Tuesday, May 3, 2011
When Richard Cannings contacted our newsroom shortly after last October's municipal election with allegations of campaign shenanigans by Peter Clark, we listened to what he had to say. We called Clark about this alleged "top secret electoral tool called the Liberal List." We talked to a couple Liberals about The List, and how it might have ended up in Peter Clark's hands. But lacking a shred of evidence, we dropped the story. Today the city's Election Compliance Audit Committee reached the same conclusion, and it didn't take them long.
The crux of Cannings' complaint is that such a list, complete with automated call capacity, is worth as much as $50,000. It says so in his original submission to the committee, citing unnamed "marketing industry reps" (although in another version distributed today, his estimate is a more modest $10,000 to $20,000). Cannings also describes conversations with University of Ottawa prof Gilles Levasseur and former councillor Georges Bédard in which both men confirm Clark has the list. There was an unnamed constituent who got five calls from Clark. At one point, Cannings told the committee, "It's all over the neighbourhood. Everybody knows about it, people talk about it, my barber told me."
You don't need to be a lawyer to see the opportunity there. Unfortunately for Cannings, Clark happened to have a lawyer with him anyway, and it didn't take long before Cannings' story was in tatters. Clark even produced receipts showing the true cost of his phone campaign: $1,999.72. Clark says he got the numbers the old-fashioned way: "Based on postal codes. Oh, what a surprise."
Unsatisfied with spinning just one unconvincing yarn though, Cannings presented the committee with four fresh allegations.
1. Clark failed to declare the true cost of his campaign website, which probably cost between $3,000 and $10,000, plus assorted fees.
Most municipal candidates launch decent sites for a fraction of that. Scott Moffatt, who designed and maintained his own site, says it cost him exactly four dollars a month. While it's true Clark didn't list his website expenses seperately, he was able to show the committee he paid $67 for his domain and $113 for hosting. Volunteers designed it. If I recall correctly, Clark's site was a pretty basic affair.
2. Clark failed to declare the true cost of his phone and internet. It should have been $3,000.
Clark declared $1,000.89. The commitee saw no reason to challenge him on that.
3. Clark failed to declare the true cost of his campaign headquarters rental, which should have been $4,500.
Clark declared $3,898.81 under "office expenses." The committee didn't ask him to elaborate.
4. Liberal MP Mauril Belanger broke the law when he donated $500 to Clark's campaign, because the Municipal Elections Act forbids "a federal political party...or a registered candidate at a federal election that was endorsed by that party" from making such contributions. Cannings threatened to take this one to Ottawa Police for a "possible criminal investigation."
This might have been a problem had the writ dropped five months earlier, but it wasn't. When Belanger made the contribution he was an MP, not a registered candidate.
Following today's meeting, Clark suggested Cannings needs psychiatric help. That's unkind on a number of levels. But Cannings did tell reporters he's interested in pursuing this in court. Unless he can come up with better evidence than barbershop gossip, he might want to sleep on it.