The race is on – so far 23 candidates have registered.
Rick’s been permanent-campaigning with his $250K-a-year office budget for the past three years, but the self-promotion is becoming more intense now – the world’s longest-ruling professional politician will be staying at the trough for the October election.
Do you even remember how you voted last time?
Look for more and more taxpayer-funded “good news” in your mailbox as the election gets closer.
Rick, Jim and other politicians have been harshly criticized lately for accepting cash from developers and for other shady electoral practices – the mayor defended himself in a CBC interview, saying that it’s okay for politicians to take the money from corporations and unions that do business with the city, because it’s legal and fair. Many don’t buy his lame arguments.
Watson bridles at any suggestion that he or any other politician could be influenced by such small infusions of cash – a mere $15K for Rick and a piffling $498,352.97 for the mayor.
Citizen columnist Joanne Chianello begs to differ. She supplies three reasons for a ban on corporate and union donations to politicians:
“1. Double dipping
Those in favour of corporations and unions being able to donate argue that these groups are part of the community and therefore should be allowed to participate in the political process. That’s true. So let corporate and union leaders volunteer for their preferred candidates, make public endorsements and even donate money — as individuals, not as corporations or unions, which don’t get to mark a ballot.
What often happens is that the heads of these organizations make donations in the name of the company or union, and then contribute again as individuals.
For example, a number of Malhotra family members donated the maximum allowable contribution of $750 to Jim Watson’s mayoral campaign, as did the Malhotra family’s development company, Claridge Homes. This isn’t to pick on the Malhotras — this doubling up of contributions happens all the time — but as the rest of us are only allowed to contribute once to a candidate, it’s hard to see how this practice is fair.
2. No enforcement
Under Ontario’s Municipal Elections Act, there are rules that limit corporate and union giving. There’s just one problem: no one actually enforces them. Instead, officials respond only to complaints, which must be made within 90 days of the candidate’s filing his or her campaign financial statements.
(Former councillor Alex Cullen, who argued against corporate and union donations, did an excellent job of reviewing candidates’ contributions. His departure from municipal politics has left a gaping hole in this regard.)
For example, the Elections Act says that “corporations that are associated with one another … shall be deemed to be a single corporation.” But who’s checking that?
In 2010, Capital Sports and Entertainment, Capital Sports Management and Capital Sports Properties all gave the $750 maximum to Councillors Mark Taylor and Stephen Blais. The president of the three companies, all related to the Ottawa Senators, is Cyril Leeder. How can these companies not be “associated with one another?” (Taylor reports that he later refunded donations to two of the Capital Sports entities.)
In another incident, Centretown businessman Brian Karam was listed as the president or business manager of three numbered companies. These firms gave multiple $750 donations to councillors Allan Hubley and Maria McRae.
Karam told the Citizen in an email back in August that he has “only a minority interest” in the three firms, and insisted he broke no rules, although it’s not clear who does control these numbered corporations.
The point is, rules are useless if no one is going to implement them. These complex ownership stipulations wouldn’t be necessary if corporations were simply prohibited from donating.
3. Perception of conflict
Corporate types often characterize campaign contributions as “building good relations,” but what it really amounts to is currying favour with whomever might win. That’s why many companies will donate to more than one mayoral race, as a number of developers did with Watson and second-place finisher Larry O’Brien in 2010. It’s not so much corporations aching to participate in the political process as wanting to hedge their political bets.
However, our collective cynicism gets a far bigger boost from donations that can create a perceived conflict of interest. The Ottawa Police Association shouldn’t be allowed to give money to a mayoral candidate — as it did with Watson, who was a shoe-in for mayor in 2010 — considering the mayor usually chairs the board that oversees the city’s police services.
Even worse are the donations made during the “supplementary” period — that is, in the first six months of the year following the election when candidates can continue fundraising. What possible reason would there be for a corporation or union to give money to a councillor who’s already been elected other than a hope of influencing that councillor? It’s as close to legal bribery as it gets.
The most extreme example of this was Taylor’s accepting a donation from the taxi union after he was put in charge of the committee that regulates the taxi industry. Taylor subsequently championed changes to taxi licence rules that generally favoured licence-plate holders.
A coincidence? Possibly. We’ll never know for sure.
In theory, banning corporate and union contributions isn’t hard: council has to pass a bylaw making it so, though it needs provincial permission to do so.
But the fact that the rules are left up to council is also the major obstacle: considering most councillors accept corporate and/or union donations to some extent, it’s not likely to happen any time soon.”
Voter and taxpayer Geoff King agrees: “Columnist Joanne Chianello has raised, in very useful detail, what should be a major issue in the city election later this year: political donations. In particular, all candidates should be asked to state whether or not they support corporate and union donations.
Those coming from any companies doing business with the city, or seeking to do so, should be banned outright. Any candidate who does not agree with this minimal reform should be voted out of office. The potential for conflict of interest in the case of companies involved in city procurement, capital projects, construction, land assembly/development/speculation and real estate in general is obvious and serious. Union donations can also be problematic, especially when they involve those whose workers are directly employed or regulated by the city.
Current standards demand not only impartiality in our councillors’ decisions but also the perception of impartiality. This cannot possibly hold true under the current scenario.”
The Bells Corners Wild Bird Care Centre, recently threatened by the 2012 Great Bells Corners Fire, was having problems because of the government ban on the sale of higher wattage incandescent bulbs.
But the problem has been solved – 600 donations in two days!
The Westcliffe rink has reopened today!
The Westcliffe puddle rink was closed after the thaw.
The Lynwood rinks will need some more work – the combination of a very uneven surface and prolonged mild temperatures results in pronounced ridges after water pools.
Providing access to the rink from the entrance to the change room at the back of the building is an extra challenge for the community rink workers.
The huge Lynwood puddle rink is down for now.
Thank you, Westcliffe ice kings.