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Monday, March 30, 2015

The biggest loser

Your completed financial statement must be submitted to the clerk by 2 p.m. on the last Friday of March (March 27, 2015).

So states the Candidate's Guide for Ontario Municipal and School Board Elections.

It’s a serious order. Failure to do so automatically results in loss of office for a successful candidate, and disqualification from running in the next election or being appointed to office in the event of a vacancy. Still, a few contenders chanced it, seeing little hope of the latter and no point in running in 2018.

Most notable of these was Paul Cheng, the self-made and self-labelled successful businessman who captured the admiration and votes of more than one-third of the electorate. During the campaign Cheng had made it clear that he had little patience for rules and by-laws, and this was no exception.We may not see his likes again.

Paul Cheng-Didn't file report

But his financial statement would have made interesting reading. Was he really self-funded, as he claimed? Or did he have backers? If so, who would they be? His list of donors was posted on his website just prior to election day. It consisted of 36 individuals and businesses, including some closely aligned with the development industry. Even if each had donated the maximum of $750, that would only come to $26,250 since he indicated that one of the donations had been declined. It certainly wasn't enough to cover all the signs and advertising he had done to attract nearly $38,000 votes.

But for almost all contenders, this was weigh in day. And promptly by 4:30 that afternoon, the submissions were posted on the city website.

It takes a while to go through them. Most are handwritten and scanned. To make sense of them and to get some comparisons, you have to put them into a spreadsheet. It’s a tedious task but doing so can give you some interesting insights into the campaigns of last summer. Who would be the winners and who are the losers?

The mayor’s race

The biggest winner no doubt was Mayor Matt Brown. He out-fundraised every mayoralty candidate
Matt Brown: raised nearly $200,000
in London’s history, I’m sure, and did it largely through modest donations from ordinary citizens.  Corporate donations did come his way—developers do need to hedge their bets—but they made up less than 20% of his overall income. He managed to pay all his bills without becoming beholden to any particular group. And a decisive majority to boot.

His main competitors lagged far behind, both in fundraising and votes. Roger Caranci managed to raise $50,000, mostly from corporate donors, but had already spent $17,000 more than that when he decided to throw in the towel early in the campaign.

Joe Swan stuck it out to the bitter end and ended up spending nearly $60,000 when he had collected only $32,000. Like Caranci, his donors are composed primarily of corporations and individuals who are closely connected to the development industry. He has asked for an extension to try to find a few extra bucks. It doesn’t look promising. Donations are hard to come by after the race is over and you’ve lost.

The ward races

So much for the mayoralty races. What about the person who represents you? What kind of money-maker and spender is he or she?

The average amount spent on a winning ward campaign in 2014 was $11,800.74. This is of interest because campaigns that come in at less than $10,000 are not subject to an audit which can save you $500 or more.

Exactly half of the successful contenders managed to spend less than $10,000: newcomers Michael Van Holst in Ward 1, Virginia Ridley in Ward 10, Tanya Park in Ward 13, Anna Hopkins in Ward 9, Stephen Turner in Ward 11, and incumbents Bill Armstrong and Harold Usher in Wards 2 and 12 respectively.

Of special interest are the three who were running against incumbents. Few forecast the defeat of
VanHolst- Spent $3,321.04 to defeat Polhill
long-serving councillors like Bud Polhill and Paul VanMeerbergen who significantly outspent their competition. Van Holst, with a budget of $3,321.04 handily defeated Polhill who spent $17,400.00, while Ridley on a shoestring budget of $6,375.13, in Westmount no less, easily outdistanced VanMeerbergen with his cushy $21,164.20 campaign, over 80% of which came from corporations. With a budget of $9,315.15, And Stephen Turner handily won over incumbent Denise Brown who, despite suggesting that she might run again in the future, failed to file a return.

I have long maintained that $10,000 should be sufficient to establish the name recognition needed to win a ward race. Ten thousand is enough to print the brochures and signs and have a little left over for some postage and a couple of ads in local publications and host a website. The rest is up to the candidate and her volunteers.

And $10,000 is a manageable goal for most contenders if they are not afraid to do a little fundraising from people who believe in them and what they can do for the city. Corporate donations shouldn’t be necessary.

Stephen Turner had held a press council to make that point early in his campaign, and several others followed his lead, including Jesse Helmer who defeated Ward 4 heavyweight Stephen Orser, half of whose $21,000 campaign was financed by corporate donors. In fact, only one of the newcomers who defeated incumbents received corporate donations. The exception was Jared Zaifman whose family connections provided him with access to corporate donors for nearly half of his successful $14,747.28 campaign against Sandy White.

