London councillor pushing for review to close Elections Act loophole
Published Wednesday, July 24, 2019 7:06PM EDT
Councillor Stephen Turner is preparing to target a glaring loophole in Ontario’s Municipal Elections Act.
Turner has asked for a compliance audit to determine if third-party advertising rules were violated by political consulting firm Blackridge Strategy, its co-owner Amir Farahi and Councillor Paul Van Meerbergen's campaign volunteer Barry Phillips during last year's election.
But a just-released letter from Farahi's lawyer refers to City Clerk Cathy Saunders’ comment last month when she said, "There is nothing in the Municipal Elections Act that provides authority for compliance audits to be undertaken for third parties that are not registered."
The letter argues that because Farahi and Blackridge Strategy didn't register with city hall, their actions are outside the mandate of the Compliance Audit Committee.
But Turner argues the intent of the law should outweigh the omission, "If someone is not a registered third party, do they get to just ignore the law?”
He adds that updates to the Elections Act were intended to improve transparency.
"They created the category of third-party advertisers so that other people could be involved in the election...But that it was transparent. That was the intent."
In an email, Ontario's Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing agrees that only third-party advertisers that registered with city hall during the campaign period can be audited by the committee.
It also says that the method to enforce election rules that may have been violated by unregistered third-party advertisers would be through the courts.
The ministry adds it reviews the act after each election; work that Turner thinks is overdue.
“Perhaps it wasn't written as well as it could have been, so I think it is incumbent on the province to make sure that it's written clearly and closes off that loophole if there is one.”
Turner will argue for a compliance audit of Amir Farahi, Blackridge Strategy and Barry Phillips on Friday.