ADDENDUM: Following the publication of this article on October 24th, 2016, Pontiac2020.ca was contacted by the Municipality of Pontiac voicing objection to a number of assertions made in the story.
Principally among them was a quotation by Edward McCann relating to an alleged conversation between himself and election officials relating to a delinquent financial report. The Municipality repudiates this version of events and took exception to the fact that the article presented only Mr. McCann's point of view. The Municipality "completely denies [Mr. McCann's] assertion," and went on to admonish Pontiac2020.ca and the author of the article for only quoting McCann in the story.
Pontiac2020.ca and the author accept complete responsibility for this omission and wishes to correct the record to include the Municipality's position in the matter. We apologize to any effected parties for this unintentional error and any harm that it may have caused.
The author does however stand by his article — notwithstanding the above mentioned omission — and his interpretation of events, as well as his interpretation of the Act Respecting Elections and Referendums in Municipalities (LERM).
Pontiac2020.ca, in the spirit of fairness, exercises a policy of equal space that has always, and will continue to be extended to the Municipality of Pontiac.
Former Mayor and deposed ward 2 councilor Edward McCann entered a plea of guilty in absentia Monday the 26th of September, in Provincial Court in Campbell’s Bay relating to a financial report that was not filed on time concerning the November 3rd 2013 election in the Municipality of Pontiac. Mr. McCann was fined $664 by the Director General for Elections in Québec (DGE) for having filed the mandatory financial report late.
Article 485 of the Act Respecting Elections and Referendums in Municipalities (LERM) requires that candidates file a financial report detailing any remaining debts or contributions from their campaigns. This report is in addition to the financial report candidates must file within 90 days of Election Day detailing contributions and expenses during their campaigns. Mr. McCann had filed the initial report, but according to him, problems interpreting the forms for the supplementary report lead to a delay in its filing.
“There was a mutual agreement between [election officials] and I to wait until the [election treasurer] returned from leave, in fact it was [their] suggestion,” McCann told Pontiac2020.ca when contacted by phone late last week. “We had trouble figuring out the form, and [we all agreed] it would be best to wait for the [election treasurer] to return.”
The Municipality of Pontiac, however, disputes this version of events. "The reporting of electoral expenses is the responsibility of the candidate and his representative," a spokesperson for the municipality told Pontiac2020.ca. " Mr. McCann had already received his rebate from the municipality – this additional report was required to account for the balance owing to his electoral campaign account (since the candidate only received partial reimbursement of his electoral expense). In such instances candidates are entitled to an extended delay to finance expenses that were not covered by the municipal reimbursement. In this instance, this would have required obtaining contributions from electors since the residual electoral debt exceeds the spending limit that an independent candidate can contribute to his own campaign. The election treasurer provided the pertinent information to Mr. McCann months prior to the deadline and before leaving on maternity leave. Any further inquiries would have been referred directly to Election Québec”
The report was subsequently filed late, explained McCann, “and Québec fined me $50 a day for ten days equaling $500.”
”The only reason I didn’t initially pay the fine was I didn’t want one thing tied to the other,” McCann added. “I wanted to take the time to discuss it with my lawyer and make sure that by paying the fine I wasn’t going to prejudice the other case brought against me by the [Council]. This is the only action that Elections Québec (EQ) has taken against me — filing that report late — and I never denied that it was late. But [EQ] didn’t accept the reason for why the form was filed late, and so they fined me. This other action, the one I’m appealing on the 25th [of October], was totally instigated by Roger [Larose], Brian [Middlemiss], Tom [Howard] and Nancy [Maxsom] on Council, and is a totally separate thing.”
Article 64 of the LERM states that: “Any person holding the office of leader of a party or any independent candidate at a previous election whose financial report or return of election expenses required under any of sections 408, 419, 479, 484, 485 or 492 has not been transmitted within the prescribed time is ineligible until the report or return is transmitted.”
Since McCann had not filed the supplementary report on time, he was ineligible to hold any public office in the Province of Québec until the report was submitted. Once McCann submitted the report to Elections Québec, that restriction was automatically lifted. Last Monday’s hearing lays to rest the issue of all due financial reports concerning his campaign and his eligibility to hold office related to not filing the report on time says McCann.
“When I ran for councilor for Quyon, that report had been filed by then, so I wasn’t ineligible to be a councilor because of that,” McCann added.
The issue that led to McCann being removed from council stems from what the LERM considers to be a debt. And that, McCann disputes.
Back in 2013, Edward McCann was the incumbent mayor running for re-election. In the period leading up to the 2013 election, McCann describes a hostile environment brought about by a group of individuals seeking to unduly influence council decisions. “Earlier in 2013 council passed a nuisance by-law and some ratepayers formed a group to oppose the by-law. They formed a small committee by which they intended to dictate what council did and made demands to see documents before they were made available to the public. When I refused to take orders from them they started disrupting council meetings and spreading rumours to make it look like I had something to hide. I didn’t think it was appropriate that one tiny group of citizens should be the voice for all the residents of the Municipality, especially since there were only about a dozen or so members of this so-called group.”
Indeed, a group of citizens formed a group which they named The Municipality of Pontiac Advisory Committee. Individuals connected to the group regularly disrupted and monopolized council meetings in the months leading up to the election in 2013. Letters to the Editor were published in local newspapers insinuating impropriety on the part of McCann and certain members of Council. “They were constantly bringing up the Charbonneau Commission to give people the impression that we were corrupt. They never said it outright, but they were constantly mentioning the Commission at [council] meetings or in letters to the [local] newspapers to create a link between what was happening in Montréal to suggest that the same thing was happening here. In private, they would start rumours that I was taking bribes, or that I was favouring certain people in our community and giving them special treatment. I never did any thing of the sort — my administration (sic) always tried to do what was fair and honest. But I couldn’t just let them continue slandering [the Council] like that and we had to send them a legal order to stop making unfounded accusations,” recounts McCann.
