Ottawa

Rookie councillor facing audit over campaign finances

The City of Ottawa will hire an outside auditor to look into Coun. Laura Dudas's financial statements from her 2018 campaign after a resident in her ward complained she didn't follow municipal election laws.

Coun. Laura Dudas accused of spending before official campaign launch, re-using signs

A resident has complained that Coun. Laura Dudas had T-shirts for volunteers hours after she filed her nomination papers, and re-used campaign signs from her 2014 campaign. (Twitter)

The City of Ottawa will hire an outside auditor to look into Coun. Laura Dudas's financial statements from her 2018 election campaign after a resident in her ward complained she didn't follow municipal election laws.

An independent election compliance audit committee ordered the audit Wednesday, saying it found "compelling and credible information" that the Innes ward councillor might have breached campaign finance rules.

Heather Buchanan, who lives in Innes ward, filed the complaint accusing Dudas of spending or receiving campaign contributions before officially joining the race on May 4. The complaint said purple campaign T-shirts and a professional video were ready on the same day as her campaign launch.

Neither Dudas nor her lawyer, Gregory Meeds, would comment to the CBC about the complaint, but in making her case to the five-member committee, Dudas said the video had been recorded by a friend who makes them as a hobby.

"When I realized we were going to use it, after I'd filed my papers ... I asked him to put a value to it. I have absolutely no clue what the true value was, but I thought that seemed appropriate," Dudas said of the $800 she listed as having received for the "video campaign" when she filed her financial statement on Oct. 22.

Old campaign signs

Buchanan, who didn't attend Wednesday's meeting, also complained Dudas wrongly reported that she hadn't re-used election signs from her unsuccessful 2014 campaign.

Candidates are allowed to use old signs, but must record their value based on what they'd cost to buy new.

Dudas said most of her old burgundy signs had been damaged in her garage and her 2018 campaign didn't plan to use them, but a supporter who lives at a prominent intersection had erected some of the 2014 signs unbeknownst to her.

The resident who filed the complaint offered a link to this Google Streetview image from October 2018, showing a 2014 Laura Dudas sign at Innes Road and the Blackburn Bypass. (Google)

"As soon as we found out they were out, we had him remove them and we replaced them with other signs, the new ones," Dudas explained.

After the audit is complete, the committee will reconvene to decide if the city should take legal action against Dudas. If she's convicted, the maximum penalties she would face include losing her seat, a fine of up to $25,000 and a jail sentence of up to six months.

A candidate in Osgoode ward, Jay Tysick, will also be audited despite having never submitted his campaign's financial statements as the law requires.

No audits for Darouze, El-Chantiry

Coun. George Darouze appeared before the committee in May and Coun. Eli El-Chantiry in June following similar complaints, but the committee decided against auditing their campaign finances.

El-Chantiry believes the process is unfair because anyone can file a complaint for free and have it heard by the committee, but is not required to reimburse the accused candidate's legal costs.

"As much as we all love transparency ... the accountability has to be on both sides," El-Chantiry said.

Eli El-Chantiry's 2014 finances were audited, but the committee decided he had made a clerical error in accounting for the market value of old campaign signs.

The committee did order a legal proceeding against former Coun. Mark Taylor, but the independent prosecutor decided it wasn't in the public's interest to pursue the matter for the small fine it would garner.

The only Ottawa city councillor since amalgamation to be prosecuted at trial was Kitchissippi's Shawn Little after the 2000 election, but the court granted a stay of proceedings on all counts.

It cost $93,000 for the committee to deal with six complaints after the 2014 election. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kate Porter

Reporter

Kate Porter covers municipal affairs for CBC Ottawa. Over the past two decades, she has also produced in-depth reports for radio, web and TV, regularly presented the radio news, and covered the arts beat.

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