OTTAWA—The federal New Democrats returned more than $340,000 in advertising revenue received over six years following a Conservative party complaint to Elections Canada about union logos at a Vancouver policy convention, the Star has learned.
The Star obtained internal party documents showing the federal NDP returned a total of $344,468 — including GST — in advertising revenues from eight unions and seven other organizations, received at three separate policy conventions. The funds were returned in April and May.
The amount includes $40,860 at the 2006 convention in Quebec City, $102,500 from the 2009 convention in Halifax and $201,108 at the Vancouver convention last year.
Elections Canada said earlier this year the NDP had violated political financing laws by accepting an unspecified amount in sponsorships from unions at the Vancouver convention in June 2011, saying those sponsorships fall under the rules that ban donations from unions and corporations.
Elections Canada told the Conservative party that the NDP had “taken the required steps” to be in compliance with the law but the party and its leader, Thomas Mulcair, had until now refused to disclose how much money they had to pay back, or to whom.
The Conservatives filed a complaint with Elections Canada last summer over union logos appearing at events such as a fundraising dinner featuring the late NDP leader Jack Layton and Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter.
Nathan Rotman, national director of the NDP, said the party believed it was acting within the law when it sold the advertising spots in question, but decided to pay the money back rather than fight Elections Canada in court.
“We had several discussions with regard to our interpretation versus theirs of whether advertising constitutes a contribution or not. At the end of the day, we decided not to fight it in court and we returned the money as per Elections Canada’s request,” Rotman said in an interview on Friday. “While we feel like we were acting within the limits of the legislation, we weren’t prepared to go through a longer process with regard to a court case.”
Elections Canada had no comment on Friday, but in a June 5 letter to Rotman, François Bernier, deputy chief electoral officer, thanked the NDP “for the full cooperation it has given to Elections Canada in order to resolve the issue promptly and effectively”.
An NDP insider familiar with the issue said that in 2003, when the Liberal government under Jean Chrétien moved to limit donations from unions and corporations, the party sought an opinion from Elections Canada as to whether money obtained through selling advertising would be considered a political contribution.
“Where a person or entity purchases goods or services from a registered party with the intention of economically benefitting the party, the payment for goods and services will not constitute contributions to the extent that the payment reflects the fair market value of the goods and services purchased. Any amount of the payment above the fair market value will constitute a contribution if the person purchasing the good and service intended to benefit the party,” says a document obtained by the Star outlining Election Canada’s response to the NDP’s question on the matter.
Three years later, the Conservative government banned donations from unions and corporations altogether.
The party insider said the NDP also sought legal opinion and hired a third-party company to assess what fair market value for advertising would be in advance of each of the three policy conventions in question and followed those recommendations.
Brad Lavigne, former national director of the NDP, said this shows the party intended to stay within the rules.
“We put an emphasis on going to a third-party company to assess market value in order to keep (to) the letter as well as the spirit of the law,” Lavigne said. “We felt that while it wasn’t legally necessary to seek third-party validation for market value, we felt that it would be appropriate and well worth the investment.”
The advertising revenue generated by the labour movement involved money from the United Steelworkers, the Canadian Labour Congress, the United Food and Commercial Workers, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the Canadian Machinists Political League, the International Association of Firefighters, the Public Service Alliance of Canada and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada, which represents Star employees.
Money was also returned to Douglas-Coldwell Foundation, NOW Communications Inc., Universal Promotions Inc., Thistle Printing Ltd., Stephen Thomas Ltd., Stratcom and Project X Productions.
The information is expected to appear on the Elections Canada website, when the second quarterly report for the NDP will be updated to reflect this fact.
The party had originally thought it was supposed to include the information in its 2011 annual report, for which it was granted an extension.