OTTAWA - Elections Canada was trying to determine Thursday whether a fine for violating the Canada Elections Act would absolve four failed 2006 Liberal leadership candidates from ever having to repay about $650,000 in unpaid expenses.
The agency said it was still reviewing a two-and-a-half-page court ruling that said Joe Volpe, Hedy Fry and Martha Hall Findlay were in breach of the act.
"This is new territory for us and we need some time to look at the matter more closely," spokesman John Enright said.
The trio's deadbeat status came to light this week after an Ontario Superior Court judge refused their request for another two-year extension to clear the books.
A fourth candidate - Ken Dryden - is in a similar boat.
In the case of Dryden's leadership rivals, Justice Timothy Ray's uncomplicated ruling punted the matter back to the commissioner of Elections Canada. The act calls for a $1,000 fine or three months in jail for perpetrators.
But when specifically asked what would happen to the unpaid expenses if a fine was levied, Enright said he would get back to QMI Agency when he had a more "fulsome" response.
Depending how long that takes, the four Grits can take comfort in legislation weaving through Parliament that could kick-start their failed fundraising efforts when the Political Loans Accountability Act becomes law - likely in the fall.
The bill levels the playing field somewhat by allowing donors to contribute on a per annum basis to leadership contests and not the one-time-only contribution Liberal candidates were stuck with in 2006.
The bill would retroactively include the Liberal race - meaning anyone who contributed in that race would be permitted to contribute on an annual basis after the bill becomes law if the outstanding debt issue is allowed to continue.