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Rights + Justice

Gary Lunn's Shadowy Grassroots

Mysterious groups helped with minister's re-election bid.

Andrew MacLeod 21 Oct

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. You can reach him here.

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Saanich-Gulf Islands MP Gary Lunn with Stephen Harper.

Yet another shadowy community group has registered as a third-party advertiser with Elections Canada using Conservative Victoria lawyer Bruce Hallsor's contact information.

On Oct. 16, the Citizens Against Higher Taxes registered under Lynda Farmer's name, using the 800-1070 Douglas Street address and phone number of the law firm where Hallsor works, Crease Harman and Company.

Hallsor is a long-time associate of Conservative incumbent Gary Lunn and worked on his campaign in a hard-fought victory against Liberal challenger Briony Penn. In 2006, Hallsor was a co-chair of the Conservative campaigns in B.C. The groups using Hallsor's contact information were all supporting Lunn, he said. "That's how I know them." They did things like buy lawn signs and ads in the local daily newspaper, he said.

Citizens Against Higher Taxes brings the total to five groups registering through Hallsor's office to advertise during the election. To put that in perspective, as of Friday there were just 59 third party advertisers registered throughout the country, or less than one for every five ridings.

And while many of the 59 registered advertisers are long-standing bodies such as the National Citizens Coalition, the Simon Fraser Student Society and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, there's much less known about the ones using Hallsor's contact information.

Besides Farmer's, the groups are Common Sense Advocacy of Victoria, the Dean Park Advocacy Association, the Economic Advisory Council of Saanich and the Saanich Peninsula Citizens Council.

Unregistered groups

As of the morning of Oct. 17, however, not one of the four had registered with British Columbia's corporate registry. Nor do any of them have a significant Internet presence, aside from the Elections Canada registration and The Tyee's coverage.

Nor did any of the people contacted from Hallsor's groups care to talk much about their organizations or what they stand for, an odd choice for people who have recently been spending up to $3,666 per riding to get their message out.

Here's what Ralph Bodine, contact for the Dean Park Advocacy Association, had to say when asked about his group: "I'm not interested in making any comment on it." Bodine made his fortune as the chairman of Sunkist Growers Inc. and President and CEO of the Bodine Produce Company. He owns prime property in both Victoria and Tofino.

And here's Dana Dickinson from the Saanich Peninsula Citizens Council: "I have no comment regarding that." She asked for questions to be sent by e-mail to her Van Isle Marina address, but did not respond by press time a few days later.

Donna Evans of Common Sense Advocacy was a little more talkative. "I really don't have anything to tell you about it," she said. "It's just a little group of friends that I know."

The group, pooling their money, bought an ad in a newspaper for around $3,000 to support Gary Lunn, said the Victoria real estate agent. "I had some concern we might be losing a responsible MP." Support for Lunn had to get out directly, she said. "The media tends to report things in a biased way."

Why not just give to his campaign? "Because I don't generally contribute to campaigns, that's all," she said. "I actually thought I would have more impact by pointing out some of the benefits Gary had done for our community... This way I could direct what I wanted to spend it on. We raised the money. Why couldn't we have a say in spending it?"

She did not work on Lunn's campaign this time, she said, though she did volunteer for Conservative Troy DeSouza in the tight Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca race. "I volunteered for Gary in the previous election. I thought that feet on the ground, Troy could use my assistance [this time]."

EnCana connections

Neither Farmer nor Trottier could be contacted by press time. While both are successful business women in their own rights, they have very high-powered husbands.

Farmer is a board member at Camosun College, where her biography describes her as a philanthropist and a partner in three businesses: Trilogy Group, Westside Equestrian Centre at Bonnie Brae Farm Ltd. and Beckton Estates Inc.

Her husband is Murray Farmer, whose University of Victoria board of governors biography identifies him as the president of Farmer Industries Group Inc., a vice-president of Accent Inns and Beckton Estates Inc., and a vice president of Farmer Management Inc. He is also UVic's chancellor-elect.

Until September, Trottier was a director of CV Technologies, the company that promotes the controversial Cold-FX remedy championed by Don Cherry.

Her husband is Gwyn Morgan, the former president and CEO of EnCana Corporation and a former fundraiser for the Canadian Alliance and Conservative parties.

Together Morgan and Trottier own Victoria's eighth most expensive home and sit on the board of the C2C Journal along with other right wing luminaries like former Reform Party leader Preston Manning, the Fraser Institute's Michael Walker and Calgary professor and Harper adviser Tom Flanagan. Morgan and Trottier gave $1 million last year to the Fraser Institute Foundation, the right-wing advocacy group.

Hallsor: 'just helping out'

Hallsor said none of the advertisers has done anything illegal and it's coincidental they used his services. "I'm pretty well known in this area," he said. "My role has been to file and make sure they properly file with Elections Canada."

Hallsor said he was just a volunteer on Lunn's campaign, though it had earlier been reported that he would be managing the re-election bid. In 2006, he was a co-chair of the Conservative campaigns in B.C.

While in that role, Hallsor was named in the Conservatives' ongoing suit with Elections Canada over spending during the 2006 election.

Questions not yet answered

Eugene Parks is a self-described "disgusted former Conservative" who until a few years ago was a director on the Victoria riding association. Parks said Elections Canada needs to look closely at the groups supporting Lunn. "It's the same kind of thing they were doing last time, except through a third party," he said. "It's the same schtick, just slightly different."

It's not clear the Conservatives broke the law, but it's worth investigating, he said. Among questions he would like to see looked into:

Were donors buying ads directly to help Lunn get around the spending limits of $92,000 per candidate in the riding? Did contributing this way allow the donors to avoid the $1,100 contribution limit? It is illegal for third parties to split into more than one organization in order to circumvent the limits. Would that apply in this case?

There is no hard evidence of wrong doing by any Conservative supporter in Lunn's riding, nor by Lunn himself.

More may become clear in four months when Lunn and the advertisers who supported him have to file their financial disclosures with Elections Canada.

On the other hand, said Parks, Hallsor's groups may file disclosures that don't tell the whole story. "It would take a warrant, a raid, to get those individuals' accounting records and find out where they got their money from," he said. "It's the same tactics. That's it. No change, no accountability, no transparency."

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