Posted May 7, 2015
The election compliance committee of council appointees heard evidence Wednesday night, May 6, surrounding a complaint by resident Susan Watson. She, her Toronto lawyer, and two supporting spokespersons complained about defeated ward six candidate, Glen Tolhurst’s financial report. She contended that the $400 donated by citizen’s organization, GrassRoots Guelph was illegal.
The three-person committee was reduced to two when the chairperson did not show up. The committee, after hearing the statements, said it could not consider interpreting the Ontario Municipal Elections Act. This Act does not preclude third party involvement in municipal elections.
However, this two-person quasi-legal committee threw Roberts Rules of running meetings out the door. The two had one moving the motion to order an audit and the other seconding the motion. They then called a vote on the motion and both raised their hands.
In some circles, this could described as a kangaroo court when everything is decided in advance regardless of the testimony. It was revealed there was a meeting April 23 to explain the procedures of the compliance committee. Neither Mr. Tolhurst nor his lawyer, David Starr, was invited. This goose was cooked well in advance.
Following a ten-minute deliberation, the committee agreed to hire an outside auditor within three weeks to audit the Tolhurst election financial report. It was revealed the committee chairperson, who was not in attendance, had told her colleagues before the meeting to vote for an audit.
This is where things go from bad to worse. Recapping: Two appointees of the compliance committee decide to order an audit, the cost of which is estimated between $25,000 and $30,000.
Seems like the committee is willing to swat a mosquio with a sledgehammer. This is about auditing a defeated candidate’s election spending of under $4,000.
Then there is the possibility that in the event the auditor does not find Mr. Tohurst broke the rules, the complainant, besides paying for the audit, could also face damages levied by council.
Watson admitted after the meeting that there was no finding of wrongdoing by Mr. Tolhurst but her objective was “to pursue the matter to provide clarity around third party spending.”
So taxpayers are faced with an embarrassing situation where an individual, a personal friend and supporter of Karen Farbridge, seems to think that the rules of third party involvement in municipal elections are not clear.
Really! She chose to use public funds of the City of Guelph to make a point that needed to be resolved at the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. That being the case, why did she use the mechanism established by the city to “clarify” the issue of third party participation in Guelph’s election?
This is nothing but abuse of the Guelph system of electing representatives.
What will future citizens who are interested in contributing to their community, think when they are faced with this kind of silly, expensive obstruction of the public’s right to participate in municipal elections?
It should be noted that this so-called election compliance committee was formed in 2007 by the Farbridge administration.
It was like a dagger to the heart of our democratic right to serve our community without fear of retribution after the fact.
Expecting a professional auditor to determine if this Watson complaint has any validity is like smoking the wrong stuff.
It’s a shameful, futile exercise that should be stopped by council.
If for no other reason than to agree that a committee of two, moving and seconding a motion and voting unanimously to hire a $25,000 auditor, defies any democratic principle.
Shame on them.