Want info on mayoral campaigns from city hall? Bring a pencil

If you want to look into the background of political campaigns at the City Winnipeg, you won’t find it online, on a smartphone or even with the help of a photocopier.​

Winnipeg city hall allows writing out of info meant for public, while phones, copies a no-no

Campaign donation information is available at Winnipeg's city hall -- but it takes some patience to get it. (Bert Savard/CBC)

If you want to look into the background of political campaigns at the City of Winnipeg, you won’t find it online, on a smartphone or even with the help of a photocopier.​

A reliable pen, notebook and patience at the city clerk​'​s office is the only thing that will get you that information.

This is the City of Winnipeg's version of transparency when it comes to making public the names of people who financially support candidates for mayor and council.

Candidates are entitled to receive contributions of up to $1,500 from any individual. That can take the form of money, goods or services. Meanwhile, candidates running for city council are entitled to receive a maximum of $750.00.

They also have to publicly disclose all contributions that are more than $250. If they don't, they are subject to prosecution.

You would think it would be easy for the public to check the record and see who is backing their favourite candidate.  And you would be right, if you lived in Toronto, Edmonton, Regina or many other cities across Canada, where such information is routinely posted on the city's websites.

But in Winnipeg, there is a different process.

It's not online and you can't order it and have it sent by courier. You must show up at the city clerk's office in person to have a look.

And don't bother digging into the spare change ja​r because photocopying is not allowed either.

Sharpen your pencil or make sure you have plenty of ink because you will be copying the information down under the watchful eyes of city clerk staff.

Even clicking the camera app on your smartphone is a no-no.

Why, in a world of online forms and banking by phone​,​ is this process in place?

"That's the way we've always done it here," said Mark Lemoine, deputy city clerk. He acknowledged that the restrictive access wasn't mandated by a bylaw or by council but ​is​ just a practice of the clerk's office.

But surely a photocopy can't be too intrusive when it comes to the forms​?

"They contain a lot of personal information, and to ensure privacy we don't allow it," said Lemoine.

So, what state secrets are in these documents?

Documents, under the mandate of a city bylaw, that must ​be filed with the clerk's office and made public.

In fact, the bylaw mandates every candidate disclose

a) all contributions received and expenses incurred

b) the name, address and contribution of each contributor of an amount over $250

c) an itemized list of campaign expenses incurred

d) the contributions and expenses relating to each fundraising event

e) particulars of any loan made to the candidate for the purpose of the election campaign.

And timeliness is not the underlying principle of these disclosures.

If you are interested in knowing who contributes financially to this year's mayoral candidates, there is no provision allowing you to have the information before the Oct. 22 election date.

You would have to wait till May 20 next year to go pen-in-hand to the clerk's office.

That's why CBC Manitoba has challenged each mayoral candidate to release the list of contributors prior to election day. Most, with the exception of one, have agreed to do so.

Will the city's practice of forcing citizens to come armed with pens and notebooks to the clerk's office continue?

Lemoine said that after the election, this and other practices will be reviewed and may be altered after consultation with council.  


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