Is the Township of Emo Playing Favourites with Election Candidates?
Updated: Aug 23, 2022
Actions taken by the Township of Emo ought to raise eyebrows about the fairness and impartiality of the administration of the ongoing municipal election. Staff decisions in recent days appear to have turned a blind-eye to non-compliance with elections law by some incumbents, while disqualifying other candidates from the race on the same basis.
On August 23, 2022, 93.1 The Border reported that the Returning Officer in the Township of Emo had disqualified the nomination of Gary Judson as a candidate for council (full disclosure: he’s my grandfather). The cited reason was his alleged failure to file his required financial report following the 2018 municipal election. In that election, he ran for the office of reeve in Chapple, a neighbouring municipality.
The requirement to file financial reports is set out in the Municipal Elections Act, 1996 [“MEA”]. Section 88.25 requires that a candidate in an election file “a financial statement and auditor’s report, each in the prescribed form, reflecting the candidate’s election campaign finances”. The filing must be made by 2 PM on December 31 of the year of the election.
Section 88.23(1) and (2) of the MEA state that a candidate that fails to file a document required under section 88.25 by the deadline “forfeits any office to which he or she was elected” and “until the next regular election has taken place, the candidate is ineligible to be elected or appointed to any office to which this Act applies.”
In short: if you do not file the completed financial statement in the required format by the deadline, you are not eligible to run in the next municipal election, even if you run in a different municipality.
Why do we have these rules?
The purpose of these election finance rules is to provide a measure of transparency to the public – over the amount of money influencing our democratic processes, but also so that the public knows who financially supported various campaigns after the election. Because the financial reports are public documents, anyone can look to see who may be “in the pocket” of our mayors and councillors. This is an important political accountability tool.
(Consider, for example, the fact that during this term of office, council of the City of Dryden refused to censure local senator Lynn Beyak over her residential school denialism. We can only speculate as to why, but a close examination of their 2014 and 2018 financial reports revealed that several members of this council had received campaign donations from the Beyaks.)
What is Emo doing wrong?
I have no information about whether or not my grandfather filed his financial report in 2018. If the Township of Chapple has kept appropriate records and followed the requirements of the MEA, and if it is true that he did not file, then he is likely ineligible to run as a candidate in this election.
But what is troubling is that the Township of Emo has failed to consistently apply these same rules to other candidates. In a report released by the Returning Officer on August 12, 2022, it was revealed that of the 12 candidates who ran for mayor, councillor, and school board trustee in Emo in 2018, three-quarters of them were not compliant with the financial reporting rules. The August 12 report says that 4 candidates did not even file financial statements and 5 others were deficient in material respects (i.e., not commissioned by the clerk or containing inaccurate financial data).
Two of the most notable candidates on this list who did not file their 2018 financial statement are Mayor Harold McQuaker, who was elected in 2018 and was acclaimed in 2022, and public school board trustee John Fuhrer, who was also newly-elected in 2018 and has been acclaimed in 2022.
Of Mayor McQuaker, the report states:
Of Trustee Fuhrer, the report states:
It is quite a leap of reasoning for municipal staff to conclude that because the previous clerk did not take any action against these candidates, no default under the MEA occurred. There is actually no evidence that either of these public officeholders complied with the legislation at all. These two candidates appear to have violated the same rules that the same municipal staff are now using to prohibit Mr. Judson from running in the same election.
In effect, the municipality’s reasoning suggests that elected candidates who did not file and who were never properly removed from office for their noncompliance are subject to different rules than unsuccessful candidates who committed the same infraction.
This reasoning is even more curious when you consider that of the 9 deficient or nonexistent financial reports from 2018, the only candidate that municipal staff proactively deemed ineligible to run in 2022 was Janet Judson, Mr. Judson’s wife (and my grandmother, who did not file a nomination this year). The August 12 report indicates that while Mrs. Judson filed her report late, it was commissioned by the clerk and she was reimbursed her filing fee. It states:
Accordingly, it is apparent that Mrs. Judson actually did more to comply with the MEA than either of Mr. McQuaker or Mr. Fuhrer (who ought to have been removed from office in 2018 and deemed ineligible to run this year, but are now set to begin another four-year term of office).
Is the municipality playing favourites?
We don’t know for sure if the municipality is playing favourites in this race.
But it is certainly remarkable that, despite evidence of widespread non-compliance with elections law, the only two candidates who have been deemed ineligible to run for office are from the same family. It must be purely coincidental that that family's members have continued to demand better accountability from their municipality, and have been successful exposing the widely-acknowledged incompetence of the previous administration and the unlawful conduct of the current council.