Deep developers’ pockets are tilting the balance of power in local elections.
The development industry contributes too much money to successful politicians in five Simcoe County municipalities, including Barrie, says a local environmental group.
Campaign Lake Simcoe says the development industry gave 43% of all contributions to successful councillors during the 2006 municipal election in Barrie, Bradford-West Gwillimbury, Collingwood, Innisfil and New Tecumseth.
The group’s report, Money & Politics in Simcoe County: Shining a Light on Municipal Election Financing, will be released today.
Michael Johns, a Laurentian University political science professor at Barrie’s Georgian College, says election contributions from developers are as much a problem of perception as reality.
“When you pay someone money, there are reasons why you are paying them money,” he said of political contributions.
“This is problematic, particularly when it comes to a growth area like Simcoe County. The people who are going to benefit (from growth) are developers.”
Campaign Lake Simcoe wants the province to ban corporate and union contributions to municipal elections.
It also wants contributors to be qualified voters in the municipality where their supported candidate is running for office. That’s because 58% of these contributions came from outside the municipalities of the candidate.
Campaign Lake Simcoe says developers’ campaign contributions fill municipal councils with supporters of urban sprawl — residential subdivisions. The group calls it “paving the watershed.”
Pro-environment candidates don’t get developers’ money, making it tougher for them to be elected.
Prohibiting corporate contributions would help level the election playing field.
Johns says a ban is unlikely, but candidates could be more careful about who contributes to their campaigns and that information could be available in a more timely fashion.
“It falls to the candidates themselves,” he said, “to say ‘these are the people I will take money from, these are those I will not’.”
A list of each candidate’s campaign contributions for this year’s Barrie election — to be held on Oct. 25 — aren’t due until March 25, 2011. Candidates can also ask for an extension until June.
“We need to get the access to this information a whole lot faster,” said Johns, who is helping Coun. Jeff Lehman in his campaign for mayor this year.
There’s no limit on how many candidates a contributor may choose to support in Ontario.
“Even if they (developers) give money to everyone, it looks bad if there are questions later,” Johns said. “The immediate assumption is, ‘He got paid off’.
“That may not be the case.”
Johns says Lehman does not accept campaign contributions from developers.
Barrie Mayor Dave Aspden did for his successful 2006 mayoral campaign.
And in April of 2007 he took a secretive trip to China with Mario Cortellucci and Saverio Montemarano, landowners/developers with extensive property holdings in Barrie and Innisfil, who also contributed to Aspden’s election campaign.
This led to a city council-requested OPP investigation into Aspden’s actions. It did not lead to criminal charges.