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Does the public have a right to know? A PoliticsWatch.com exclusive on leadership campaign financing

By Alan Martin, PoliticsWatch News (Posted December 5, 2001)

OTTAWA -- Jean-Pierre Kingsley, Canada's chief electoral officer, caused a minor tempest when he called on Liberal leadership hopefuls to publicly disclose the names of their financial backers.

Hon. Don Boudria - Government House Leader [file photo: (c) PoliticsWatch.com - yes you can buy this picture!]Liberal House Leader Don Boudria immediately dismissed Kingsley, saying the issue is entirely outside of the chief electoral officer's mandate.

"That has nothing to do with elections,'' Boudria said. "It's an issue for political parties to determine.''

Fisheries Minister Herb Dhaliwal was the only cabinet minister to give immediate support to Kingsley's suggestion.

Hon. Herb Dhaliwal - Minister of Fisheries [file photo: (c) PoliticsWatch.com - yes you can buy this picture!]"I think it's something we should seriously look at because Canadians want greater transparency," Dhaliwal told reporters following Mr. Kingsley's annual report to Parliament. "They want to know where the funds come from."

Most ministerial offices polled by PoliticsWatch.com this week, however, may not share that sentiment. 

Industry Minister Allan Rock (c) PoliticsWatchOnly Allan Rock, the health minister and would-be liberal leadership contender, voiced approval for the idea.

 "We support disclosure, and there are rules in place for when a leadership contest is in place," said a Rock spokesperson.

A spokesperson for John Manley said her boss could not respond personally since he was in Europe, "but knowing him he is always for disclosure."John Manley [file photo: (c) PoliticsWatch.com - yes you can buy this photo!]

Ministerial offices of other front runners, however, were less committal. 

Heritage Minister Sheila Copps may favour the status quo. According to her spokesperson Kerry Edmonds, "Ms. Copps believes it is an internal party matter and she agrees with comments already made by Don Boudria."

In 1990, Ms. Copps was the first Liberal leadership candidate in that campaign to reveal the names and amounts of $1-million in donations.

The offices of Finance Minister Paul Martin and Industry Minister Brian Tobin refused comment.

And with good reason.Paul Martin - file photo (c) PoliticsWatch.com - yes you can buy this picture!

In the undeclared race for the Liberal leadership, the biggest issue is proving not to be the candidates' different vision of the future, but the size of their all-important war chests.

Brian Tobin -  file photo (c) PoliticsWatch.com - yes you can buy this picture!Brian Tobin is reported have amassed as much as $10-million in financial "commitments", while Paul Martin's haul is estimated to be at least half that figure.

Unlike during provincial and federal elections where candidates are forced to disclose donor lists and the value of contributions to the chief electoral officer, guidelines governing political party leadership campaigns are left to the discretion of individual parties.

Given that there is no official leadership race as of yet, candidates govern themselves, free of any public scrutiny into who's giving what and whether there are any strings attached.

This lack of disclosure, critics argue, threatens to put potential contenders in a conflict of interest, secretly accepting donations from individuals, groups or companies with whom their departments do business.

Jean-Pierre Kingsley, Chief Electoral Officer of Canada [photo source: http://www.forum.ca/images/kings.jpg ]"Canadians have a right to know who is behind leadership bids ... Not knowing breeds cynicism," Mr. Kingsley said.

"This is essential for an informed vote and for maintaining the trust of Canadians in the integrity of the process as well for their continued participation in the process," he said. "Let the sun shine on contributions and on expenditures by leadership candidates."

Bankrolling a national leadership campaign is no small matter. In this day and age, a prospective candidate that doesn't have at least $4-million in the bag by the time Prime Minister Chretien retires is guaranteed to never get out of the starting blocks.

And mastering the rubber chicken circuit is key, as it demonstrates that a candidate has the political machinery necessary to score the ultimate deciders: delegate votes.

In the absence of rules, leadership hopefuls can resort to any means to secure the ultimate prize. There are no laws to break, and convention, practice, and precedent vary according to political party.

It is yet to be determined if reforming disclosure rules for leadership campaign financing is on the Liberal government's priorities.

Several ministerial offices preferred to avoid the subject altogether.

Anthony Polci, spokesman for Transport Minister David Collenette, said it "was not an issue he wants to get into."

Ditto for Human Development Resources Minister Jane Stewart. 

"It's not something she would be looking at discussing," press secretary Beth Clarkson said. "The way Ms. Stewart runs her department gives an indication as to her views on transparency."

Hon. Martin Cauchon, Minister of Revenue and Customs [file photo: (c) PoliticsWatch.com - yes you can buy this picture!]Martin Cauchon, minister of Canada Customs and Revenue who some are already touting as a future leadership prospect down the road, was equally circumspect. 

"You can try at other doors," said spokeswoman Suzanne Thebarge. "The Minister does not comment on those things. He is not affected by that."

Two other ministerial offices -- Art Eggleton and Anne McLellan -- did not respond to inquiries.




Chief Electoral Officer Tables Report on Recommendations for Changes to the Canada Elections Act (November 27, 2001)



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