OTTAWA - Canada's former chief electoral officer applauded the abrupt end of a controversial Conservative political action committee Friday and called on similar third-party groups to shut their doors as well.
Jean-Pierre Kingsley said he was "very happy" to learn the group known as HarperPAC had shut down, and said he believes others — including the left-leaning Engage Canada — ought to follow suit.
The website for HarperPAC, the brainchild of several longtime Conservative supporters, disappeared late Thursday after a party spokesman publicly criticized the group — particularly its choice of name.
"I think they should all shut down," Kingsley said.
"Don't set up shop, wait for the writ to be dropped and then register as a third party as you're supposed to. And follow the rules."
Kingsley said he is particularly concerned that third-party political organizations are cropping up to take advantage of a lack of regulation in the months before this fall's Oct. 19 vote — a consequence of a fixed election date.
He has expressed fear that Canada has been going down a path similar to the U.S., where so-called political action committees — known as PACs — raise and spend huge sums of money to influence political outcomes.
"We have no idea who they are, we have no idea who is contributing, we have no idea how much they are contributing," Kingsley said. "Return the contributions and let us have an election in accordance with the law."
HarperPAC has promised to return donations to contributors.
Engage Canada, another group launched earlier this month by former NDP and Liberal strategists, claims to be non-partisan. On Friday, it launched a new television ad targeting the Conservative approach to health care.
The group did not respond to a request for an interview on Friday but it issued a statement instead.
"Engage Canada is operating with the current legislative framework," spokesperson Jessica Hume said in an email.
Third-party groups can accept money in the pre-writ period without having to disclose dollar figures or where donations come from.
In an statement released on Twitter, HarperPAC spokesman Stephen Taylor credited the recent debate about the group, its name and its objectives for bringing the issue of third-party advertising in Canada out of the shadows.
Taylor has said HarperPAC was formed in response to others on the left, such as Engage Canada, that are funded by union dollars.
"We have contributed to a new discussion about political financing in a fixed election era that is critical to our democracy," he said.
Taylor did not respond to interview requests Friday.
The decision to shutter HarperPAC came after Conservative spokesman Kory Teneycke spoke out publicly against the organization in a report in the Toronto Star.
The party does not "need proxies or other organizations" to speak on its behalf, Teneycke said Friday.
"We are more than capable of doing it ourselves," he said. "I'm sure the motives of these people were well-intentioned, but their efforts were ill-conceived and unhelpful, ultimately."
Teneycke called it "very inappropriate" to start an organization in another person's name that left a reasonable impression the group has something to do with the Conservative Party of Canada when it does not.
"We were prepared to take whatever actions necessary to prevent that from continuing."