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Andy Letham, Gord James, Brian Junkin, Peter Weygang.

When local politics gets ugly — and most likely illegal

in Business/Community/Local News by

A rather thick document — that purports to be a ‘report’ on Mayor Andy Letham — is now circulating amongst some members of the public. The document is clearly professionally produced and is ring-bound, containing approximately 300 pages. It is also accompanied by a 19-page summary ‘report’, which is basically a repeat of any original material in the larger document.

The Lindsay Advocate became aware of this document on Saturday, September 22 from mayoral candidate Peter Weygang. On Sunday, September 23, Advocate Publisher Roderick Benns met with Weygang, who in turn had invited mayoral candidates’ Gord James and Brian Junkin to discuss this for about 30 minutes.

At that time, only Brian Junkin had not been sent a copy. The Lindsay Advocate spent several hours on Sept. 23 reading and analyzing the report, and we arranged a half hour meeting with Mayor Letham to discuss it later that same day.

After a thorough read and analysis of the document by the editorial team, The Lindsay Advocate determined that:

  • There was nothing of any substance in this document to report to our readers
  • That this report contained only innuendo, disguised as research, and included ‘investigations’ into Letham’s family members
  • An inordinate amount of the document is spent on Letham being an investor in the Days Inn (a fact known to voters before he was ever elected mayor). The document also spent dozens of pages investigating The Pie Eyed Monk, and tries to imply that because some of the investors in the Days Inn are also investors in the The Pie Eyed Monk, perhaps Letham is an investor in it as well. The document then uses this sketchy logic to assume malfeasance with respect to planning and approvals from the City favouring The Pie Eyed Monk.

A few facts bear repeating here: 1) Letham has stated that he is not an investor in The Pie Eyed Monk.  2) Letham is one of the minor investors in the Days Inn and this was public knowledge before he ran for mayor. 3) Anyone who was waiting for the The Pie Eyed Monk to open knows that nothing to do with that development was rushed through council without due process.

It’s sad when our politics becomes personal and that approach debases democracy itself. But make no mistake: this is not some ‘dirty politics’ mudslinging: The production and distribution of this document is most likely against the law.

In 2016, there were growing concerns around big money influencing municipal elections and Bill 181 was introduced and subsequently passed. New rules regarding this were introduced in 2018 in the 2018 Guide to Third Party Advertising for municipal elections. This document clearly states that “Third party advertising refers to advertisements or other materials that support, promote or oppose a candidate, or support, promote or oppose a “yes” or “no” answer to a question on the ballot. Third party in this context is a person or entity who is not a candidate.”

These new rules allow a municipality to ban corporate and union donations. In the past, Campaign Fairness Ontario found that rich influencers were able to manipulate municipal elections in the past. Any third party advertiser must also clearly reveal who they are; therefore; an anonymous document, professionally produced and distributed, does not comply with these guidelines and exceeds the costs subject to Third Party regulations. A third party must also register as such and to skirt this transparency is quite possibly an illegal manoeuvre to cast doubt on our upcoming election.

Someone — or some company (there are unsubstantiated rumours that this is tied to the commercial development industry) — has decided to breach our election laws and tried to influence our election. This dishonest and timely attack on our democracy was done knowingly with clear intent — to cause confusion and concern around Letham’s credibility and other community partners.

No matter if you are supporting Letham in his bid for re-election or are supporting one of the other three candidates, no one should be supporting illegal (and ethically questionable) election tactics.

Our community — and democracy itself — deserves better than that.

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A graduate of the University of Toronto, Trevor Hutchinson is a songwriter, writer and bookkeeper. He serves as Contributing Editor at The Lindsay Advocate. He lives with his fiancee and their five kids in Glenarm, Kawartha Lakes.

8 Comments

  1. This is the start of dirty tricks politics. It has to stop now. The public should know who commissioned these reported lies and innuendo

  2. It doesn’t sound like any money is being spent on spreading this document by the creator as per the same regulations you linked to.

    What is not a third party advertisement?
    Activities that do not involve spending money, such as discussions or expressing an
    opinion about a candidate (or an answer to a question on the ballot) are not considered
    to be third party advertising. Examples include:
     speaking to friends and neighbours
     posting on social media, such as Twitter, Facebook or Instagram
     sending an email to a group or mailing list.
    Internal communications from an employer to their employees, a corporation to its
    shareholders, directors, members or employees or by a trade union to its members or
    employees are not considered to be third party advertising.
    Advertising about an issue, rather than a candidate or a “yes” or “no” answer to a
    question on the ballot is not considered third party advertising. For example, signs
    saying “Support local businesses” or “Keep the waterfront green” would not be third
    party advertising, even if a candidate has made those issues part of their campaign.

