1. June 7
Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro came under fire during Question Period Thursday after Postmedia News and the Ottawa Citizen reported that he is being investigated for allegedly exceeding both his spending limit and contribution limit in relation to a $21,000 personal cheque he used to pay for services from Holinshed Research Group..
Records from a court case appear to contradict Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro’s claim that he paid a research company only a small amount during the 2008 election, muddying the waters as he resists calls to step down during an Elections Canada investigation for alleged campaign spending violations.
On Wednesday, Postmedia News and the Ottawa Citizen reported that Del Mastro is being investigated for allegedly exceeding both his spending limit and contribution limit in relation to a $21,000 personal cheque he used to pay for services from Holinshed Research Group.
The revelation led NDP and Liberal critics Thursday to request Del Mastro step aside as the prime minister’s parliamentary secretary until the investigation is resolved, but Del Mastro brushed aside the demands, stating that he serves “with integrity and conviction.”
In a CBC TV appearance Wednesday night, Del Mastro said his audited campaign expenses — which showed a payment of only $1,575 to Holinshed — were accurate and complete, and said the rest of the money was for other work.
“They undertook a small amount of work during the campaign, during the actual campaign writ,” he said. “That’s reflected in that campaign expenditure. They did also undertake some work at various times for my association. They would be on separate statements.”
But documents filed as part of a small-claims lawsuit launched by Holinshed appear to show that Del Mastro’s campaign manager, John McNutt, hired Holinshed for election work on Sept. 14, 2008, a week after the campaign began.
According to one of those documents, a quote on Holinshed letterhead, the company was to perform 630 hours of voter-identification calls and get-out-the-vote calls on election day and on advance poll days for $21,000.
The small claims court file also contains a cheque from Del Mastro’s personal account for the same amount dated Aug. 18, 2008, and an invoice for the completed work.
In a statement of defence filed by Del Mastro’s lawyer in the legal dispute between Holinshed and the Peterborough MP, the lawyer writes that Holinshed “had done work for the Peterborough Conservative election campaign for the general election.”
After the election, when Del Mastro’s official agent filed the campaign’s return, it included a payment to Holinshed of $1,575 and one mysterious line item worth $75,238.39. In the supplier name it said only “Advertising/Brochures/Signs.”
Elections Canada’s auditors seem to have demanded more detail, because when the audited return was posted online, the single line item was gone and 100 smaller line items were added, including a $10,000 payment to Holinshed, under the header “amounts not included in election expenses.”
The expense statement showed the campaign spent $91,770.80, just $795.99 under the limit.
The Peterborough Conservative association’s annual return for 2008 shows $9,548.32 for polling, although the supplier isn’t listed.
In a court order filed in the Ottawa courthouse, Elections Canada says it suspects that Del Mastro violated the Elections Act in two ways, by exceeding the amount he is allowed to spend on his own campaign, and by exceeding the spending limit for the riding.
His campaign’s official agent, Richard McCarthy, is suspected of improperly accepting the $21,000 alleged personal donation from Del Mastro, failing to include all the expenses in documents filed with Elections Canada and knowingly filing a false claim.
Under the Elections Act, each charge is punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 and up to five years in prison.
Del Mastro and McCarthy have both asserted that all such charges are groundless, and the statements filed were accurate and complete.
In October 2009, after their business relationship had eroded into acrimony, Holinshed wrote to McCarthy, asserting that the campaign’s return did not include all of the work the firm did during the campaign.
“Holinshed charged $20,000 plus GST to your campaign,” wrote company president Frank Hall. He included copies of the contract and invoice, and asked that the campaign rectify the “reporting error.”
In the small claims court documents, Holinshed says the firm became aware of Del Mastro’s financial report when another Conservative candidate for whom the firm worked asked why Del Mastro paid so little for election work.
In question period on Wednesday, MPs for the Liberals and the New Democrats called on Del Mastro to step down as parliamentary secretary to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in which he has acted as the government’s main defender in the “robocalls” affair.
After question period, Liberal leader Bob Rae said Del Mastro will not be an effective spokesman on Elections Canada issues since he’s under investigation by that body.
“It’s not up to us to find him guilty or not guilty,” he said. “It’s up to us to decide is this now going to be a credible spokesman for the government when it comes to issues dealing with ethics and dealing with Elections Canada.”
NDP MP Charlie Angus also said Del Mastro should step aside.
“While an investigation is under way, where Mr. Del Mastro is compromised in his ability to defend the government and also in his ability to attack Elections Canada, if that’s the government’s position, then he should step aside.”
In an email Thursday, Del Mastro declined to clear up questions about the cheque.
“I have never been contacted by Elections Canada on the matter and stand by the accuracy of my financial records,” he wrote.
Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre told CBC TV Thursday that Del Mastro will not be stepping down.
“He’s not stepping aside,” he said. “There’s no evidence of any wrongdoing here.”
In an interview on CTV TV Thursday, Del Mastro said he would come forward soon with documents showing that everything in his campaign was on the up-and-up.
Postmedia News and Ottawa Citizen
smaher AT postmedia.com
2. June 6
The MP leading the Conservative government’s defence in the robocalls scandal is himself under investigation by Elections Canada for alleged election-law violations related to voter-contact calls made by his campaign in 2008.