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Liberals allege Tories "doped" their election ad spending [PoliticsWatch updated 5:10 p.m., September 5, 2007]

Conservative television ads from the last federal election are under Election Canada's microscope.

OTTAWA  — A Liberal MP said Wednesday that an election financing scandal shows the Conservative party is no different than athletes who use performance enhancing drugs to cheat. 

Liberal MP Dominic Leblanc made the comparison at a lengthy technical briefing the Liberals held for reporters on Parliament Hill to explain the somewhat complicated scandal involving Canada's governing party. 

Elections Canada and the Conservatives are in court disputing $1 million in transfers from the national campaign to local candidates that was used for advertising spending. Elections Canada is contesting the spending because the ads purchased by the local candidates appear to be the exact same ads used by the national campaign. And the commissioner of Canada's elections is investigating whether the party exceeded campaign spending limits. 

"Is this much different from the athlete who uses illegal performance enhancing drugs to win a race or break a record?" Leblanc asked. "It appears from this scheme, that the Conservative party ran an election in which they essentially doped their ad buy in an attempt to gain advantage over their competitors."

The Liberals also showed reporters two of the ads in question. The Conservatives argue that the ads count as a riding expenditure because the candidates' names appear on a tag line at the end of the ads.  

Other than the virtually unreadable tiny tag line listing local candidates' names at the bottom of the screen, the local ads are identical to ads that aired nationally. 

While the Liberals are accusing the Tories of cheating in the last election, they are carefully trying not to directly blame their election loss on this issue. 

"Nobody here is disputing the results of the last election,"  Leblanc said. "I would not pretend that that's the purpose of this." 

"It's not up to me to dispute whether the Liberals should or shouldn't have won the last election because of this alleged scheme. Others may conclude if you change 11 ridings in the country you might have a different result." 

Within an hour of the Liberals' press conference, the Conservatives trotted out an MP for the first time to publicly comment on the scandal. 

Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre disputed Elections Canada's interpretation of what is a local ad and characterized the controversy a "free speech" issue. 

"Local candidates decide what constitutes local advertising," he said. "We're not going to have bureaucrats or the Liberal party or anybody else take away the freedom of speech of our local Conservative candidates to run the advertising that best suits them with Conservative funds." 

Even though Parliament has been prorogued and will not return until October 16, the Liberals are calling for a Commons to committee to immediately launch an investigation into the Conservative ad spending. 

Poilievre said he supported an investigation of Conservative election spending as long as all other federal political parties open up their books from the last two elections. 

"I'm sure the Liberal party will have some trouble explaining what happened to the $40 million that went missing during the sponsorship scandal. But if they want to talk about electoral financing, particularly of their party in the province of Quebec, then they're going to have to answer the same questions in the same public forum."  

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