Toronto councillors appear to be splitting along partisan lines over whether then-candidate Rob Ford's decision to allow a family holding company to pay almost $70,000 in election expenses should be reviewed by a compliance auditor appointed under the provisions of the Municipal Elections Act.
However, election finance experts say these financing techniques raise concerns about the effectiveness of council's policy of banning corporate and union donations, and the transparency of the election finance reporting process.
As The Globe and Mail reported Wednesday, Mr. Ford's election filings indicate that Doug Ford Holdings Inc. paid for a series of early expenses and invoiced the campaign. Mr. Ford's office declined to respond to questions about when the campaign reimbursed the company and stressed that the candidate "acted in accordance with the rules."
Section 69 of the act, entitled "Duties of candidate," states that those seeking municipal office "shall ensure that all payments for expenses, except for a nomination filing fee, are made from the campaign accounts."
"This does raise very significant and serious issues and questions," said Ryerson University political scientist Myer Siemiatycki, who served as a member of the 2003 City of Toronto task force on election finances. "Ultimately, Elections Toronto is going to have to look at what went on or was there a crossing of the line by the candidate."
In an interview, deputy mayor Doug Holyday (Etobicoke Centre) agreed that it will be up to the city's election officials to determine if any rules have been broken. "If they have no concerns, I have no concerns," he said.
The official in charge of municipal elections was unavailable for comment Wednesday.
Toronto Transit Commission chair Karen Stintz (Eglinton Lawrence) said the issue from her perspective is that candidates for mayor have a limited period of time in which to raise substantial funds to mount a run for office, whereas federal and provincial politicians can continue to collect donations throughout their terms. "It speaks to the challenges of running a municipal campaign," she said.
Adam Vaughan (Trinity Spadina), who has been a vocal critic of Mr. Ford, said candidates in local elections need to "play it by the book" and shouldn't be seen to be bending the rules. He called for either a compliance audit or a council decision to amend the rules.
"[The mayor]constantly steps into these grey areas," he added, referring to a previous controversy in which Mr. Ford, then a councillor, was reprimanded by council's integrity commissioner Janet Leiper for improperly using his office letterhead and city resources to raise money for his private football foundation.
Ms. Leiper's investigation found that "donors to the Councillor's foundation included lobbyists, clients of lobbyists and a corporation which does business with the City of Toronto."
Although he said he didn't see any evidence that would warrant an audit, Josh Matlow (St. Paul's) called on council and the provincial government to tighten campaign rules to ensure that anyone can run for public office, including candidates without access to substantial private funds.
"There was a corporate benefactor that helped the success of a campaign and it certainly suggests we need to tighten all the loopholes," he said.
Richard Stromberg, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, said election disputes are vetted by council's compliance audit committee. "The compliance audit committee makes a decision independently and council must follow its recommendation," he said.
Special to The Globe and Mail