OTTAWA -- In the past 20 years, Elections Canada hasn't prosecuted one deadbeat candidate for not repaying election debt within the deadline.
This despite the fact candidates from the 2004, 2006 and 2008 general elections owed almost $3 million in unpaid bills.
Filings submitted 18 months after each election - the deadline for repayment - show that candidates from 2004 owed a collective total of $1,303,964, candidates from 2006 owed $793,702, and candidates from 2008 owed $802,426.
The outstanding amounts ranged from a few dollars to more than $20,000 - and indebted candidates were scattered across the country and party lines.
"The Act includes an offence for not paying the claim or loan within the prescribed time," Elections Canada spokesman John Enright said Thursday.
But the independent elections oversight agency couldn't give details about whether there are still debtor candidates from the three elections and how much they might still owe.
"Some of those - I don't know what percentage - some of those debts have been cleared since," Enright said.
By press time, Elections Canada also couldn't explain why none had been penalized under the Canada Elections Act.
"It's pretty incredible," said lawyer Peter Rosenthal, noting he'd seen a number of instances where the agency failed to crack down on election scofflaws.
"We have a situation now where Elections Canada is derelict in enforcing the statute."
He said people would be less likely to break the law if they knew they'd face punishment.
There are some instances where a candidate may not have to repay debts within the prescribed timeline - for example, if they get an extension from a judge, or a creditor goes after them in court or writes off the debt.
Earlier this week, the agency said four failed Grit leadership hopefuls who still carried debt from the 2006 campaign for the top Liberal job faced penalties if their final audit didn't show that they cleared their books.
It may mean the four -- who have run out of Elections Canada and court extensions on the deadline to repay their campaign bills -- could be the first politicians in at least two decades to be hit with the penalties.
The punishment is a $1,000 fine, three months in jail or both the fine and jail time.