Complaint alleges NDP MPP forced constituency staff to campaign during office hours

A staffer in the office of an east-end MPP has filed a complaint with Ontario's electoral officer, saying the MPP forces his constituency staff to campaign for him during office hours.
Todd White, a constituency assistant for MPP Paul Miller, says Miller forces his staff to campaign for him during work hours. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

A staff member in the office of east-end MPP Paul Miller who has already filed several complaints against his boss has added another; this time to Ontario's electoral officer saying Miller forces his constituency staff to campaign for him during office hours.

Todd White, a constituency assistant for Hamilton East-Stoney Creek NDP MPP, submitted the complaint Friday.

White's latest complaint reiterates earlier allegations also referenced in his Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario filing earlier this month.

"(Miller) routinely assigns riding association and election work to his employees," White says in his complaint to the chief electoral officer.

"He expects us to perform these assignments in our roles as paid public employees during regular work hours in the constituency office with legislative resources.

"I am concerned that these assignments violate contribution guidelines under the Election Act and Election Finances Act, since the constituency office, with direction from the MPP, has provided goods and services to the riding association since approximately 2015."

The NDP, says Andrea Horwath, "(makes) sure our MPPs know very well that partisan activities do not happen out of the constituency office, or with constituency staff." Horwath spoke at an Ontario Chamber of Commerce event in Hamilton Friday. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

The complaint appears to contain a memorandum Miller sent to his three staffers in October 2016, and also contains an audio file that White says is Miller talking to staff.

In the memorandum, Miller directs his three constituency staff to submit monthly reports on the "number of new contacts and leads made personally for support of Paul Miller, MPP's reelection."

It also says Miller wants "details of activities undertaken personally to promote Paul Miller, MPP with local media or groups or institutions within the constituency, e.g. BIAs, seniors' associations, and sporting groups."

The memorandum doesn't say specifically that those actions are to be taken during office hours, although the audio references fundraising and working with the constituency association.

Failure to do the actions outlined "may result in disciplinary action," the memorandum says. It also says he wanted the reports placed on his desk, or under the door if his office was locked.

Paul Miller is the MPP for Hamilton East—Stoney Creek. (Ontario NDP)

White's human rights complaint focuses on what White says was discrimination based on him having to care for his newborn baby.

In that document, White references a fundraising golf tournament Miller told him to work overtime to organize. When he didn't, the human rights complaint says, he was disciplined for "lack of interest in his job."

The new complaint's audio component is what appears to be three minutes, redacted, of Miller talking to staff about relations with the riding association and supporting its work during office time.

"If I lose the election, we're all out of a job," Miller tells them.

"I understand the riding stuff shouldn't be distracting you from what you're doing here because it is a side show. But with all due respect, it is interlocked with this office."

"We have to have some flexibility. We can't be just stringent, 'I'm going to do this and I'm not going to do this at 3:30 and I'm going to do this at 4:30, and I'm not doing this until I go home....'

"Once this office is gone, the next one, whoever it would be — a Liberal or a Conservative — they all work within those realms."

White, who is also chair of the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board, and two other staffers also have an outstanding union grievance on this matter. 

CBC News contacted Miller's office for response last week.

'Fully engaged in this issue'

The party responded with an emailed statement from Marla DiCandia, director of operations with the Ontario NDP caucus. DiCandia said she wouldn't comment on personnel matters.

"I can assure you that the (human resources) department from the Ontario NDP caucus is fully engaged in this issue," she said in an email. "If the Chief Electoral Officer chooses to investigate the complaint, we will work with their office in good faith to address the allegations."

NDP leader Andrea Horwath said Friday she wasn't familiar with the complaint, but said the party avoids overlapping constituency work with election work.

"It's certainly not our policy," she said after speaking at an Ontario Chamber of Commerce event in Hamilton.

"In fact, we do the opposite in terms of making sure our MPPs know very well that partisan activities do not happen out of the constituency office, or with constituency staff."

One act requires an MPP to complain

It's unclear what, if anything, Elections Ontario can do with White's complaint. In an email Friday, Elections Ontario spokesperson Jessica Pellerin says White's situation seems to fall under the Public Service of Ontario Act, which falls under the Office of the Integrity Commissioner.

The latter act says "a public servant is entitled to decline to engage in political activity." The Members' Integrity Act, meanwhile, states that an MPP can't make decisions that will "further the member's private interest," or use information obtained as an MPP for his or her own private interest.

With the former, the commission website says, only a public servant can report a wrongdoing, and constituency assistants don't qualify as public servants. And with the Members' Integrity Act, the website says, only MPPs can file complaints about fellow MPPs.

White says the situation outlined in his complaint does qualify as an elections issue, since it means using office staff, supplies, phone lines and other amenities not considered campaign expenses.

It's also not the only friction happening in a local NDP MPP office. Two staffers in MPP Monique Taylor's Hamilton Mountain office have also filed human rights complaints.

About the Author

Samantha Craggs

Reporter

Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She has a particular interest in politics and social justice stories, and tweets live from Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca