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Monday, May 16, 2011 

Liberals Drowning In Debt .....

"Four Liberal MPs who lost the May 2 election still owe a total of $576,000 among them in loans for the party's 2006 leadership campaign—and their chances of drumming up donations to pay it all off have slimmed considerably.

Martha Hall Findlay, toppled by a Conservative in her affluent Willowdale riding in Toronto, said it was tough to generate contributions as MP Hall Findlay, and it can only be tougher as ordinary citizen Hall Findlay.

She and several of the candidates struggling to repay the five-year-old leadership loans were still fundraising as the May election approached. They registered contributions with Elections Canada as late as March 18, only eight days before Prime Minister Stephen Harper (Calgary Southwest, Alta.) called the vote.

"For sure it's going to be more difficult," Ms. Hall Findlay told The Hill Times, arguing a unique Elections Act cap on contributions to leadership candidates and the unusually large field of candidates, 11, have made fundraising to repay the loans comparable to searching for rare coins or lost treasure.

Anyone who has donated to any of the candidates for the contest that took place more than five years ago, and has reached their $1,100 Elections Act limit in leadership contributions for that specific contest, is prohibited from donating any more money to any of the candidates, anytime.

Ms. Hall Findlay, who lent her own campaign $125,000, said the pool of willing and available donors was being shared by 11 candidates from the outset and it has only grown smaller as the big stars—former party leader Stéphane Dion (Saint-Laurent-Cartierville, Que.) recently resigned leader Michael Ignatieff and Toronto MP Bob Rae (Toronto-Centre, Ont.)—gobbled up large donations from the largest number of donors.

"It's so difficult anyway because the pool from which to gain any more contributions for a 2006 leadership was already diminished in 2007 and 2008," Ms. Hall Findlay said. "We all pulled together to get what we could, there just isn't that much out there."

Gerard Kennedy, whose Parkdale-High Park riding in Toronto reverted to New Democrat Peggy Nash, still owes $126,963 in loans and $37,230 in unpaid claims. Joe Volpe, who lost Eglinton-Lawrence in Toronto to Conservative Joe Oliver, has a debt of $73,079. Ken Dryden, who lost York Centre in Toronto despite a last-minute rally by Michael Ignatieff and former prime minister Jean Chrétien, still owes $91,603 in loans and $122,984 in unpaid claims.

Mr. Dion, re-elected in his Montreal riding, also has about $30,000 to repay from his original loans totalling $905,000 while Hedy Fry, re-elected in her Vancouver-Centre riding, has $51,927 in outstanding loans reported to Elections Canada as of last Dec. 31.

Maurizio Bevilacqua, who resigned his Vaughan, Ont., riding last year to later win election as mayor of Vaughan, reported outstanding loans of $91,603 and unpaid claims of $122,984 as of last December.

Although the Liberals who lost their ridings will have a more difficult time finding donors now that they are no longer MPs, New Democrat Joe Comartin has little sympathy.

"The Liberals, unlike ourselves and the Conservatives, have not expanded their base for the smaller donations, the $100 to $200 or $300 ones," he said. "The candidates are part of the same problem, because they never developed that capacity to do that."

He argued the Liberals also have a history of extravagant spending.

"The Liberals, as a party, as individuals, have this expectation of grandiose events and they spend a heck of a lot more on their campaign than even our winning candidates do in the NDP," he said. "I think there's a change of culture that's needed within that party."

Ms. Hall Findlay, who spent $450,000 on her campaign, said it is the Elections Act donation limit that is causing her problems, not the legacy of a costly campaign.

"It's not like we were spendthrift, it's not like we were wasting money, it was that we were caught under this rule," she said.

Democracy Watch coordinator Duff Conacher said Ms. Hall Findlay should not have entered the race unless she knew she had the financial donations to contest it, instead of loaning her own campaign the $100,000 required as the entrance fee.

"Why did she run and why did she think she had enough support to become leader of the party?" said Mr. Conacher.

Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand initially gave the contenders an extension to their original deadline for repaying the loans, and a judge of Ontario Superior Court granted them a second extension. That deadline expires at the end of December for all of the former candidates except Mr. Dryden, whose deadline was extended to the end of June next year.

If the loans are not repaid by the end of this year, it will be up to a court to extend the deadlines again or not, said Elections Canada spokesperson Diane Benson. Ms. Benson said if the Dec. 31 deadline is not extended, and the loans are still outstanding, it may be referred to Elections Commissioner William Corbett, as is the case with outstanding claims owed by candidates or political parties.'

tnaumetz@hilltimes.com

The Hill Times
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