A recent report looking at the influence of developer contributions on the outcome of municipal elections in Simcoe County has left Orillia and surrounding areas out of the mix.
The report prepared by Campaign Lake Simcoe, a partnership between Environmental Defence, Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition, and Ontario Nature, calls for a ban on corporate and union contributions to municipal election campaigns.
According to Campaign Lake Simcoe, they left Orillia and surrounding municipalities out because of their lower projected population and lack of development opportunities.
“We were looking for areas that had significant development pressure in the Lake Simcoe watershed area,” said Claire Malcolmson, advisor for Campaign Lake Simcoe. “Orillia isn’t one of those towns that is going to experience substantial development and population growth.”
The five communities included in the study were Barrie, Bradford West Gwillimbury, Innisfil, New Tecumseth, and Collingwood, most of which are in south Simcoe.
The report, titledMoney and Politics in Simcoe County: Shining a Light on Municipal Election Funding,says that the development industry is giving too much money to successful politicians in those areas.
According to the findings, developer contributions made up 43% of all 2006 contributions to elected councilors in those areas. More than half of those contributions come from developers outside of the municipality.
With excessive developer con-t ributions, pro-development candidates that encourage urban sprawl have a better chance of being elected, the report argues.
Robert MacDermid, a political science professor at York University and expert on municipal campaign finances, helped do the research and compile the numbers for the report.
He looked at data from Orillia and surrounding areas, such as Oro-Medonte, but did not include those findings in the Campaign Lake Simcoe report because they didn’t share as much projected growth and development expansion opportunities as the five southerly areas.
“I looked at that separately,” said MacDermid. “(Campaign Lake Simcoe) focused on the five municipalities where the developments were growing more rapidly.”
MacDermid said including other areas wouldn’t have changed the conclusions of the report, but would have shown that this problem doesn’t occur in every municipality.
In the 2006 municipal election, Orillia’s corporate contributions for elected councillors were few and far between.
Only Mayor Ron Stevens is listed as having corporate contributions of over $100, counting for $3,750 of his total $7,700 in contributions. Stevens was unavailable for comment Wednesday.
Harry Hughes, mayor of Oro- Medonte, said he is awfully sure that no one on his council accepted developer contributions.
“They (Campaign Lake Simcoe) did ask for the records and they probably found out we didn’t accept any,” said Hughes. “That’s why I think we weren’t in the report.”
MacDermid said that the report didn’t exclude municipalities on the basis of not receiving a lot of corporate donations.
“It was the decision to concentrate on those more southerly areas,” he said. “We didn’t selectively try to remove those townships on that basis.”
Nicholas Rolphe, co-ordinator for Campaign Lake Simcoe, said they would have loved to do something on the entire Lake Simcoe watershed area, but they had to focus their attention and resources on areas slated for a lot of development and growth.
He added that areas such as Innisfil, with Big Bay Point resort, and Bradford West Gwillimbury, with the development of a large residential area west of Highway 400, were pinpointed because of the controversy surrounding those developments.
“We thought they needed special attention,” he said.