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January 26, 2011

By-Election in Store for Vancouver - Fraserview?

Bill Tieleman posted an article to his blog expressing sympathy with Kash Heed's argument that he can't file the required report with Elections BC because he has no knowledge of his campaign finances and has no access to the records. I'm less sympathetic because any candidate should know the harsh consequences for exceeding the expense limit. When the Act was passed in 1995, the penalties for political parties received extensive debate, but no one questioned the penalties for candidates.

Sections 217 and 219 of the Act are clear. Section 217 says that unless relief is granted by a court, a candidate whose election expenses exceed the expense limit will, if having been elected, have his seat declared vacant and the candidate must pay a fine equal to twice the amount by which expenses exceeded the limit. Section 219 says that a court can grant a candidate relief if it finds the candidate acted in good faith.

If the penalty for exceeding the expense limit was just a fine, rather than loss of the seat, it would make a joke of the limit. Just paying a fine would be nothing but a permit to spend without limit, with the fine becoming another cost of doing business.

A rigorous interpretation of the Act would have seen Heed's seat declared vacant 30 days after an independent audit discovered that he had exceeded his expense limits. That would have resulted in a by-election, in which Heed could not run, no later than December 2010, during the height of the anti-HST backlash. Elections BC granted Heed time extensions that allowed him to cling to office for 6 months beyond the discovery of the election expense overrun.

Heed's original election financing report, filed on August 7, 2009 reported $63,203 in expenses, a subsequent amendment changed the expense figure to $60,762. The candidate expense limit for the 2009 election was $70,000. Knowing that the consequences for exceeding the expense limit are harsh, most campaigns make every effort to assure that they finish at least ten per cent under the limit. According to the report in the Vancouver Sun, the independent audit found that Heed exceeded his expense limit by $4,135.70. If Heed were to file a report confirming that, his seat would be declared vacant. His only alternative for saving his seat is to challenge the independent audit, but he has chosen to blame any shortcomings on senior staff in his campaign claiming that, as someone new to politics, he was ignorant of the law.

The former police chief should understand that ignorance of the law is no excuse. Before the Liberals choose their new leader on February 26th, we should know whether Heed can convince a judge that he acted in good faith with respect to his overspending.