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MP Blair Wilson steps down from Liberal caucus, pending an

Elections Canada investigating allegations of improper election spending
Blair Wilson

Blair Wilson, the MP for the West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky riding, will sit as an independent Member of Parliament this week after resigning from the Liberal caucus on Sunday.

According to a statement on his website, he will remain an independent MP until Elections Canada completes its investigation into allegations of improper campaign accounting made by former campaign workers. According to the workers, Wilson paid cash for various campaign expenses and did not file the receipts.

Wilson said he was confident he would be cleared of any wrongdoing by the investigation, after which point he will rejoin the Liberal Party.

Liberal leader Stephane Dion also issued a statement.

“I am particularly concerned about allegations of Elections Act violations by Mr. Wilson’s campaign,” he said. “I am pleased that Mr. Wilson has called on Elections Canada to launch a formal review of the matter. I trust Elections Canada will deal with this matter expeditiously. In the meantime, I have instructed the Liberal Party of Canada to provide whatever assistance they can to Elections Canada as it reviews the allegations.”

The local riding association also made it clear that the seat is no longer being held by a member of the Liberal Party, and asked people to help the Liberals win back the riding in the future.

Pique contacted Riding President Douglas Hammond to find out if the party has a plan to replace Wilson in the event that a snap election is called during the Elections Canada investigation, but at press time had received no response.

Wilson was elected by a narrow margin in the January 2006 federal election, edging Conservative candidate John Weston by fewer than a thousand votes — 23,867 votes to 22,891.

Under federal election laws, candidates can spend a maximum of $93,260.52 in an election campaign, and Wilson’s official filing stated that he paid $82,303.71.

Making matters worse for the married father of two was a series of stories in The Province newspaper that detailed a long history of failed businesses, disputes with investors and business partners — including his father-in-law, Bill Lougheed — and allegations of financial impropriety. The story also alleged that Wilson carried on an extramarital affair with a Polish businesswoman while setting up a chain of pizza restaurants in Poland.

Thea Reardon, Wilson’s campaign manager in Squamish, said she has worked with Wilson before and after the campaign and saw no evidence of impropriety.

“He has put a lot of effort into the job, and he’s been to Squamish a lot since the election,” said Reardon. “I really like Blair, and still like him, and never saw anything in his campaign that would suggest improper conduct.

“You have to realize that we operated on a shoestring budget here in Squamish, not like West Vancouver or maybe Whistler. We were an office in the back of the store, very sparsely furnished, and volunteers made do with next to nothing. We never saw any spending really, and certainly no overspending or anything like that.”

Reardon has acknowledged that the party would need to find a new candidate for the riding in the event of a snap election, and the party will have discussions this week to look at contingency plans. “I know that we have a few names mentioned in the past, but right now we have no idea who the candidates could be,” she said.

Reardon also said that she was dismayed by The Province’s approach to reporting the story.

“I do feel there’s something behind that; is it really necessary to go that deep into his personal life?” she asked. “The Province is a sensational newspaper, we all know that, and I have noticed that the CBC and the Vancouver Sun have reported this a lot differently.”

The allegations have given the federal party another headache, as reporters are asking whether Wilson revealed that he was the target of several lawsuits when he won the party nomination for the riding. The Liberal Party’s green light committee is expected to investigate the background of candidates to protect against future scandals damaging the party.

As well, the party also lost one seat in a recent Quebec byelection, and failed to pick up on two other opportunities. As things currently stand, the Liberal Party is still the Official Opposition with 95 seats, compared to 126 Conservative seats, 49 Bloc Quebecois seats, and 30 NDP seats. Wilson will join three other independent Members of Parliament in the House. There are four vacancies.

The allegations against Wilson surfaced just as the Liberal Party was itself asking Elections Canada to investigate whether the Conservative Party violated election spending limits in at least nine ridings in 2006 by targeting national ads to specific candidates.

Pique attempted to contact Wilson about the allegations, but at press time had received no reply.