Another anticipated candidate in this year’s municipal election appears to have broken the Municipal Elections Act by incurring a campaign expense before they were allowed.
In a now-deleted sponsored Facebook advertisement noting it was “Paid for by Gerry Montpellier,” the Ward 3 councillor writes, “I am running for re-election in our 2022 municipal election.”
The post was primarily intended to advertise an upcoming Motorama event in Toronto, Montpellier told Sudbury.com, adding that the short section about his seeking re-election was tacked onto the paid-for Facebook advertisement to answer a question that was posed to him.
After it was posted, Montpellier said he was informed by someone that he shouldn’t have included the part about the election, so he had his son delete that part of the post “immediately.”
Despite this, he still questions the assertion that he may have broken any rules and suggested that other common activities might also be in breach of the act.
“I’m a little upset now because in the end, I go to Tim Hortons today and I can’t say, ‘Wow, I’m running for re-election.’ Am I going to get chased by somebody?” he asked, adding that he pays for his phone, so will telling someone over the phone that he is seeking re-election be considered an election expense?
The Ward 3 councillor also questioned whether he can still post on Facebook about upcoming charity events entirely unrelated to politics or the election.
The Municipal Elections Act is a piece of provincial legislation which, among other things, governs candidates’ conduct. It dictates that election expenses, which include monetary expenditures and “the value of contributions of goods and services,” can only be incurred during the election campaign period. This doesn’t begin until the city receives a candidate’s nomination forms, which they cannot submit until the nomination period begins on May 2.
“Campaign advertisements,” which include those made “in any broadcast, print, electronic or other medium that has the purpose of promoting or supporting the election of a candidate,” are considered campaign expenditures.
“The act is pretty cut and dried in terms of what constitutes a campaign expense or what constitutes a campaign activity and when that can be undertaken,” city legislative compliance co-ordinator Danielle Derochie told Sudbury.com, noting that the act was made “very fulsome” in the lead-up to the 2018 municipal election to make things clearer for candidates.
The penalty for breaking the Municipal Elections Act may include the forfeiture of office and/or prohibition from seeking office in a future municipal election, fines and imprisonment.
A few months ago, anticipated mayoral candidate Bob Johnston also appears to have broken the Municipal Elections Act. He posted an image to social media of his vehicle, which had a decal posted to it featuring his image and the slogan “Not Bigger, but Better / Mayor / Vote Bob Johnston 2022,” with “Bigger” a reference to Mayor Brian Bigger. He said the photo cost $100 and that he was given the decals.
Although the act outlines how both Montpellier and Johnston appear to have broken the rules, it’s less clear whether they will face any penalties.
First, an elector would have to apply for an election compliance audit through the city by filing a form with the city that includes a description of the perceived breach and a $31 fee. Forms can be filed after candidates’ financial filing deadline has passed, which is at the end of March 2023.
From there, the Election Compliance Audit Committee will review the application.
“If they believe it’s a substantiated complaint, they forward it to the auditor to review it,” Derochie said, adding that it’s up to the committee to determine whether legal action should commence in the event the auditor determines there’s a contravention of the act.
“It’s really open to their interpretation and analysis of what the evidence is and what the offense was,” she said. “It is relatively cut and dried what would constitute an offense, but it’s the severity of it, I suppose.”
The city is currently working to put together the committee within the next couple months, which will consist of three community members and an alternate. Provincial legislation requires that a committee is formed by Oct. 1.
In the past few elections, Derochie said no elected officials have been removed from their positions and no candidates have been prohibited from seeking election in the future as a result of breaking the Municipal Elections Act. There have been two investigations over the course of the past three elections, but none were determined to carry any weight.
The main mistakes candidates make have to do with missing deadlines, which are typically resolved via fines.
“There are a lot of key dates and deadlines in an election cycle,” she said, adding that sometimes it’s as simple as filing something at the end of a work day instead of at 2 p.m. as required.
When Sudbury.com presented Johnston with evidence he’d broken the Municipal Elections Act in January he denied he’d done anything wrong and requested we never phone him again.
Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.