DON’s DIALOGUE – 2014 ELECTION EXPENSE AUDIT REVIEW
What is happening in the Township of Muskoka Lakes?
It is an exceedingly rare occurrence for candidates running for elected office in Ontario, to have any member of the public make application for a review of expenses and request an independent audit. In Muskoka Lakes Township, after the 2014 election, application was made by 2 taxpayers to request audits on 8 of the 19 candidates.
The Audit Review Committee, dismissed the request to audit the expenses of former Mayor – Alice Murphy and District Councillor –Phil Harding
However, the Audit Review Committee, saw fit to request audits on 6 candidates for elected office ( Jean Ann Baranik, Linda Barrick- Spearn, Ron Brent, Gault McTaggart, Greg Knight and myself). The allegation by the applicant – Mr. Allan Gill, was that certain expenses related to my ” PeopleForProbity” website and advertising, should have been allocated to all 6 candidates, who ran on a common platform and not just to one candidate -myself, who controlled all content and paid for all expenses associated with the website and advertising.
The Audit Review Committee agreed with the applicant – Mr. Gill and requested that the election financial records of all 6 candidates be audited. This was done and in the auditors opinion the Ontario Municipal Elections Act (OMEA) had been breached, because they deemed the website and advertising should have been split in some manner amongst the 6 candidates. However, the OMEA provides no guidance or direction on how expenses are to be allocated other than to say each candidate must keep records of their own expenses. In addition the auditor discovered some minimal undeclared expenses or expenses without receipts etc., that were in most cases very small oversights. That in the words of the Chair of the Audit Review Committee, he would expect in probably 80% of all candidates filings, if they were all audited.
The Chair indicated that in his opinion almost all the expenses were declared and the only real issue was reapportioning amounts for advertizing and a website, to the 6 candidates, in some manner, which was not specified. No matter how expenses were split none of the candidates would have exceeded their legal spending limit. The Audit Committee also agreed that all candidates filed their financial statements in an open and transparent manner and that the candidates acted in good faith. The small errors that were made, were errors in judgement, which the Act takes into account in providing penalties for contravention.
While, I do not agree with the Audit Review Committee, that a portion of my expenses should have been allocated to the other candidates, I will respect their decision.
The final outcome, pending any appeal, was to consider the matter closed. The Committee felt that forwarding their findings to the Provincial Courts for prosecution, would not be in the publics’ interest and would simply add to the cost of this six month exercise, with minimal possibility of any different outcome.
The only positives from this exercise in my opinion are, that we do have a better understanding of provincial legislation and process that holds candidates accountable, to be transparent and follow certain election rules and guidelines. I might also add that this experience has pointed out some shortcomings in the legislation, that need to be addressed for future candidates running on a slate or common platform.
I still question the motivation of the applicant in filing the request for the audit on the last day possible and would ask if he feels this exercise was worth an estimated $20,000 of taxpayers’ money?