There are a number of disturbing implications to a new report from CBC, mainly because the individual involved is a Cabinet minister (Peter Penashue, Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and MP for Labrador) and therefore a senior member of the government:
Letters shedding light on the election spending and deal-wrangling by a cabinet minister’s top campaign official have been removed from a public Elections Canada file.
The letters were in the file “in error” and have been removed, according to a spokesman for Elections Canada.
The letters in question were reported on by CBC several months ago. At the time, I commented that it appeared from the media reports as though the Penashue campaign had badly exceeded its campaign spending limit, run out of money to boot, and then involved itself in a series of fairly dubious transactions, including a massive loan that was initially reported as interest-free and a deal with its charter airline to write off most of the campaign-related charges.
(I should emphasize, since I’ve mentioned the airline: this is a problem with campaign financing. In no way is the airline involved implicated in any wrongdoing: all they did was provide services to a client. It’s hardly their responsibility to double-check Penashue’s books and make sure the expenditures fit below the spending cap, and companies can of course reach whatever arrangements they feel necessary with respect to payments. This issue is about Penashue’s campaign.)
Anyhow, those media reports relied upon the media’s access to certain public Elections Canada files which contain important documentation pertaining to campaign funds and audits, going into much greater detail than the top-level numbers that get published on Elections Canada’s public accountability website. Now, it seems, Elections Canada is removing some such documents from public view.
First of all, one has to wonder precisely what “error” has been made here. CBC does not explain, and Elections Canada was not forthcoming. Are we really to believe that they were placed in the file when they should not have been? Does this mean there are second, secret files kept for each candidate whose finances run into difficulties? What’s in those files? If this one isolated incident was an accident, then how many more files worth of information documenting election finance law violations is Elections Canada carefully and diligently keeping under wraps, away from the prying eyes of journalists? Who detected this “error” and demanded that it be rectified? The Chief Electoral Officer, or the Prime Minister’s Office?
The sheer negligence on the part of Elections Canada officials unearthed over the past year beggars belief: failure to follow up on hundreds of complaints of misdirection calls in a timely fashion, a Guelph investigation which will soon be two years old and has no sign of ever being completed, audits of overspending piling up left and right without any indication they will ever be completed, and through all of it, one of the most tight-lipped agencies in government, merely assuring the rest of us that if we trust the process, everything will be okay. Instead of being an actual law enforcement agency, Elections Canada appears to operate on the assumption that “it couldn’t happen here.”Tweet