- Written by Gordon Prentice
It is 9.50am and I am in the Cane Room at Newmarket’s Council offices in Mulock Drive waiting for the big event of the day to start at 10am. The atmosphere is subdued like a dentist’s waiting room. We talk in hushed tones.
At the top table sit the members of the Compliance Audit Committee. The Chair, Ron Colucci, is a chartered professional accountant. On his right, Kelly Gravelle, a lawyer from Oshawa and on his left Paul Jones, a former Town Clerk in Whitby whose CV is impressive but his questioning – as I shall soon find out – is less so.
In front of me sits the huge bulk of John Blommesteyn dressed for the occasion in a dark blue suit. He asks the Chair if he can raise some points on procedure before the meeting gets under way. He wants to know why we can’t meet in the Council Chamber where the meeting can be live streamed. He says he doesn’t want to come across as aggressive.
Colucci, unnecessarily exasperated by this question, tells him we are staying put.
Now it is ten o’clock and the meeting stirs into life.
Where am I?
Colucci tells us this is the first meeting of the Compliance Audit Committee of the Town of…. He pauses.
“Where am I?” he asks.
This is an inauspicious start but he recovers quickly. I learn that transparency and fairness will be the hallmark of today’s proceedings.
Blommesteyn says Taylor must have known
Now it is over to Blommestyn who, facing a time limit of 15 minutes to make his case, gallops along, swallowing and tripping over his words in his desire to get everything out in time. He is gratified that Taylor has very recently returned the $750 campaign donation to BionX but he asserts Taylor knew of the connection between Stronach and BionX years before he took the tainted money.
Blommesteyn points to page 11 of a slideshow presentation given by Taylor in 2010 which allegedly shows the relationship between Magna and BionX. Taylor then had a role with BionX Bikes. Theatrically, Blommesteyn says this is the “smoking gun”.
Blommesteyn says all three companies under the microscope (BionX Canada, Magna International Ltd and Stronach Consulting Ltd) are located on the Magna campus in Aurora. They are there because they are all part of the Magna family.
He says that even though the details of the ownership of the various corporations may be obscure it is perfectly clear who was calling the shots. Frank Stronach wielded imperial power at Magna as his staggering $52 million bonus shows.
This could cost the Town $20,000
Now it is over to Taylor’s lawyer, Jack Siegel, who tells the Committee that Blommesteyn is asking them to initiate an audit process that could end up costing the Municipality up to $20,000. “A forensic audit from top to bottom would be a dramatic step.” And one he clearly considers unnecessary.
He takes us to section 256 of the Income Tax Act which defines “control” in terms of share ownership. No-one has a controlling interest in Magna which is a public company. Now he is going on about the Stronachs and their association with various entities. Now we are in the legal thicket of trust funds. Siegel tells us that because we hear the name Stronach repeated so often it can give rise to a “potential inference”. But that’s all it is. If we look at BionX and the Stronach Consulting Group there is no “compelling evidence” of a link. He is now deep into legalese, doing what lawyers are paid to do.
Now Blommesteyn says Siegel has unwittingly proved his case for him. Blommesteyn says he is not expected to be a lawyer or a tax expert and can’t be expected to explain all the relationships between the Stronach entities. That is precisely why a compliance audit is required. He predicts it would be like peeling an onion with ever more being revealed, layer after layer. He tells the Chair there is enough “evidence of smoke” for him to order an audit.
Control and shareholdings
Colucci the accountant is not convinced. “Control” is all about shareholdings as set out in the Income Tax Act.
Now we descend into a long and inconclusive discussion about “indirect control” which is referred to in that very same Act. Blommesteyn says this phrase also appears in the Municipal Handbook but no-one it seems can turn up the reference.
Blommesteyn cuts to the chase. “We should be concerned about corporations playing loosey goosey with campaign donation rules.”
