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Friday, August 26, 2011

Is provincial Liberal candidate Sarah Thomson attempting to skirt election finance regulations?

Left in the mailboxes of Trinity Spadina residents

Updated Aug 27 based on additional info from The Globe and Mail (which in turn was based on info from this article).

Residents of Toronto's Trinity-Spadina riding have been the recipients of a surprise treat in their mailboxes this past week. A free copy of Women's Post.

Reports indicate that having it haphazardly turn up in mailboxes throughout the riding is something that has not happened before and it doesn't seem to be happening in other ridings. Women's Post is published by none other than Trinity-Spadina Liberal candidate Sarah Thomson, whose face, with the large caption "Sarah Thomson weighs in on the tough choices facing Ontario voters"  graces the copy that residents received without solicitation. Inside the summer 2011 issue, on the first printed page, is a full page editorial by Ms Thomson in which she presents an odd, rambling, boating analogy, the point of which is that Ontarians should vote for the political party for which she is running in the upcoming election.

Despite the ads and a few fluff articles about food, the issue is self-promotion for Sarah Thomson. Does this qualify as campaign literature? 

Ms Thomson, who has never held public office, has shown as a political candidate that she is not shy about being opportunistic. But using the opportunity as publisher and owner of her own magazine which she is using to promote her candidacy may or may not land her in hot water with Elections Ontario.

Elections Ontario regulations say that candidates cannot spend their own money on a campaign. If they do spend money on themselves, it must be through the campaign account and the maximum any individual can donate to an individual can donate to any candidate is $1240.00. Campaign literature must be identified as such and as authorized by the candidate of riding association, or a third party, but obviously a candidate cannot be their own third party.

The printing and distribution of the summer Women's Post would likely exceed the $1240 amount. An official at Elections Ontario who wished to remain anonymous said, "This is a grey area and we'd really need to take a close look at it to make a determination about whether it complies with the rules or not, and that will take a while."

Ms Thomson was an unsuccessful candidate in the last Toronto mayoral election. She was forced to withdraw from the contest due to dismal support. In the final days of the campaign, she lent her endorsement and active campaigning to her rival,  the Liberal former Deputy Premier of Ontario, George Smitherman. Many people speculated at the time that some sort of deal had been struck with the Liberals, and Ms Thomson's virtually uncontested candidacy for the Trinity Spadina nomination as Liberal candidate in the provincial election did nothing to dispel that speculation. Ms Thomson quickly expunged her harsh criticism of Smitherman from her website. She had written about him: "..Mr. Smitherman seems to forget, as we have witnessed with his inconsistent and disorganized transit plans and, of course, his history with the E-Health blunder. This is a classic move to increase the size of government without comprehensively studying whether it in fact can reduce costs.

Ms Thomson may find that the criticism she levied against fellow Liberal Smitherman may be mild in comparison to what she has to face from the electorate and the media. Ms Thomson's campaign office was contacted yesterday to comment on whether the Women's Post issue promoting her candidacy was paid for from her campaign or other sources. One of her assistants, after an interval, said that Ms Thompson would call back personally, but as of the posting of this, she has so far failed to return the call. Based on her response to inquiries made by The Globe and Mail, it appears that the summer Women's Post that was distributed was financed the way the magazine is usually financed, which is not through a political fund.

The Globe reports that Ms Thompson "said the magazine is regularly distributed within the riding. Before putting out the summer issue she made sure she wasn’t breaking any Elections Ontario rules, she said."

(NOTE: I know people in the riding and they don't recall the Women's Post ever being delivered to them prior to Ms Thomson's candidacy. That was echoed by staff for the riding's incumbent MPP, Rosario Marchese. I live in the riding next door and have not received a copy of Women's Post in my mailbox.)

Ms Thomson had been embroiled in a similar controversy during her mayoral run, when she also put herself on the cover of her magazine with the caption "Toronto's Next Mayor." A lawyer consulted by the Globe has said that Ms Thomson's use of the magazine to promote herself and her candidacy, as she did duing her mayoral bid, do not violate elections laws.

But this time, depositing the magazine in the homes of riding residents raises additional questions.

The current representative in the Provincial Legislature for Trinity Spadina, NDP MP Rosario Marchese, did respond to an inquiry about this, saying: "I wish I had my own newspaper that I could use as a vehicle for my election campaign. I know the people of Trinity Spadina very well. It's an intelligent constituency and I'm confident they'll be able to see what Ms Thomson is doing for what it is."

UPDATE: Now The National Post has picked this up too


Anonymous said...

You know who has the hots for her? Conrad Black. And, he is in the publishing business, isn't he?

Anonymous said...

One obvious and fair way to proceed would be for Ms Thomson to publish and distribute equivalent issues at her own expense showing her opponents in a similarly favourable situation as she had arranged for herself.

A second less expensive option would be to apologize and withdraw.

Richard K said...

I wouldn't expect her to apologize and withdrawl as a Liberal candidate would take the most extraordinary circumstances, and it's highly doubtful she's going to give any space to her opponents in her magazine, particlularly as we draw closer to the election in early October.

This is a very interesting situation. She has a right to use her personal publication for vanity/self-promotion during the campaign. Even placing them in the Women's Post boxes that are on streetcorners throughout the city for people to take of their own volition doesn't technically violate the rules, although there are certainly ethical questions that would raise.

But once you start dropping them off at the homes of people who never asked for it in the riding you're running in made it a question that the Officials at Elections Ontario have not yet been able to answer for me.

The Torontoist, (http://beta.torontoist.com/2011/08/weekend-newsstand-august-27-2011/) which picked this up from The Globe, which picked it up from Eye on a Crazy Planet, had a funny observation that: "Fortunately for Marchese, if anyone actually reads the article, the odds of their voting for Thomson can only go down (unless they’re really into terrible boating metaphors). "

Anonymous said...

In an email newsletter sent from the Womens Post servers (August 15th - view the newsletter here http://womenspost.ca/newsletters/weekly-feature-august-15-2011), under events you will see a listing titled "Fundraising Evening with the Hon. Bob Chiarelli & the Hon. John Wilkinson". Unless the Liberal Riding Association for either of them sponsored the placement, then this is contrary to Elections Canada Rules. As a matter of fact, it is not even described (or at least clearly) as campaign literature, rather, it's given the appearance of a womens post event.

Regardless I don't think that Thomson's attempt to increase her reputation in Trinity Spadina will help her. As a matter of fact I feel most people would be turned off by such a shameless attempt at self promotion, and see that only a very "little" person would do such a thing. Surely, not the kind one needs to hold in high regard especially since she is running for office.