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CBC's secret fund story still stands despite belated Conservative denials

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Sometimes strong wording and firm denials don't add up to much.

Take the Conservative Party's official, if belated, reaction to Greg Weston's CBC story about the secret Conservative Party "slush fund" controlled by the Prime Minister's Chief of Staff.

When CBC first contacted Party officials, while preparing the story, the officials did not deny the story. They only said that recourse to such a fund was normal operating procedure, a way of assuring that taxpayers didn't foot the bill for the Prime Minister’s partisan activities.

Then, many hours after the story appeared on air and online, the Party's chief spokesperson, Fred Delorey, issued a news release saying the CBC story was "false" and accusing the CBC of "shoddy journalism."

Parliamentary Secretary Pierre Poilievre echoed that position in Question Period on Friday.

Delorey's news release says: "All Conservative Party expenses are paid by one account, controlled by the Conservative Party. All funds are properly reported to Elections Canada and audited annually."

But the Conservatives did not say that when originally contacted by CBC.

They merely argued that it was normal and appropriate for the Party to pay for partisan activities, not the government.

Conservative MP Chris Alexander answered questions on this subject after Question Period on Friday, and his version does not seem to correspond to Delorey's and Poilievre's.

Here's how that question and answer went. The exchange is entirely in French.

Chris Alexander: Non, c'est le Parti conservateur qui finance les activités partisanes.

Question: Mais c'est pas le fonds —

Chris Alexander: Le chef du Parti conservateur, même chose pour les autres partis.

Question: Le fonds dans le Bureau du Premier ministre qui est géré par le chef de cabinet.

Chris Alexander : Le Premier ministre travaille dans son bureau. Il est au même temps chef de son parti. Qu'est-ce qu'il y a à ne pas comprendre là-dedans?

Question: L'argent que le Parti conservateur donne pour les dépenses partisanes de M. Harper il est bel et bien partie d'un budget au Bureau du Premier ministre, est géré par le chef de cabinet du Premier ministre et non par le parti?

Chris Alexander: Ça fait partie des fonds du Parti conservateur.

Question: Oui, mais qui est-ce qui gère cet argent-là dans le bureau de M. Harper? Qui le gère? Qui l'administre?

Chris Alexander: Mais Nigel Wright avait rapport avec l'horaire du Premier ministre donc lorsqu'il y avait une activité partisane, il avait recours à ce fonds.
 
Question: Donc c'est le chef de cabinet qui gère cet argent-là. Le chef de cabinet du Premier ministre. C'est pas le chef de cabinet du Parti conservateur.

Chris Alexander: Il faut demander au Bureau du Premier ministre comment il organise le fonds. Merci.

The key parts of this exchange are the last three questions and answers.

The reporter asks Alexander if the money the Party gives the Prime Minister for partisan work is managed by the Prime Minister's Chief of Staff or by the Party Headquarters.

Alexander answers that the money is part of Conservative Party funds.

The reporter then says, yes, but who has managed that money in the Prime Minister's office?

Alexander replies that Nigel Wright knew the Prime Minister's schedule, thus, when there were partisan activities Wright had access to funds required for that purpose.

Finally the reporter pushed further, asking if it was not, indeed, the Prime Minister's Chief of Staff who controlled these funds, rather than someone in the Party office.

Alexander's reply was very careful. You will have to ask the Prime Minister's office how they organize the fund, he said.

From here it does not look like CBC has anything to retract. 

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