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New groups sprung up to support Lunn with paid ads

There were 52 third parties registered with Elections Canada to spend money during the campaign period leading to yesterday's election. Four of them are based at the office of a Victoria lawyer who worked on Conservative Gary Lunn's campaign.

The groups are Common Sense Advocacy of Victoria, the Dean Park Advocacy Association, the Economic Advisory Council of Saanich and the Saanich Peninsula Citizens Council. Their respective contacts are Donna Evans, Ralph Bodine, Patricia Trottier and Dana Dickinson.

Interestingly, all four share the same address, 800-1070 Douglas Street in downtown Victoria, the office of the law firm Crease Harman and Company. They also share the same phone number. The receptionist said she'd never heard of Evans, Bodine, Trottier or Dickinson.

But Crease Harman is also the firm where Bruce Hallsor works. Hallsor is a former Canadian Alliance Party candidate, proportional representation advocate and Gary Lunn supporter.

“They all wanted to register groups as third party advertisers, so I did that for them,” said Hallsor. “It's the right of every citizen who wants to express their opinion in an election to do so up to the spending limit.”

Dickinson's group did some advertising in 2006, he said, but the other three were new for this election. The groups did things like buy lawn signs and ads in the local daily newspaper, he said. All were supporting Lunn, he acknowledged. “That's right. That's how I know them.”

Other groups registered to oppose Lunn, he said.

There's a difference between the types of bodies registered at Hallsor's office and groups like the Dogwood Initiative or Conservation Voters of B.C. that have been around for several years and exist to promote an issue, not a single candidate, said Kit Spence, the campaign manager for Liberal Briony Penn against Lunn.

“These are clearly shills for the Conservative Party and Gary Lunn,” said Spence. “I happen to live in Dean Park and I know that organization never existed up until election time.”

The rules governing third party advertisers exist to allow groups with a cause to promote it during an election, he said. They are allowed to spend $3,666 in any one riding, or $183,300 country wide. “I don't think they were designed to allow candidates to create organizations that exist only for the period of an election and only to support one candidate.”

Even if the groups were outside the spirit of the law, Spence said, they were probably within its bounds. “It's within the rules, but marginally,” he said.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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