then retweeted by Conservative spin doctor Tim Powers, and picked up on by the CBC’s Kady O’Malley, shortly after which the bulletin itself was sent to Paul Wells who blogged it late Thursday night. I expect we’ll see the first mainstream media coverage of the story either Saturday or Monday.
So, that’s where we are on the election watch front on the first day of 2010. Happy New Year to one and all.