Elections Canada is probing the 2011 campaign finances of a controversial Conservative candidate in Scarborough Southwest over allegations that election laws were broken through free radio ads aimed at swaying the riding's South Asian voters, particularly Tamils.
Campaign records show Ragavan Paranchothy, also known as Gavan, spent just a few hundred dollars shy of his $83,260.36 limit, meaning extra expenses could place the campaign in breach of election rules. Mr. Paranchothy faced criticism during the campaign for having appeared in a video that some said was a tribute to the Tamil Tigers, which the Conservatives listed in 2006 as a banned terrorist group. He finished a close second to the NDP's Dan Harris.
At the centre of the advertising allegations is Canadian Multicultural Radio, which sits at 101.3 FM in Toronto. Most of the station's programming is aimed at the city's Tamil community. Mr. Paranchothy is the radio station's director of public relations and finance, and went on leave to campaign in 2011. The station's former chief financial officer, Jayaraman Vadivelu, now says the station heavily promoted Mr. Paranchothy during the campaign and hid the true cost of advertising.
Mr. Vadivelu has sent ad logs and e-mails to Elections Canada that show Mr. Paranchothy was e-mailing the station about campaign ads from his work account while on leave.
"Pls play once every 30 mins during the weekend on all language progs until further notice," states one e-mail from Mr. Paranchothy.
Mr. Paranchothy's campaign filed expenses totalling $847.50 for radio ads with CMR – the equivalent of 30 ads at $25, plus tax, for the entire campaign. However, according to Mr. Vadivelu's records, Mr. Paranchothy's campaign received at least 141 radio ads worth $2,795 or $3,158.35 with HST. He also says the station aired content favourable to Mr. Paranchothy, including a 20-minute interview with then-immigration minister Jason Kenney. In an interview, Mr. Vadivelu said a typical 30-second radio ad costs $25 or $20, depending on the time of day. Customers who buy ads are also given some free ad space in the early morning hours, he said.
Mr. Paranchothy said he received only 72 ads. He rejects the allegations and insists the station treated all political parties fairly.
It is the latest allegation of campaign overspending involving Tory candidates. Last month Peterborough, Ont., MP Dean Del Mastro resigned from the Conservative caucus after Elections Canada laid charges alleging he exceeded his spending limit in the 2008 federal election. Former Conservative cabinet minister Peter Penashue resigned as an MP earlier this year over campaign overspending in the 2011 campaign. Canadian Heritage Minister Shelly Glover is facing allegations her campaign overspent in 2011.
The dispute in Scarborough comes amid what some see as a renewed effort by the Conservatives to win the support of Toronto's large Tamil population. Mr. Harper recently announced he would boycott next month's Commonwealth summit in Sri Lanka over its human-rights record, a move that would be welcomed by many Canadian Tamils who left Sri Lanka to escape fighting between government forces and the country's Tamil minority.
Mr. Vadivelu has also filed complaints with the Canadian Radio and Telecommunications Commission, which is currently weighing a request from CMR for a renewal of its licence.
In a letter to the CRTC, he accuses Stan Antony, the station's chairman and CEO, of using the station to promote Mr. Paranchothy.
"The real charges of the advertising were not billed to [the] Ragavan Paranchothy campaign. CMR further did interviews promoting Ragavan across various programs at no charge. All these activities are in violation of the CRTC election broadcast guidelines," Mr. Vadivelu writes.
Another former senior manager at the station, Rajan Kanagasabai, supports Mr. Vadivelu's accusations and wrote to the CRTC asking the regulator to investigate.
In a response letter to the CRTC, Mr. Antony dismisses the allegations as unfounded. He notes there is a dispute over his ownership of the station and describes his accusers as disgruntled former employees who are trying to take over.
Mr. Paranchothy also rejected Mr. Vadivelu's allegations as "untrue" in an e-mail response to The Globe. "At no time did I ever go around normal protocol to have any of my election ads aired," he wrote.
Both the CRTC and Elections Canada declined comment on the complaints. However, Elections Canada has informed Mr. Vadivelu that it is re-examining Mr. Paranchothy's campaign expenses as a result of the complaint.