Nova Scotia’s chief electoral officer has found that Steve Craig, the Progressive Conservative candidate for the Sackville-Cobequid, did not breach the Elections Act.
In a report released Wednesday, Elections Nova Scotia Chief Electoral Officer Richard Temporale found that Craig did not violate the provincial election laws by using municipal resources to promote himself as a candidate.
The complaint was filed by the NDP’s provincial secretary Jamie Masse, who claimed Craig may have used his position as a Halifax Regional Municipality councillor to promote himself in the byelection.
There were two points of contention that Masse pointed to: a $20,000 cheque given to the Friends of First Lake Society, and a newsletter Craig sent to the community in his capacity as councillor.
The $20,000 cheque
The cheque for the Friends of First Lake Society was handed over on May 15, the day the writ for the election was officially issued. The NDP alleged the cheque “could be a violation of rules about making donations during an election period.”
Craig has said he originally planned to hand over the cheque in April, but was asked by the organization for the announcement to be delayed.
He also that the cheque — which was distributed under the Halifax Regional Municipality’s district capital funds — was “business as usual” for him as a councillor.
In his report, Temporale noted the money came from Craig’s $94,000 district discretionary fund and was given to the president of the Sackville Lake and Trails Association at their annual general meeting on May 15.
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“When interviewed during the investigation, Mr. Craig advised ENS that his decision to provide funds to the Sackville Lake and Trails Association was made in late April/early May of 2019 after the HRM budget was approved,” Temporale’s decision reads.
“When the executive of the Association was informed of his decision, they requested he wait until the AGM on May 15, 2019 to present the funds.”
Temporale concluded that the money was distributed as part of his councillor duties and the allegation was dismissed.
The NDP said the other issue was in regards to a newsletter Craig sent to his municipal constituents, claiming it was a form of advertising.
Craig said that the newsletter is no different from what he’s provided to his constituents in previous years.
Temporale’s report noted that the newsletter was distributed in late April/early May, before the election period started.
He then concluded there was not a violation.
CEO makes recommendations to amend Elections Act
In his report, Temporale noted that being in a position to distribute discretionary funds gives councillors a “distinct advantage” over competing candidates.
He recommends the Elections Act be modified so elected officials would have to take a leave of absence during an election period while seeking office at another level.
“This means that these registered candidates must take a leave of absence as soon as the writ is issued, or, if they are not registered at that time, as soon as their official nomination papers
are filed,” the decision reads.
“To be clear, this provision should be enacted in a way that there is no break in the individual’s pensionable service or benefits during the leave.”
Temporale also recommends that the HRM consider updating their guidelines to reflect updates to the Elections Act.
The byelection in Sackville-Cobequid is scheduled for June 18.
Running alongside Craig is Lara Fawthrop for the NDP, Michel Hindlet for the Liberals, Anthony Edmonds for the Greens and David F. Boyd for the Atlantica Party.
With files from Alexander Quon.