Canada's election watchdog is closing the book on an investigation into foreign interference and improper spending in the 2015 election, after finding no evidence that advocacy group Leadnow broke any rules.
The group publicly backed a range of candidates in the 2015 election to defeat the incumbent Conservative government of former prime minister Stephen Harper. It engaged thousands of volunteers in order to reach hundreds of thousands of voters.
Leadnow describes itself as an advocacy group that promotes a "just, sustainable and equitable Canada, built and defended through the democratic power of an engaged public."
More recently, hundreds of volunteers across Ontario tried to rally people this spring to defeat Progressive Conservative Premier Doug Ford, but they failed in their efforts.
In 2015, it became the subject of several complaints to the Office of the Commissioner of Canada Elections — the first of which were levied in September 2015 before election day — accusing it of using foreign funds for advertising and to free up cash flow, colluding with third parties and political entities, and failure to report expenses.
In a letter dated July 27, director of investigations Mylène Gigou informed the group that, aside from inadvertent “minor errors” in reporting some expenses, “no evidence was uncovered” to give the commissioner reasonable grounds to believe that the elections act was breached for any of those allegations.
"As there is no further action to be taken by our office with respect to the allegations raised concerning Leadnow, we will be closing our file," Gigou wrote.
The organization said it received the letter in July but didn’t make an announcement until today, because it waited until it learned that the commissioner’s office had informed the complainants.
The process to review the complaints became a three-year ordeal for the organization that sapped its resources and hung over staff’s head, said Leadnow’s executive director Lyndsay Poaps in an interview. She described receiving the decision as a “flood of relief.”
“They confirmed that all the accusations against us had no merit. Obviously, we knew this all along, but the nature of this kind of review meant that we spent the time proving it," Leadnow executive director Lyndsay Poaps told @ottawacarl #cdnpoli
“For the organization, frankly, it relieves a huge amount of strain, pressure, and resources, and frees them up for us to get back to doing our work,” she said.
“They confirmed that all the accusations against us had no merit. Obviously, we knew this all along, but the nature of this kind of review meant that we spent the time proving it.”
The commissioner’s office said it reviewed “a large volume of documentation and some 55 interviews with individuals on all sides of the issues.”
“Our review determined that Leadnow was aware of the rules around foreign contributions and acted diligently to maintain proper records on, and account for, the source of funds used to pay for election advertising,” Gigou wrote.