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EDITORIAL: Sign snafu ... so what?

It’s easy to point out the irony when someone gets caught in their own net.

This is the case of the P.E.I. Liberal Association, who pleaded guilty on Thursday to six counts under the Elections Expenses Act for putting up campaign signs of candidates who had not yet been registered with Elections P.E.I. Why the irony? Because it was the Liberals who passed the new rules under the act in June 2018 that requires candidates to officially register with Elections P.E.I. before advertising.

On Friday, the Green Party pleaded guilty to a charge under the act for not having authorization pursuant to the official agent of that party on a sign or signs in the Long Creek-New Haven area.

The parties could have faced fines between $5,000 and $10,000 under each offence.

But with the guilty pleas came lower fines – $3,000 in total for the Liberals and $500 for the Greens.

Here was the Liberal’s crime – enthusiastic volunteers with the party put up campaign signs after the election was called but before the candidates were official registered with Elections P.E.I.

These weren’t fake candidates. It wasn’t a case of mistaken identity. These candidates actually ran in the election, and even though all of the paperwork with Elections P.E.I. wasn’t filled in, the candidates had been nominated by party members in each of their districts.

The Greens offence is comparable to the disclaimer in television campaign ads that say, ‘this ad is approved by the party.’

Now that we’ve seen the rules played out in practice, it’s fair to ask: ‘who cares?’

Neither set of incidents affected the outcome of the election. In fact, the Liberals failed to capture any of the six seats where the violations took place.

And, in the case of the Greens, we could understand if an opposing supporter was charged with erecting unauthorized Green Party signs to mislead the public. But that wasn’t the case. This was an oversight by the party.

When news broke last month that charges had been filed against the Liberals and Greens related to campaign signs, many of us thought the allegations involved the federal election – not the provincial election roughly six months earlier.

That’s six months of wasted time and resources. It was a waste of time and resources to have someone go around from sign to sign scrutinizing the fine print, as was the case with the Green Party’s matter. It’s also a waste to have police resources used to investigate the complaints, and a waste of court’s time and resources to prosecute these complaints.

Clearly, Dennis King’s Progressive Conservative government needs to change the legislation. Let the signs go up when the election writ is dropped.

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