Conservatives say Trudeau event broke Toronto's political campaign rules

Conservative candidate Peter Kent is asking the City of Toronto’s integrity commissioner to investigate whether an event for volunteers in Nathan Phillips Square on Sunday night broke rules that forbid political or partisan activities on Toronto city property during an election period.

City regulations prohibit partisan activities on city properties during election periods

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau poses for selfies with supporters at Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto on Sunday. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

A long-time Conservative MP and candidate for re-election has written to Toronto's integrity commissioner asking her to investigate a Justin Trudeau campaign event he says contravened the city's rules on partisan activities during an election period.

In a letter to Valerie Jepson, Peter Kent, who has represented the riding of Thornhill, asks the city's ethics watchdog to probe "the improper use of taxpayer funded city facilities" by the Liberal Party.

The letter refers to an event on Sunday evening where Trudeau met with campaign volunteers gathered at Nathan Phillips Square. 

According to Toronto's 'Use of City Resources During an Election Period Policy,' city facilities and infrastructure can't be used for any election-related purpose by a candidate, registered third-party advertiser or political party. It also prohibits signs from being "erected or displayed" on or beside a city park or facility run by the city.

According to the policy, city "facilities" include any space managed or operated by the city, including city hall, civic centres and civic squares including Nathan Phillips Square.

The regulations were passed in February 2018.

Aimed primarily at municipal and school board campaigns, the policy also applies to provincial and federal election periods in order "to preserve the public trust and integrity in the elections process." 

Rules aim to avoid 'unfair advantage'

"This policy allows the city to balance the need for freedom of expression and assembly of candidates and its legal responsibility to ensure that no candidate, registered third-party advertiser or political party is provided with an unfair advantage," the policy reads.

During Sunday's event, dozens of Liberal volunteers and supporters gathered in Nathan Phillips Square, many carrying campaign signs for local Toronto and area candidates.

When Trudeau arrived, wearing a bomber jacket with the Liberal logo, he stood atop a small podium, made brief remarks, then worked his way through a crowd of people lining up to take selfies with the Liberal leader. The crowd swelled as passersby appeared to join the group.

"While Mr. Trudeau's past actions indicate that he believes there are one set of rules for him, and another set of rules for everyone else, I am confident you agree that all candidates and campaigns should be held to the same standard," Kent wrote in his letter.

"I will look forward to your response about what appropriate action is being taken to address Mr. Trudeau's contravention of the resolution passed by Toronto City Council."

Liberal Party campaign spokesperson Joe Pickerill said an "informal meet and greet" with Trudeau was planned for a venue opposite the Nathan Phillips Square on Queen Street West. 

"That opportunity swelled in numbers and moved organically across the street.  The leader dropped by, spent 15 minutes with them and left," he said in an email.  

Rules for partisan activities

Toronto's chief communications officer Brad Ross could not say if any breach of the rules may have occurred, and could not immediately say if the integrity commissioner has jurisdiction to investigate the activities of a federal campaign.

He is not aware of any special permit being granted for the event.

According to Toronto's rules, no permits are to be issued to use city facilities to promote, support or oppose a particular candidate, registered third party advertiser or political party. 

Campaign materials can't be distributed on or in city facilities or at city events, but they can be distributed on sidewalks, during all-candidates meetings, at public parks and at some city managed public squares, including Nathan Phillips Square.

Informal media scrums are also permitted in public or common areas, including Toronto City Hall, and public squares, including Nathan Phillips Square, as long as they don't include loud speakers or disrupt city business.

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