Kash Heed runs out of wriggle room
on election over-spending

Vaughn Palmer, Vancouver Sun, Aug. 31, 2011


B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Bauman ruled that
Heed acted in good faith during the 2009 election campaign.
Photo: Adrian Lam, Victoria Times Colonist.


VICTORIA — B.C. politicians are ultimately responsible for the conduct of their election campaigns, even when they’re in the dark about the things being done in their name by their organizers.

So ruled B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Bauman Wednesday, in rejecting a plea by Kash Heed, the B.C. Liberal MLA for Vancouver-Fraserview, to be let off the hook for significant overspending in the 2009 election.

Heed admitted to the court earlier this summer that he’d spent $5,578.90 over the legal limit of $70,000 in his narrow, 748-vote win, money that apparently went to pamphlets smearing his New Democratic Party opponent.

But the former police chief tried to wriggle out of having to face any penalty for the serious violation of the Election Act because he’d delegated responsibility for spending to others on his campaign team.

As evidence, he cited the conclusion of special prosecutor Peter Wilson who laid charges against Heed’s campaign manager in the affair but cleared the candidate himself: “There is no reliable, independent evidence proving that Mr. Heed knew of, or could with reasonable diligence have learned of, any unreported election expenses.”

Heed felt “very strongly” that he’d done nothing wrong. “He retained a person he understood to be a well-trained responsible campaign manager,” argued his lawyer David Gruber. “It’s the people who face the charges that should answer those charges.”

Not so, returned the independent watchdog on elections, Chief Electoral Officer Craig James. In light of the decision by the special prosecutor, James accepted that Heed should not be subjected to the most severe penalty provided in the law, namely having to vacate his seat.

But it would send the wrong message to the public and politicians alike to allow the MLA to take complete refuge in the defence of ignorance, argued lawyer Don Farquhar, representing the chief electoral officer.

“The excess spending may well have influenced the outcome of the vote,” Farquhar told the court. “What we have ... are activities that were purportedly terribly wrong within the campaign.”

It was not only a matter of calling Heed to account; there was need for deterrence.

“Otherwise, there’s the potential for an unfortunate precedent. There could be all kinds of monkey business going on several layers down, which could influence the outcome of an election,” he argued. “The court should make it clear it’s extremely serious for a candidate to exceed the spending limit and ... [should] not grant relief without compelling reasons for doing so.”

He urged the court to apply the secondary penalty provided for in the Elections Act, namely a fine of double the amount of the overspending, an argument that carried the day with the chief justice.

“I agree with the chief electoral officer that these applications must be carefully scrutinized by the court,” wrote Bauman. “The integrity of an election to such high public office must be guarded with assiduity.”

Anything less than the fine provided for in the act “would run counter to the need to impose some responsibility on the candidate for the conduct of his campaign and the actions of those whom he chose to run it.”

Yes, Heed was inexperienced. Yes, he appears to have acted in good faith. But he offered himself for public office and had to know that with it came significant responsibilities.

Elections were serious business and this was a case where there’d been “a serious breach of a critical provision in the Act.” On that score, the Act was clear. “Responsibility for the conduct of the campaign rests ultimately with the candidate.”

Therefore: “It is necessary to bring home to the candidate responsibility for the mistakes made, without his knowledge, but on his behalf.”

With that the chief justice fined Heed double the amount of overspending, about $11,000 by my reckoning, and ordered the MLA to pay the costs of the action as well.

Thus, after more than two years of ducking and dodging responsibility for the wrongdoing on his behalf in the 2009 campaign, Heed has now been found responsible by no less a figure than the chief justice of the B.C. Supreme Court.

It’s an ignominious comedown for the ambitious Heed, who began angling for provincial office three years ago, when still in the early months of his contract as police chief in West Vancouver.

“You have a stallion that has been in training for some time and you and everyone else know he’s a winner,” he famously told one of his associates back then, “but he can’t wait on the sidelines forever.”

Never mind the sidelines. After this development, he should be relegated to the political equivalent of the trash can.

Still, a statement issued by his office Wednesday afternoon gave every indication that he intends to hang around to the next election, set for 18 months from now.

Not a happy development for Premier Christy Clark, who needs to take as much distance from these shenanigans as she can. With her government already anticipating one byelection from the pending resignation of Liberal MLA Iain Black, she’d be wise to pass the word that it is time for the stallion to put himself out to pasture as well.

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