Kevin O’Leary Sues Elections Canada Over Fundraising Limits

(Kevin O’Leary, former candidate for CPC, to replace Stephen Harper)

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CBC published an article announcing that former Conservative Party leadership candidate, Kevin O’Leary, is suing Elections Canada over ruling relating to how he can pay back campaign debt. During the election campaign, O’Leary accumulated about $2,000,000 in debt. Approximately $400,000 is still outstanding.

Kevin-O-Leary

A quote from the article states that:

In his claim, O’Leary said that it is proving too difficult to raise the necessary funds in the three-year timeframe set by Elections Canada laws because people are understandably “uninterested” in contributing to a failed campaign that is long over.

He has a good point. No one would be interested in contributing to a political campaign that has long since ended. So it does posse serious challenges for him to do so.

Further, the article raises an interesting question:

“If you’re out of the race, and you’re not a politician any more and you owe money to a fellow citizen, where is it right that the law protects you from ever paying it back? That’s un-Canadian. That’s unconstitutional. That’s simply wrong,”

Again, this is valid. O’Leary’s brief political career is finished. He claims to never wish to run for office again, so what is the issue with him simply paying the debts and moving on with his life? O’Leary states that he has the funds available to do so, but is prohibited from doing so under the Canada Elections Act.

The claim filed is available here, and let’s go through some of the better arguments.

Regarding the applicable laws, the claim states:

1. A declaration that subsections 367(1)(d), (6) and (7), 478.756), and 500(1) of the Canada Elections Act, SC. 2000, c. 9 (the ?Act?) (collectively referred to herein as the impugned provisions) infringe on and deny the rights and freedoms guaranteed by sections 3 and 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (the Charter)

and are not saved by section 1 thereof;

2. A declaration that, insofar as the impugned provisions infringe on and deny the rights and freedoms guaranteed by sections 3 and/or 7 of the Charter and cannot be justified under section 1 of the Charter, those provisions are invalid and of no force and effect, to

the extent of the inconsistency;
3. In addition, or in the alternative:

a. A declaration that the impugned provisions violate the constitutional principle of the rule of law, which requires that laws be written and interpreted according to an intelligible legal standard that gives individuals fair notice of the conduct that will

attract imprisonment by the state;

b. A declaration that, insofar as the impugned provisions fail to meet the constitutional standard of legislative precision required by the rule of law, these provisions are invalid and of no force and effect or, in the alternative, must be read down so as to

satisfy this standard;

Okay, let’s dissect this word salad. O’Leary claims that portions of the Canada Elections Act, violate several provisions of the Canadian Charter. The “reasonable limitation is the Charter (section 1) would not apply and justify the C.E.A. Further, he implies that the C.E.A. is written in a too confusing standard to be followed.

Here is the Canada Elections Act.

Contribution limits
367 (1) Subject to subsection 373(4), no individual shall make contributions that exceed

(a) $1,500 in total in any calendar year to a particular registered party;
(b) $1,500 in total in any calendar year to the registered associations, nomination contestants and candidates of a particular registered party;
(c) $1,500 in total to a candidate for a particular election who is not the candidate of a registered party; and
(d) $1,500 in total in any calendar year to the leadership contestants in a particular leadership contest.

Contributions — candidates and leadership contestants
(6) Subject to subsection (7), no candidate in a particular election and no leadership contestant in a particular leadership contest shall make a contribution out of their own funds to their own campaign.
Marginal note:

Exception — certain contributions to own campaign
(7) The following contributions are permitted:
(a) contributions that do not exceed $5,000 in total by a candidate for a particular election out of their own funds to their own campaign; and
(b) contributions that do not exceed $25,000 in total by a leadership contestant in a particular leadership contest out of their own funds to their own campaign.

Okay, 367(1)(d) has to do with individuals making contributions being limited to $1,500 per year to any leadership contestant. Sections (6) and (7) have to do with overall individual limits. It is definitely reasonable that there should be contribution limits, in order to avoid having candidates “BOUGHT AND PAID FOR”. However, should that apply to former candidates who have since moved on.

3 potential counter arguments against O’Leary though:
(a) What if a person “hasn’t” moved on, and intends to use this relief for future campaigns?
(b) Would removing this cap be an end-run around spending limits?
(c) Would this restriction be necessary to ensure “smaller candidates” get a fair shot?

There is no 478.756 in the Canada Elections Act. It appears to be a type in the claim. However, this is the provision that I believe O’Leary was referring to. That is 478.75.

Payment within three years
478.75 (1) If a claim for a leadership campaign expense is evidenced by an invoice or other document that has been sent under section 478.74, or if a claim for repayment of a loan is made to the leadership contestant under section 373, the claim shall be paid within three years after the day on which the leadership contest ends.

Once more this seems to make a good point. The C.E.A requires repayment within 3 years. However, if former candidates must: (I) pay in 3 years or less; (II) are not actually able to raise more donations because they are not running; and (III) have strict limits as to how much of their personal wealth they can use, then there seem to be few, if any options.

Now, for section 500 of the C.E.A.:

Marginal note:
Punishment — strict liability offences
500 (1) Every person who is guilty of an offence under any of subsections 484(1), 486(1), 489(1), 491(1), 492(1), 495(1), 495.1(1), 495.2(1), 496(1), 497(1), 497.1(1), 497.2(1), 497.3(1), 497.4(1), 497.5(1) and 499(1) is liable on summary conviction to a fine of not more than $2,000 or to imprisonment for a term of not more than three months, or to both.

I’m not going to quote the entirety of Section 500. The point is that O’Leary is correct, the C.E.A. does in fact threaten jail time as a punishment for failing to comply.

One the surface, Kevin O’Leary’s claim seems to be valid, given the strict rules the C.E.A. sets out. But let’s now check out the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which the lawsuit references as relief.

Democratic rights of citizens
3. Every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein.

Life, liberty and security of person
7. Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.

Rights and freedoms in Canada
1. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

O’Leary makes the argument that fairly large campaigns are necessary to be elected as part of a legislative assembly. Without debating the merits of “big money”, it is a fact. Campaigns and elections are expensive to run.

Section 7 has to do with punishments, which Section 500 of the C.E.A. establishes can be up to 90 days in prison for violating provisions of the act.

Section 1 is often invoked as a “reasonable justification” for restricting Charter rights. Obviously, in order to restrict, there must be some societal overall good. While Elections Canada will obviously argue differently, O’Leary is attempting to preempt the defence by stating there is none.

Thoughts And Conclusions
Obviously, this is only beginning. The claim has been filed, but no response or defence has yet been made.

On the surface, the claim makes valid points. O’Leary, like all Canadian citizens, is allowed to run for any legislative assembly or body he wishes to. Today’s reality is that campaigns are long, expensive, and a financial drain to run. However, candidates may find themselves hamstrung by campaign finance rules, which seem overly complex and tedious.

As stated earlier, I see a few possible defences for Elections Canada
(a) What if a person “hasn’t” moved on, and intends to use this relief for future campaigns?
(b) Would removing this cap be an end-run around spending limits?
(c) Would this restriction be necessary to ensure “smaller candidates” get a fair shot?

Politicians (and aspiring politicians) across the country will likely be tracking this case, as it will have real impact on future elections and party leadership races.

As a side note: CBC published the article a month after the case was filed. Not that it is relevant to the case, but did they not know about it until then?

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