He says corporations shouldn’t be making donations at all at the municipal level where candidates are desperate for money to pay for their campaigns. He paints himself as the little guy up against the corporate movers and shakers who buy influence by spraying donations over pliant politicians across York Region.
Suddenly I feel a chill on the back of my neck. It is 10.45am and I turn to see Maddie Di Muccio enter the room giving me one of her trademark death stares.
Now Mr Jones, the retired Town Clerk from Whitby and self proclaimed expert on all things municipal, asks Taylor how he reviews the campaign donations he receives. Do you review them before the money is deposited? Taylor says he tries to look at the donations as they come in but it is pretty messy. It is an election campaign after all. He gets a lot of donations but he doesn’t take money from developers.
The Chair is now wrapping things up. The Committee does not retire to consider their position. It is all over in a matter of seconds. Colucci states baldly that he is not going to be voting for an audit. His colleagues agree.
But we are told Mr Blommesteyn can appeal to the Courts.
We are now talking big money and, I suspect, that’s very unlikely to happen.
Nevertheless, Blommesteyn has, in his own bull-in-a-china-shop way, performed a public service by reminding us all that corporate donations to candidates for political office come with a health warning attached.
- Written by Gordon Prentice
Last week Ontario Premier, Kathleen Wynne, abandoned her libel action against former PC Leader, Tim Hudak. They agreed it was time to bury the hatchet and move on.
Their jointly agreed statement says:
“The lawsuit between us, and the comments that led to it, did not reflect our view that the other is in fact a great mother/father, an honourable person and a dedicated public servant.”
It is hard to imagine the fragile and notoriously litigious former Newmarket councillor, Maddie Di Muccio, saying anything remotely generous about regional councillor John Taylor. She hates him, perhaps even more so than her obsessive-compulsive husband, the always-angry John Blommesteyn. But in suing him for libel President Di Muccio is making a terrible error of judgement.
The Courts are generally loath to intervene in spats between politicians. The defamation bar is set very high indeed.
For his part, Blommesteyn is out to get Taylor for allegedly breaking the rules on campaign finance.
Picking over the entrails
Blommesteyn has asked for a campaign compliance audit of some of the contributions to Taylor’s 2014 election campaign. A meeting to pick over the entrails will be held at 10am tomorrow, Tuesday, 14 July 2015 at 395 Mulock Drive. You can read the paperwork here.
Blommesteyn asserts that Taylor may have contravened the Municipal Elections Act by accepting donations of $750 from three related companies with common ownership. Taylor’s Toronto lawyers put the allegations this way:
“The essence of Blommesteyn’s claim is that Taylor received $750.00 contributions from each of three corporations (namely BionX Canada Ltd., Magna International Ltd., and Stronach Consulting Ltd.) claimed by Blommesteyn, on the strength of a “news blog" of unstated or unknown authorship, to have common ownership.”
Taylor shoots Blommesteyn’s Fox
Taylor says he believed at the time that the three corporations listed above were not linked. But as soon as he became aware of Blommesteyn’s application for a campaign finance audit he, Taylor, started digging and found out there was indeed a connection between two of the three corporations. He immediately refunded the $750 campaign contribution to BionX Canada Ltd
In his evidence Blommesteyn draws attention to the 2014 Candidates’ Guide for Ontario Municipal and School Board Elections which states on page 15:
“There is a $750 limit that applies to each person, corporation and union who contributes to your campaign.”
It goes on:
“If you accept contributions from corporations, you must determine whether the corporations are associated. Generally, corporations are associated if they are owned or controlled by the same person or persons… The contribution limits apply to associated corporations as if they were all a single corporation.”
Taylor’s lawyers address this head on, quoting case law which suggests that
“receiving illegal campaign contributions cannot sensibly be construed to contravene any provision of the Act… if this were not so, a contributor could sabotage the election of a candidate merely by making an illegal donation. Consequently, the only obligation upon a candidate is to return the contravening contribution as soon as possible.”
