City Solicitor, DCR Phoenix and over-contributions

Kevin O'Donnell
2015-04-20 15:11

In Saturday's Ottawa Citizen, Joanne Chianello reported that DCR Phoenix has admitted to donating over $5,000 in total to candidates in the 2014 City of Ottawa election ("Contributors to Ottawa's municipal election campaigns broke rules").

Regarding what happens next, Mr. Kochar of DCR stated, "our lawyers are in touch with the city solicitors to find out what the repercussions are and how we can rectify the situation."

This raised a few questions in my mind, which I put to the City of Ottawa media department:

  1. Is the City Solicitor having discussions with DCR?
  2. What, if any, authority does the City Solicitor have in discussing this situation with DCR, and what provincial legislation, city by-law, or city policy, etc, does that authority originate from?
  3. DCR Phoenix donated to many current councillors and the Mayor. The City Solicitor reports to Council. DCR Phoenix would like the City Solicitor to be involved in determining a solution to their excessive donations. Does this create a real or perceived conflict-of-interest?
  4. Can this issue be referred instead to the arms-length Elections Compliance Audit Committee, either unilaterally, or with the consent of DCR Phoenix? 
  5. If the City Solicitor, or Clerk, or other staff member, have discussions with DCR representatives, or others, will the results of those discussions be made public, and if so, by what means? Which committee will receive the report, and will 5-minute public delegations be allowed? Or would any reports be presented right to Council?

The Communications Dept replied with this statement, to be attributed to Rick O'Connor, City Clerk and Solicitor:

In response to your questions, 1, 2, 3 and 5:
The City Solicitor’s office is not engaged in discussions with DCR Phoenix.

In response to your question 4
Generally, the Ontario Municipal Elections Act, 1996 does not permit the Election Compliance Audit Committee (“ECAC”) which is appointed by the municipality to review an individual donor’s contributions that may exceed the maximum contributions permitted under Section 71. Specifically, the authority of the ECAC is limited to review a candidate’s finances, as stated in Section 81 of the Municipal Elections Act, 1996 as follows (emphasis added):

An elector who is entitled to vote in an election and believes on reasonable grounds that a candidate has contravened a provision of this Act relating to election campaign finances may apply for a compliance audit of the candidate’s election campaign finances.

Complaints within the jurisdiction of the ECAC may be made by eligible electors in the City of Ottawa by submitting an application to the ECAC which can be found on Ottawa.ca.

Inquiries regarding the review of a donor’s contributions may be directed to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing.

I'm relieved to learn the City Solicitor is not touching this with a 10-foot pole. My worries about conflict-of-interest are moot.

But, it remains unclear what is going to happen next. Or rather, it remains unclear if anything is even going to happen next.

  • The City Solicitor is not involved (nor should that office get involved, IMHO).
  • The issue of donors contributing over the limit will not be handled by the city's independent Elections Audit Committee.
  • The city thinks complaints should be handled by the Ministry.

I have placed a call into the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing to find out if they will take action. I had to leave a voicemail. The recording said I can expect a response by end-of-business Tuesday.

What ever happens next, it's probably not going to happen until Wednesday.

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