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Ford's election van at heart of audit discussion

Toronto mayor Rob Ford is photographed during an interview in his office at Toronto city hall on Dec 21, 2010.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Can a campaign supporter also be a campaign supplier?

That question emerged as a potentially crucial distinction involving Mayor Rob Ford's campaign RV, in the wake of the latest request by a Toronto citizen for a forensic review of Mr. Ford's election expenses.

Retired teacher David DePoe told council's three-person compliance audit committee Monday that the $1,808 the campaign paid Michael Robertson in rent for a campaign van for four months was well below fair market value, which he estimated to be over $200 a day.

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Mr. Robertson owns Outback Storage, which is located at 318 Greenwood Ave, and declined to be interviewed. "It's my business and my corporation and it's my RV, and it's a personal private matter."

Mr. DePoe said that he and his wife in 2003 paid $12,000 to rent a used recreational vehicle for a three-month journey across North America. "That's just a little van and that was a long time ago."

The committee dismissed Mr. DePoe's application, with chair Douglas Colbourne stressing that the compliance audit ordered last month will review all aspects of the mayor's campaign finances. Mr. Ford's lawyers have appealed the order.

But after the meeting adjourned, Mr. Ford's lawyer Thomas Barlow and Stephen Chan, a senior executive with the Ford family company Deco Labels and Tags who served as the CFO for the campaign, appeared to contradict one another about whether the van was provided to Mr. Ford by a supporter or a supplier.

"It was not a rental van," said Mr. Chan, who confirmed to The Globe and Mail that he has stepped down as the campaign's CFO (the campaign doesn't officially close its books until June 30). "It was provided by one of our supporters." He added that Mr. Robertson, whose invoice is included in documents filed by the campaign with Elections Toronto, set the price but didn't donate to the campaign.

Mr. Barlow, however, insisted that Mr. Robertson "was a supplier as a matter of law" and was paid fully for the rental of the van. During the scrum, he repeatedly stressed that Mr. Robertson was a supplier, even after Mr. Chan stated the opposite.

Neither could say whether Mr. Robertson rented out the van – which was wrapped with Mr. Ford's campaign images during the race – to the general public. Mr. Robertson declined to say if he rents the van, but the Outback website makes no references to RV rental services.

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Provincial election rules state that candidates must pay fair market value for their supplies. The Municipal Elections 2010 Guide state that "if goods and services are offered to the candidate at less than fair market value, the difference between fair market value and what the candidate paid" is deemed to be a contribution that counts towards the legislated spending limit. The City of Toronto doesn't allow corporate or trade union donations to municipal campaigns.

During the meeting, Mr. Barlow argued that an invoice from a supplier indicates that the campaign paid market rates. Ontario's elections guide warns that candidates "must retain a record of all contributions of goods and services and their fair market value" in case the campaign is audited.

Mr. Ford has repeatedly stressed that the campaign followed the rules and he's willing to have an auditor scrutinize the campaign's books.

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