NDP fined for failing to return donation from trade unions
SYDNEY — The Nova Scotia NDP has been fined $10,000 — the maximum fine under provincial law — for accepting inappropriate contributions during last year’s election campaign.
Elections Nova Scotia chief electoral officer Christine McCulloch made the announcement in a press release Thursday, the same day the party’s provincial secretary tendered his resignation.
McCulloch said the fine stems from the acceptance of a campaign donation in excess of $5,000, and for failure to return $45,000 from eight unions and a union affiliate when the party “ knew or should have known” that the contributions were funded by a single entity — the Mainland Building and Construction Trades Council.
Prior to the election, Progressive Conservative campaign director Kevin Lacey filed a compliant with McCulloch’s office under the Members and Public Employees Disclosure Act. The complaint lead to an inspection of NDP records by an independent auditor and a formal inquiry.
McCulloch said the involvement of the unions and the Trades Council in this case has now been referred to the Halifax Regional Police Service for “such investigation as it considers appropriate.”
Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter told the Cape Breton Post on Thursday that explicit orders were given in June to send the money back.
“I gave very clear, unequivocal and specific directions with respect to the return of that money to the provincial secretary of the party and I’m of course also disappointed to find out that didn’t happen,” he said.
Dexter said he believed the money was to be returned when the issue surfaced eight days before the June election.
NDP president Peggy Mahon said the person responsible for handing back the cheques, provincial secretary Ed Wark, tendered his resignation Thursday morning.
Mahon was informed by the chief electoral officer at the end of January that the money hadn’t been returned.
“At that point he told me that he had instructed the Trades Council person to not cash the cheques until the report had been released from the chief electoral officer, so he basically saw it as an administrative matter,” said Mahon. “He handed over the cheques and said ‘ Well don’t cash them until the report comes in.’”
Calling it an “a very poor judgement on his part,” Mahon then instructed new cheques to be written, which she says were cashed Feb. 1, and included the proper interest.
She said Wark would have been the only person to regularly over- see the bank account, adding the NDP is planning to meet this week to discuss whether or not they will pay the fine.
McCulloch cautioned Thursday that official agents of recognized parties, electoral dis- trict associations and candidates will have to be diligent to ensure contributions are proper, noting that her office will continue to scrutinize contributions accordingly.
Last fall, the NDP introduced a bill outlawing political donations from corporations and unions. Taking effect Jan. 1, the new law allows individuals to donate up to $5,000 per person.