- by Anne Finlay-Stewart, Editor

Does it matter who pays for the election campaigns of municipal candidates?
Campaigns cost money – literature, signs and advertising make a difference, and supporters give to help their favourite candidates achieve success.

The reason election finance laws are continually being updated is to ensure that the process is fully transparent. The theory is that if the public knows who is contributing to election campaigns, and the candidates and donors know that the public will know, noone will be so bold as to ask for or offer any quid pro quo.

We won't know who is making what contributions to municipal candidates in the 2022 election before the inaugural meeting in November.

We do know what current council members accepted in 2014.
For example, both the mayor in his first campaign  for that office and the deputy mayor, then on his first run for council, received contributions toward their campaigns that year from Barry Kruisselbrink, his company, and/or his family members. None of this information is confidential. All candidates' donors and contributions are made public and published online in their legally mandated financial reports.

This year no individual can give more than $1200 to any single candidate, and no more than $5000 total to all candidates within one municipality. In 2014, municipal candidates in Ontario could accept contributions from corporations – that was changed in 2018.

More than one current City Councillor and more than one former member of council have told us they would not accept a contribution from Mr. Kruisselbrink so there could be no perception of bias in discussions concerning his properties.

Mr. Kruisselbrink is an important contributor to jobs, housing, downtown commercial development and events in Owen Sound. As a result, he arguably has more interactions with the City of Owen Sound than anyone else.

Just as examples:

  • He or his company have come before council to request changes or extensions to the development charge “holiday”, and those fees were $0 for four years, and continue to be waived for purpose-built rentals.
  • Mr. Kruisselbrink is the largest single commercial landlord in downtown Owen Sound.  Discussions like the tax rebate for vacant properties affect him and  the current priorities for CIP (Community Improvement)  grants benefit him.
  • “Grey Bruce Property Rentals”is one of the largest builders and managers of residential rental units in Owen Sound, so by-law enforcement for property and building standards disproportionally affects the Kruisselbrinks.

That Mr. Kruisselbrink privately lobbies individual council members is no secret. During the development charges by-law discussions of 2015, one councillor said in an open meeting “I'm sure we've all had the same call from Mr. Kruisselbrink.” This is an entirely legal activity, with no public record whatsover.

Do we want to know who is lobbying our municipal officials, how often and about what? Should we know for the same reasons that campaign contributions are made public?

Ontario's Municipal Act 2001 allowed municipalities to establish their own lobbyist registries, providing the public with a searchable record of the individuals who communicate with municipal staff or elected representatives outside of public meetings, hoping to influence decisions.

According to the Canadian Bar Association, “a lobbyist registry aims to enhance accountability, transparency and public confidence in government decisions by informing the public about communications with public office holders.”

An influx of development seems to trigger public interest in who is lobbying whom and how often - Vaughan made their registry mandatory in 2018 and Collingwood, with a population only slightly higher than Owen Sound, in 2020.

Rob MacDermid, an associate professor of political science at York University, is quoted as saying “Every municipality with large development interest … needs a lobbyist registrar so that fellow citizens can see who is influencing their elected officials.”

City official regularly allude to communications with developers: commercial, residential, accommodation and industrial. Do you think the public has a right to know who is talking to whom about what?

“Accountability, transparency and openness are standards of good government that enhance public trust,” according to the City's Accountability and Transparency Policy, which mentions transparency nine times.

When an elected official in Owen Sound says out loud that one developer is “too big to say 'no' to”, it might be time to be transparent about who, and how often, they are asking for a 'yes'.





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