OTTAWA — A pair of Conservative campaigns that were forced to refund the proceeds from two separate fundraising events earlier this year say Canada's new political financing law should not be applied retroactively.
Two Ontario riding associations returned proceeds from the January events — one attended by Conservative deputy leader Lisa Raitt in Mississauga—Streetsville, the other featuring foreign affairs critic Erin O'Toole in his Durham riding.
Because of loose ends arising from their bids for the Conservative leadership in 2017, Elections Canada considered Raitt and O'Toole to be leadership candidates at the time of the fundraisers under rules in Bill C-50, which took effect in December.
That law, introduced last summer by Electoral Reform Minister Karina Gould, requires events that feature a prominent attendee — a leadership contestant, a party leader, an interim leader, or a cabinet minister — to be reported to Elections Canada, which the riding associations did not do.
O'Toole, who was forced to return about $30,000 from what was his largest riding association event of the year, said he disagrees with what he called Elections Canada's interpretation of the law, which he didn't learn about until several weeks after his fundraiser.
The forgone proceeds, combined with how long it took to find out Elections Canada was applying the law retroactively, was "quite frustrating" and "not great form," O'Toole said in an email.
There's nothing in the bill to suggest it would apply to candidates from races that were completed before the bill came into force last year, O'Toole added.
"From a legal perspective, all legislation is prospective — going forward in time only — unless there is express government intention to apply the new rules to past events," O'Toole said.
"There was no such intention when Minister Gould introduced the bill."
A spokesperson for Elections Canada said the agency was applying the rules as they were drafted by Parliament, and the status of the leadership candidates was not a matter of interpretation or discretion on the part of the agency.
O'Toole said he ultimately decided he did not want to engage in a dispute with Elections Canada and was as transparent as possible throughout the process. He said he proactively told Elections Canada about his event when he learned how they were applying the law.
David Bishop, president of the Mississauga-Streetsville electoral district association, echoed O'Toole's frustration.
"No EDA would want to put themselves in a position that costs them time and money ahead of an election," Bishop said, "but we have strived to be completely transparent and to work with Elections Canada as soon as we learned of their view."
Bishop did not disclose how much the event raised.
A spokesperson for Elections Canada said the chief electoral officer, Stephane Perrault, "recognizes the challenge posed by the application of the C-50 rules once leadership contests are over."
Natasha Gauthier said Perrault was going to make a recommendation in a report after the election "to address this situation," and it would be up to Parliament to change the rules around reporting.
The event featuring O'Toole was held Jan. 17 at the Albany Club in Toronto, while the Mississauga-Streetsville event Raitt attended took place Jan. 21.
The event attended by Raitt was attended by 18 people and required at least one person to pay $250 to attend, according to Elections Canada documents. O'Toole's event was attended by 46 people, and required at least one person to pay $500 to attend. It's not clear whether all attendees for the events paid the amount listed in the documents.
Christian Paas-Lang, The Canadian Press