Green Party leader Elizabeth May attempts to make history on May 2, by winning in Saanich-Gulf Islands near Victoria and becoming Canada’s first Green MP. But the Victoria area has also been notable for the mysterious emergence of a plethora of supposedly independent “third party” advertisers supporting Conservative candidates in the closing days in each of the last two election campaigns in 2006 and 2008. The groups were mainly funded by Conservative contributors and their spouses, were facilitated by Conservative campaign managers, and used the local Conservative media planner, Treehouse Media. This overall pattern is evidence of possible collusion to circumvent Elections Canada campaign spending and contribution limits.
The battle between Green Party leader Elizabeth May and Conservative cabinet member Gary Lunn for the southern Vancouver Island riding of Saanich-Gulf Islands, just outside Victoria, is shaping up to be one of the most hotly contested and closely watched races in the May 2 Canadian election. Not only is May seeking to make history as the Canada’s first ever Green MP, but the Victoria area has an interesting electoral story of its own.
Last time around in 2008, Lunn eked out a narrow victory over the Liberals’ Briony Penn, thanks in part to a shadowy network of five local third-party advertisers that popped up to support Lunn on the last weekend of the campaign. Four of the five fly-by-night organizations shared the same financial agent and used the same contact address, which happened to be the law office of Conservative riding association vice-president Bruce Hallsor. The resulting accusations of collusion to breach election spending limits have still not been resolved by Elections Canada.
Today, I’ll present new evidence about that case. It turns out that the tactic of dubious last-minute third-party advertising was first used in the neighbouring Victoria riding in the losing 2005-2006 election bid by Conservative Robin Baird. The links of the third parties to the Conservatives were, if anything, even more obvious – two of the ostensibly independent organizations showed involvement by contributors to Baird’s campaign, while the third was led by the wife of a local Conservative fund-raiser. Even worse, all three were apparently steered to the Conservatives’ regional media consultant, Steve Hutchinson of Treehouse Media, to co-ordinate creation and placement of advertising, a hitherto unnoticed pattern that was repeated in 2008. And in both 2006 and 2008, Conservative advertising was purchased up to the week before election, while the third parties took over all advertising spending after that date. Thus, there is now even clearer and more compelling evidence that these fictional “third parties” may be best understood as part of a Conservative initiative to fashion a last minute “push”, while circumventing election spending and contribution limits.