Whatever form the truth eventually takes, Taylor’s decision to return the $750 campaign contribution will no doubt be heralded as a great victory by Blommesteyn.
Maybe Taylor was not as punctilious as he should have been in checking out whether the donor companies were associated.
But in the hurly burly of a campaign I am sure these slip-ups and oversights can happen. It seems implausible to me that Taylor would knowingly jeopardize his campaign for re-election for the sake of $750.
But others clearly take a different view. They believe Taylor would push his granny under a bus for $10.
Two years ago, one of Blommesteyn’s companies was dissolved for non-compliance by Corporations Canada. He set the company up on 22 September 2010 but, for whatever reason, the required annual filings for 7656092 Canada Inc were not submitted by the due date for 2011 and 2012 and, on 22 July 2013, the corporation was dissolved for non-compliance. I didn’t make a big song and dance about it at the time and brand Blommesteyn a lawbreaker because, then as now, I am prepared to believe there is a perfectly innocent explanation.
To read the documentation in its entirety, open “Documents” in panel top left and navigate to Newmarket. Open “Compliance Audit: Blommesteyn and Taylor”.
You can see details of Blommesteyn’s corporation which was dissolved for non-compliance by navigating to “Correspondence” and opening “Non-compliance”
- Written by Gordon Prentice
Regional Councillor John Taylor has now filed a robust defence to Maddie Di Muccio’s ludicrous libel action in which she accuses him of making her “a target of ridicule, hatred and/or contempt of others”.
In a statement to the Era newspaper, Taylor reminds its readers that Di Muccio, the grandly titled President of York Region Taxpayers Coalition, used public money for partisan, political purposes.
In his defence, Taylor says he wholly rejects the statements he made to the Era are libelous. He says they are true - which is, of course, a complete defence. He says the fact that Di Muccio expensed the Town of Newmarket $1,225 for an ad attacking Tim Hudak after he disqualified her as a PC candidate in the last Provincial election was in violation of the Town’s policies.
Taylor goes on to brand Di Muccio’s libel suit as “frivolous and vexatious”.
“Since January 2015, Councillor Di Muccio and her husband have launched an integrity commissioner investigation against me as well as a campaign finance audit. They have taken the Era newspaper to small claims court, they have opened a police investigation on a former municipal candidate, they have served notice of libel to two former municipal candidates. Finally, Maddie Di Muccio recently tweeted that she enjoyed serving me for this action in Council chambers in front of staff and my peers (attached). These actions are all a matter of public record or have been published by the parties involved.”
Di Muccio could, of course, drop the action against Taylor but that would involve a huge loss of face which would not go down well in the world where she feels comfortable and most at home, namely cyberspace.
So what happens next? As I understand it, within 90 days the Small Claims Court will invite them to a Settlement Conference, chaired by a Judge but outside a courtroom setting, to see if they can resolve things. If not, then it goes to trial in open court.
There is not the remotest possibility of Di Muccio succeeding in her libel action against Taylor and winning her claim for $5,000 in damages to compensate for her hurt feelings. This demand for cash is risible.
She inhabits a world where smears and crude personal attacks are commonplace. It is her way of doing politics. This is fairly typical of her modus operandi:
@NwktTownHall Newmarkt council’s officially become a cesspool of failed provincial candidates: @_JohnTaylor, @ChristinaBisanz, @JaneTwinney
8.38pm – 11 Dec 14
Given the vitriol of her attacks on others, I find it astonishing that Di Muccio believes she has any chance of winning. But, clearly, she does.
She has convinced herself, m’lud, that she expresses honest opinions whereas others lie.
#Newmarket chambers isn’t a real courtroom. In a real courtroom, you have to prove that the lies you say about other people is true.
8.16 AM – 15 Jun 2015
She will have her day in court. And it will be delicious drama.
You can read Taylor’s Defence by clicking “Documents” in the panel top left, opening “Correspondence” and navigating to “Di Muccio vs Taylor”.
