By Chris Simon
Some town councillors received donations from developers during the 2006 municipal election, according to a report released by Campaign Lake Simcoe last week.
However, those donations total far less than in other jurisdictions. Innisfil candidates received $5,500 in total donations from developers during the last municipal election campaign, less than their peers in Barrie, Bradford West Gwillimbury, Collingwood and New Tecumseth, says the report, entitled Money and Politics in Simcoe County: Shining a Light on Municipal Election Financing.
According to the report, which surveyed five local municipalities, developers contributed over $124,030 in the 2006 municipal election. Of that, Barrie candidates received over $70,180, Bradford got $21,450, Collingwood received $19,150 and New Tecumseth got $7,750.
Innisfil deputy mayor Gord Wauchope, who collected a ‘small’ donation from a developer in the campaign, says the report is clearly trying to imply that developers are having sway over local municipal councils. However, he rejects the claim.
“I had a very small amount of money given to me by a developer, but that does not influence my decision on anything,” said Wauchope. “I certainly wouldn’t run around knocking on doors asking developers to finance my campaign.
wouldn’t accept a large amount of money. Developers certainly try to influence decisions they want governments to make. But I’ve sat on council for 13 years, and have yet to see any member change their vote because of some influence from a member of the development community. There’s no way money would change anyone’s decision, with the council we currently have. We have a very honest and open council; council’s decisions are made on the information gathered.
“We have a lot of integrity, and are very honest people.” The report calls for provincial ban on corporate and union donations to municipal election campaigns. It also recommends financial donations be restricted to qualified electors in the municipality where the candidate is running, and limiting the amounts that can be given by a single contributor.
The value of paid volunteer labour should also be included as a contribution, said Rick Smith, executive director of Environmental Defence, a Campaign Lake Simcoe partner.
“When we looked at some municipalities in Simcoe County, we found that the development industry donated a significant amount of money to candidates,” he said. “That level of financing can’t help but influence the decisions councillors make about the growth of their communities.”
Across the municipalities surveyed, the development industry gave 43 per cent of their total contributions to elected councillors. And 58 per cent of the contributions came from outside the municipalities, said Bob Eisenberg, co-chair of Campaign Lake Simcoe.
“Why should those not permitted to vote in a municipality be permitted to influence the election’s outcome?” he said, noting the development industry was the largest donor to the municipal campaigns. “As long as candidates who distinguish between optimum growth and maximum growth find it relatively difficult to attract campaign financing, we will not control urban sprawl or stop the impoverishment of our environmental heritage.”
Innisfil mayor Brian Jackson says he does not knowingly accept donations from developers.
“If I ever received one, I’d hand it back,” he said. “It’s the perception, more than anything.”