(In conducting research for this article, several individuals made reference to illegal activity they alleged McCann had committed. One allegation surrounded an accusation that McCann had received a brand new truck in exchange for favours granted to a developer seeking to build in the Municipality of Pontiac. However, no evidence was ever brought to light to substantiate those claims, or any other alleged malpractice against McCann or the Council. In conducting our own investigation into these allegations, Pontiac2020.ca was unable to find any corroboration for any of these allegations. In fact, Pontiac2020.ca was able to confirm that McCann indeed continues to make payments himself on the above mentioned truck to this day.)
The atmosphere created by the innuendo swirling around the Council hampered its ability to proceed with its work. A by-law project to update Pontiac’s urbanism regulations mandated by the MRC des Collins de l’Outaouais was submitted to a public consultation weeks prior to the 2013 election during which representations by some residents were made to the effect that the new by-laws were a “sell-out” to developers. When Council eventually passed the new laws into effect, it was by a split vote which McCann had to cast the deciding vote in favour of passing the motion bringing them into law. This was seen by some as further evidence that McCann was attempting something untoward. The by-law project became a decisive issue in the campaign which played against McCann. The by-laws were subsequently rescinded by the new incoming Council as part of an election promise.
However, a study of the updated by-laws that were rescinded by the incoming council failed to reveal anything that would have been advantageous to developers. The new by-laws had been part of a larger modernization of the development scheme in the MRC des Collins. The former municipal council at the time was acting under pressure from the MRC to submit the new by-laws because they were overdue and were required by the MRC so that it could formulate the new schema while taking into consideration the special needs of its seven municipalities. The repeal of the new by-laws had the effect of depriving the MRC with the information it needed to formulate the new schema to properly take into consideration some of Pontiac’s unique needs.
It was in this environment that McCann found himself when he ran as the incumbent for mayor in 2013. “With all the baseless accusations flying around, I wasn’t comfortable [soliciting] donations for my campaign,” McCann says. “I wanted to be able to show people that when somebody got a contract with the Municipality, that they got it out of merit and not because they gave me money to run for office.”
So McCann proceeded to fund his campaign out of his own pocket. Election law in Québec limits campaign expenses for candidates running for mayor in this municipality to around $5,100.00 based on the number of electors in the conscription at the time of the election. In McCann’s case, his total expenses for the election in 2013 were $4,163.21, nearly one-thousand dollars below the limit. Review of McCann’s financial report reveal that the money was spent on publicity, photos, posters, newspaper ads and one reception held at the Pontiac Diner for $300. According to the LERM however, all candidates are limited to how much money they can donate to their own campaigns. In McCann’s case, that amount totals $1300. The balances of those expenses are expected to be paid by contributions or loans.
In the case of McCann’s expenses, of the $4,163.21 he spent on his campaign, he received a reimbursement of $1,013.60, bringing the outstanding total to $3,149.61, which after his own allowable contribution of $1300 brings the amount down to $1,849.61, which is considered by the LERM to be a debt that must be repaid by the end of the fiscal year following the election.
It is this debt that was used by the current Council in the Municipality of Pontiac to proceed against McCann, and ask a provincial court that he be found ineligible to sit as a councilor after he won a plurality of votes in the November 9th 2015 by-election in ward 2 (Quyon), after the unexpected resignation of councilor R. Denis Dubé in July of 2015.
Section 65 of the LERM states: “Any independent candidate at a previous election who has not paid in full the debts arising from his election expenses in accordance with section 474 is ineligible for four years from his default. Notwithstanding the foregoing, the ineligibility affecting an elected independent candidate shall cease on the day of the transmission of the financial report establishing that the debts have been paid in full where the transmission occurs before the expiry of the four-year period.”
However, nothing in the LERM specifically precludes a candidate from lending themselves money for their own campaign. Further, changes to the LERM made in 2008 opened the door for candidates to serve as their own agents and official representatives in the spirit of opening up the field to individuals who may not possess the financial means to hire others to perform those functions. In the 2013 election, McCann acted as his own agent and representative, allowing him to contribute more money to his own campaign. Notwithstanding, the Director General of Elections considers McCann to have an outstanding debt of $3,149.61. The dilemma for McCann though is how to repay himself that “loan” to the satisfaction of the LERM.
“Do they want me to take money from my right pocket and put into my left?” asks McCann. Indeed, the LERM is extremely difficult to interpret on this matter. By repaying himself, the effect is still the same: the money still comes from McCann, and nothing could be found in the law that restricts candidates from lending themselves money. In fact, the LERM allows for candidates to either solicit donations or take out loans to repay campaign debt in the year following the election.
In the case that McCann would have taken out a loan to repay his debt, the money spent on his campaign would have come from the same source, namely McCann, with the addition of interest that McCann would have to pay on the loan.
The result of this situation has been to thrust the Municipality of Pontiac into turmoil as well as the expense of taking legal action against McCann that now far exceeds the $1,849.61 of outstanding debt from McCann’s 2013 campaign. Ward 2 has been without representation for most of the current council’s mandate, and a democratic election has been overturned by the court at a crucial time for the Village of Quyon.
McCann will be seeking to repeal the decision rendered against him on the 11th of May this year in Appeals Court on October 25th, in the hopes that he will be reinstated to his position as councilor of ward 2 in the Municipality of Pontiac. (Decision pending as of publication of this article)