- Written by Gordon Prentice
The Background: The OMB written decision of 18 November 2014 tells us:
“There is no evidence before the Board that the Town took any steps to acquire these lands for public open space and public park purposes.”
In a nutshell: Newmarket councillors in March 2008 took a decision in principle not to buy the Glenway lands on the basis of a verbal report from the Chief Administrative Officer, Bob Shelton. We do not know what was said at that meeting or what options were considered. But the die was cast. The decision was taken in a closed session meeting that lasted 35 minutes (with three items on the agenda). Tony Van Bynen was in the chair with John Taylor and Joe Sponga present (along with former councillors Emanuel, Ramsarran and Woodhouse).
On 24 June 2015 I submitted a Freedom of Information Request to the Town of Newmarket (as did the Glenway Preservation Association) asking for sight of the Minutes and all Records relating to the possible purchase of Glenway Golf Course in the Closed Session of the Committee of the Whole 17 March 2008 and in the Closed Session Special Committee of the Whole 28 April 2008.
Read the Confidential Minutes and Reports
I received copies of these papers on 3 July 2015 along with a copy of a confidential Information Report from the Chief Administrative Officer to the Mayor and Members of the Council dated 15 February 2013. That document had been triggered by a question from a councillor asking if the Town had ever considered buying the Glenway Golf Course property. You can see all these papers by clicking on “Documents” in the panel top left, opening “Glenway” and navigating to “FOI Request on Town’s possible purchase of Glenway lands 3 July 2015”.
What the records reveal
The confidential Information Report of 15 February 2013, written five years after the events in question, says the Chief Administrative Officer (Bob Shelton) provided a verbal report in March 2008 to a closed session meeting of the Committee of the Whole on the Glenway property sale which was being conducted by way of a tender call.
The Information Report states:
“Council concurred that the municipality was not in the golf course business and the property should not be pursued.”
There is no mention of this reason in the publicly available records from 2008. The Minute of the closed session meeting on 17 March 2008 simply records that the verbal report "be received".
By the time of the report of 25 April 2008, Bob Shelton had met the owners and had learned more about their plans and preferences.
Shelton lists various key points coming out of the meeting
“The proposals are wide-ranging and from the discussions appear to range from intense residential development to the combination of development and private club activities such as a nine hole golf course, racket-ball, etc (it does not appear that a solid proposal was received for the 18 hole golf course though this was not entirely clear)”
“The owners indicated that at this point they would prefer to proceed by way of a co-operative approach with the municipality and thus would like to discuss potential options with the Town.”
“These options included the Town considering the purchase of the property and/or entering into a partnership which could be structured such that the golf course continues to function for a certain period of time while development option(s) are reviewed and pursued that would strive for a balanced plan.”
The report was “received for information purposes”.
Back to Front
It all seems back to front to me, with councillors taking a decision in principle in March 2008 not to buy before all the options had been explored.
The Minutes and Records are silent on the number and nature of any tender offers and any options that may have been put on the table by parties interested in acquiring the Glenway lands. This is the sort of thing we might have expected to see in a confidential background report – if, of course, the information were available.
Marianneville bought the Glenway lands on 21 January 2010 from Glenway Country Club (1994) Limited for $9,900,000.
When Marianneville produced its settlement offer to the Town (in the hope of avoiding an OMB Hearing) it offered the Glenway West lands to the Town on a ten year option to buy at a fixed price of $5,500,000. The Town did not accept and the Glenway issue went to the OMB. Had the Town settled on those terms, Marianneville would have won the jackpot, acquiring the developable Glenway golf course lands for a trifling $4.4 million.
- Written by Gordon Prentice
Unfortunately, there is no review (yet) of the Public Sector Salary Disclosure Act 1996 which spawns the annual Sunshine List. It gives pundits and commentators an opportunity once a year to slag off and berate those working in the public sector. (Personally, I think the vast majority of people in the public sector do a good job and deserve a round of applause.)