White herself was no slouch when it came to tapping corporate donors.
Sandy White- Spent $34,926.36 and lost.
Although technically less than half of her donors were corporate ($8,360.00) when you take into account that most of her large individual donors are in charge of corporations, there is little else to account for a campaign of almost $35,000 other than her campaign inventory from past elections. White has asked for an extension to look for more donations. She is still short nearly $1,000 primarily as a result of overspending on fundraising. At more than $12,000 that could have paid for another whole campaign. She also spent more than $900 on auditing fees, something possibly needed to show how she could get away with spending $35,000 when the spending limit for her ward was less than $21,000.

There are some big spenders among the newcomers, too. Josh Morgan filed $20,208.33 in expenses although one quarter of that came from inventory from a couple of past unsuccessful campaigns. Almost all of his donations came from individuals. He had no problems paying his bills.

Next highest was Mo “Selfie” Salih with a campaign that came in at just under $20,000 with donations fairly evenly split between the corporate sector and individual donors. His 3,136 votes in Ward 3 vacated by Joe Swan cost $6.21 each compared to Ward 1’s Michael Van Holst at $1.09.

Even less cost effective was Phil Squire’s Ward 6 race which came in at $6.78 for each of the 1,840 votes. That race had a lot of contenders, making it easier to win but more difficult to get a clear majority. His $12,400 campaign was also fairly evenly divided between corporate and individual donors.

Paul Hubert in Ward 8 spent about the same amount as Squire but, having little competition and a high voter turnout, managed to get 7,408 votes at $1.67 each. Likewise, Maureen Cassidy spent about $12,000, raised mostly from individual donors but, having a bit more competition in Joni Baechler’s old Ward 5, spent $2.18 for each of the 5,597 votes she received.

Armstrong and Usher each spent just under $10,000. As is his wont, Armstrong’s campaign was funded almost exclusively by himself. He has built up quite an inventory. As for Usher, he has become more and more accustomed to receiving corporate donations over the years. Between them and his built up inventory, he is pretty much set although both he and Armstrong had close calls in the past election from new challengers. And, as we have seen from the fate of the Fontana 8, corporate donors can’t protect you from the wrath of the public.

That leaves just Tanya Park and Anna Hopkins. Both were modest spenders at $8,715.75 and $8,213.63 respectively. Both had significant challengers vying for their wards, 13 and 9. Park’s 2065 votes cost $3.98 apiece, and Hopkins, whose campaign I am proud to say I managed, spent $1.76 for each of her 4,956 votes. Both relied solely on individual donations.

Winners and losers

So there were winners no doubt, newcomers who showed that hard work and frugality resonate with the voters. And half of the new council accepted no corporate donations.

That doesn’t make them very different from the last council. Nearly half of them similarly accepted no such donations, but those who did formed the Fontana 8 and formed a voting bloc such as we have rarely seen in this city. They lost and took most of the corporate sponsorships with them. It remains to be seen if this will result in a council that is more autonomous in its decision-making, a council that represents the public interest rather than private ones. If so, that will make the residents of London the biggest winners.

And the biggest losers?

The Fontana 8? The corporate interests that funded losing candidates?

There are many contenders for the title. I’ll leave it to you, dear reader, to make that judgement.


Vicki Van Linden said...

It does not surprise that Paul Cheng has not followed the rules when it comes to filing expenses. He gave a lot of signals that rules of government were concepts that he did not understand, nor did he respect.

It was always a mystery why he got the support that he did. We had to take him at his word that he was a great success in business. There was never any proof of that. More disturbing was his lack of even a basic understanding of the regulations governing municipalities.

Much of what he said on the campaign trail reminded me of Dale Henderson, when Mr. Henderson repeatedly failed to grasp the limits placed on municipal governments and the rules that they must follow.

Why is it that 'run it like a business' gets people's attention so often? Let's think about businesspeople like those that botched the billion dollar Target debacle. Target made a mess of things from the first week that they opened in Canada, and they were not able to correct their direction during their two years. So many big businesses that do make profit are still out-sourcing to other countries and offering poorer and poorer quality jobs.

Is that kind of social irresponsibility, combined with occasional incompetence what we want from any level of government?

The next time a business person - or anyone - wants to run for office, perhaps she or he should first join a community organization, learn something about public administration, study the Municipal Act, and attend many, many council meetings. Being a successful business person is surely an asset, but now enough if one has not bothered to learn how city councils function.

Many of our new council members did fully prepare themselves, and they demonstrate often that they have a good understanding of what municipal governance entails.

For the rest of us, let's stop being lured by:'I will run your city like a business'. Communities are not businesses and we should all be grateful that is the case.

Anonymous said...

I suppose despite the lack of a credible candidate Councillor Hubert was testing his run for Mayor campaign when Mayor Brown does the inevitable jump to Federal or Provincial Liberal politics. Why else would someone with no competition spend so much?

Clean House said...

Getting rid of the Fontana Ate Gang was like getting an enema after being constipated for a month.

It feels great!

A Royal Flush!

Anonymous said...

I am so disappointed, although not at all surprised, that Paul Cheng did not file his expense report. I really did want to see exactly who was financing his supposedly self-financed, self-made man campaign.