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Observers say advertisers for Lunn show investigation, tougher laws needed

York University political scientist Bob MacDermid said election officials should take a closer look at third party advertising spending that may have helped Gary Lunn win his Saanich-Gulf Islands seat.

“It's an interesting case. People should take it to the Election Commissioner with whatever evidence they can marshal,” he said. “It's worth investigating. These things always are.”

An Elections Canada spokesperson said the agency never confirms nor denies whether it is conducting an investigation.

During the election, as the Tyee reported, five groups registered with Elections Canada to participate as third party advertisers using the law firm office of Conservative campaigner Bruce Hallsor for their address and phone number contact information.

A 'third party', according to the Canada Elections Act, “means a person or a group, other than a candidate, registered party or electoral district association of a registered party.”

Hallsor said he was acting for the groups as a lawyer and that he was just “a volunteer” on Lunn's campaign.

He is, however, the Vice-President of the Conservative's Saanich-Gulf Islands Electoral District Association.

And Paul McKivett, who acted as the election day chair for Lunn's Liberal opponent Briony Penn, said Hallsor was at a Sept. 26 meeting at the returning officer for the riding's office on behalf of Lunn. McKivett said Hallsor asked questions at the meeting and he believed Hallsor identified himself as Lunn's official agent.

“They would have remembered that wrong,” said Hallsor. He was at the meeting, he said, but it was “just support” for Lunn's actual official agent, Delbert Elgersma, whom he was accompanying.

MacDermid said the third party advertisers may well be working together to exceed the amount individuals are allowed to donate to campaigns. “Collusion undermines the ideas of limits on these groups,” he said. “If that's successful it will happen in more and more ridings. I have no doubt.”

University of Victoria political science professor Dennis Pilon said regulations around election spending need to be toughened. “It appears the powerful are able to spend their money anyway,” he said. “These people may not be breaking the law, but why are they representing themselves as something they're obviously not?”

Hallsor's involvement helping both the third party advertisers and Lunn's campaign should be examined, he said. “Hallsor is not just anyone. He's a high ranking member of the Conservative Party in this province.”

Democracy Watch co-ordinator Duff Conacher said loopholes in the elections act need to be closed. “Anyone serving in an official or core position in a riding association should be prohibited from serving in any official or core position for a third party.”

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

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