These days, the Sunshine List includes many people who should not be on it. Its original rationale – now lost – was to capture the very top earners. So many people are now on it, the list has turned into a form of salary voyeurism allowing nosey-parkers to find out what their neighbour is earning. If we want real transparency then we should publish everyone’s tax returns as they do in Finland.
Frozen since 1996
The $100,000 salary, fixed in 1996 and unchanged since, should now be $142,584 in 2015 – a 42.5% increase when adjusted for inflation using the Bank of Canada’s inflation converter.
There was an astonishing 14% increase in the number of Ontario public sector workers crossing the $100,000 threshold last year. There are now 111,438 public sector workers on Ontario’s 2014 Sunshine List. The average salary of those on the list is $127,178.
Sunshine List and its Anomalies
Despite the huge amount of attention given to the Sunshine List it is shot through with anomalies.
My attention was first drawn to this a few months ago when Newmarket Mayor, Tony Van Bynen, loudly complained to the Toronto Star that they got his salary wrong. The paper subsequently published a correction – revising it sharply downwards from $182,000 to $159,856 but even that doesn’t tell the whole story. He gets about $10,000 a year from a second job with the Hydro that derives from his primary job (Mayor of Newmarket) but that useful dollop of cash is excluded from his remuneration as disclosed in the Sunshine List.
Base salary + Taxable Benefits
Van Bynen gets a base salary from Newmarket of $91,313 plus various benefits such as Canada Pension Plan ($2,425) and OMERS ($14,704) totaling $16,383. The Town recovers $8,794 from the Region of York which represents the Region's share of contributions for OMERs and the CPP. This brings the total to $107,697. Other expenses carried by the Town such as the auto allowance ($6,463) and discretionary expenses such as tickets to events and fuel and vehicle maintenance and so on ($5,381) are quite properly excluded from his total remuneration. (Business lunches and so on are covered in a separate Corporate Expenses category and are, of course, excluded.)
We must now add on to the Mayor’s Newmarket remuneration the $52,987 he gets from the Region of York. (He has a seat on the Regional Council by virtue of his position as Mayor of Newmarket.) This takes his total remuneration ($107,697 + $52,987) to $160,684. But since the Star’s correction gives him $159,856 I must have make some kind of error in my calculations. Still, as from next year, the hydro remuneration will be added to the total bringing Van Bynen up around $170,000.
By any measure, he qualifies to be on the Sunshine List. Indeed, when Van Bynen chided the Toronto Star for getting the figures wrong he gave a revised total which lumped together his Newmarket and York Region remuneration.
A Tale of Two Cities: Newmarket's Mayor is on the Sunshine List but Aurora's Mayor is not
Van Bynen’s next door neighbour, Geoffrey Dawe, Mayor of Aurora, is noticeable by his absence from the Sunshine List. His base remuneration for 2014 was a relatively modest $61,492 with benefits of $17,869 giving a total of $79,361. (Excluded from this total, quite properly, are vehicle and travel allowance ($8,470) and other expenses ($1,830). Dawe’s total remuneration shown above excludes the $55,162 he gets from serving on York Region by virtue of his position as Mayor of Aurora. If this were added it would comfortably put Mayor Dawe in the Sunshine List. (Dawe also gets an honorarium of $3,000 for serving as Vice Chair of the Lake Simcoe Region conservation authority which may or may not account for the difference in York Region salaries for Van Bynen and Dawe.)
The Province really needs to update or, better still, index the Sunshine List threshold so that it doesn’t ensnare more and more people every year, moving away from the original intention. An updated Sunshine List with a $145,000 threshold would exclude the (relatively) frugal Geoffrey Dawe but capture Newmarket's Tony Van Bynen.
In any event, it needs to be clarified beyond doubt that total remuneration from second and third (or more) jobs that derive from the primary job of Mayor should be included in the List.
If it is to have any value, the Sunshine List should allow us to compare apples with apples.
At the moment, it doesn't.
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