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Two companies have agreed to pay almost $450,000 in fines after admitting they made illegal political donations to both the federal Liberals and Conservatives between 2004 and 2009.
Groupe AXOR Inc. acknowledged a senior executive, who is no longer employed with the company, asked some employees and their families to make donations totalling $66,237.60, while offering to reimburse them for the contributions, the federal elections commissioner reported Thursday.
A similar scheme was used at Axor Experts-Conseils Inc., yielding totalling $49,721 in donations.
Of that money, $67,418 went to the Liberals and $48,540 to the Conservatives.
In both cases, the companies reimbursed donors through personal expense claims, and in the case of Axor Experts-Conseils Inc., also through bonuses and other benefits.
Because of those reimbursements, the companies acknowledged to the elections watchdog that the donations effectively came from the corporations, which are not allowed to make election contributions in Canada.
Both Montreal-based companies agreed to pay penalties equal to three times the donations and a portion of the investigative costs for the commissioner, who enforces national electoral laws.
Groupe AXOR ended up paying $248,712 and Axor Experts-Conseils Inc. paid $199,163, with the money going into federal coffers.
The voluntary agreements mean the companies accept responsibility and commit to pay the fines and take other measures, but do not admit guilt under criminal law.
In a statement Thursday, commissioner Yves Cote said this is the first time his office has used its new power to levy monetary fines on top of getting the donations returned.
The new powers are the result of changes made to Canada's electoral laws in 2018 and have applied since April.
“To have the ability to impose real consequences as part of these agreements will allow us much greater flexibility and will be extremely useful going forward. Canadians should expect to see us make full use of this new tool from this point on," Cote said.
The companies have undertaken changes to their internal procedures to ensure compliance with election laws, the agreements say.
The commissioner also said there was no evidence the two political parties knew the donations were illegal. The Liberals and Conservatives have returned all the money.
The two companies named in the agreements this week, along with another member of the Axor family of companies, were also embroiled in an illegal donations controversy in 2010 at the provincial level in Quebec.
At the time, Quebec's equivalent of the elections commissioner found 40 cases of illegal donations, most going to the provincial Liberal party.
And in 2016, another Quebec-based engineering firm, SNC-Lavalin, entered into a compliance agreement with the commissioner after almost $118,000 in political donations were reimbursed to employees through methods similar to those in the Axor cases. Most of that money went to the federal Liberal party.
Charges were eventually laid against just one SNC-Lavalin executive. The commissioner justified a compliance agreement by saying the executives involved in the scheme were no longer at the company, it had adopted new procedures, and had co-operated with the investigation.
The question of the 2016 agreement resurfaced during the political crisis in early 2019 sparked by alleged attempts to pressure former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to reach a deferred prosecution agreement with SNC-Lavalin on charges of alleged corruption in Libya.
Conservative critic Pierre Poilievre criticized Cote for having a "very cosy" relationship with the Liberal party, asking whether there had been any interference from the Prime Minister's Office in the decision to sign a compliance agreement with SNC-Lavalin.
The commissioner, in a rare move, issued a public statement saying no politicians, staffers or public servants had tried to "influence or interfere" in any decisions in which they were not the subject.
“And I want to make it clear that if this ever happened, I would promptly and publicly denounce it," Cote said.
Also on Thursday, Cote announced compliance agreements with five individuals who all admitted to requesting additional ballots after having already voted in the 2015 election.
Two of the individuals were fined $750, while three were fined an additional $250 because they had tried to be put on lists of electors in a polling division where they did not live.