    I could be wrong here but it seems like something that was shared internal by the creator and shared outside the circle by someone in the circle making it not against the law.

    Does that not seem like a logical conclusion that any reporter should have reported on in their unbiased reporting?
    The rules for what not is third party advertising is on the page after what is third party advertising. I would hope that the 27 page rule document was read entirely for reporting.

    • As the writer of the piece in question I would like to comment that I find civil and thoughtful debate (and disagreement!!!) about our democracy — and the laws that protect it — invigorating. In response, I would like to offer some clarifications and thoughts, all in the spirit of respectful civic debate.

      I am not sure what biases are being referred to in terms of my reporting on this story. I clearly positioned this story to be about democratic rules (and ideally, norms of civility). The Lindsay Advocate has not endorsed a candidate for this election. Personally, I have not made a decision as to how I will vote. I have not, as an individual, endorsed a campaign. I have “liked” campaign announcements on my personal Facebook page from several campaigns (all candidates whose messages appeared in my newsfeed) because I “like” democracy. If that is a bias then I am guilty as charged!

      And I always attempt to read all relevant research materials when I am writing a piece. And doing any journalism requires a thick skin. I can ensure you that I did not skip any section on third party rules when reading and researching about this article. I believe politicians, journalist and citizens should be held to a higher standard of civil discourse. That being said there is no such thing as a perfect article.

      With respect to third part advertising, you are right that this legislation attempts (I think successfully) to ensure that this doesn’t thwart free speech of citizens, including in the digital age. But the document in question wasn’t a tweet or facebook post,– be it from a concerned citizen… or a troll or a bot. This was a professionally produced report. I strongly suspect that it was produced and financed by a company or an individual who owns a company. I further suspect — but cannot prove at this point — that it is related to an entity in the development sector.

      Which is why I modify my position by “probably illegal”.

      To that end, we realized that that ‘conditional’ position I am taking in this piece was perhaps not reflected in some parts of the piece. We have added another “quite possibly” in the body of the story to make that position more clear.

      Again, even in the unlikely event that this was produced by a concerned local citizen without paid or in-kind or probono help, the cost of production and distribution might very well fall under third party regulation. At market rates, this document would be well over $35 per copy.

      I would love to be wrong about my theory. Perhaps if the author of the document in question grew a spine, put their name to it and clearly demonstrated that there have been no laws contravened this would be an easy matter to clear up. But I still firmly hold to my conviction that this is probably some individual or entity deliberately — and probably illegally — trying to affect our democratic process.

      There is nothing that can convince me that anonymous personal attacks on any candidate for office is something to be applauded or supported.

      Thanks for your input. It helped me clarify a paragraph in the story. And — especially if you disagree with me — thank you for engaging in discussion and debate.

      • Sorry for the late reply but this site does not send alerts for anything. When I created that post I waited for it to post but after ten minutes I figured comments had to be approved. I had no idea that it went live let alone there was a response. Why we give our email if we have no alerts I have no idea.

        It seems you are stuck on the cost of the message as advertising not advertising as advertising which I think the rules are addressing. If one spends money to spread a false claim their intent is to force a changed opinion and we move into libel.

        If the document reached a large percentage of the voting public I could see it being damaging but as far as it got and where it started it will have no bearing on the outcome.

        I hope this site uses the emails one day to send alerts to users for post. I think there are less people who would check the same page over and over again then people who seen this document.

  3. This document was shared outside the circle through its initial distribution to the three Mayoral candidates opposing the current Mayor. It was done so anonymously with the intention of disrupting the typical Mayoral process. The document was created professionally which costs a lot of money and forethought as it would have taken a lot of time to gather the information presented. The intention of the document was to imply wrong doings by the current Mayor linking him to supposed relationships that were not substantiated in the report. Attempting to influence a campaign through anonymous insinuations (rather than properly registering as a third party) is outside of the accepted democratic process.

  4. Trevor, your piece is interesting but you may have come to quite inaccurate conclusions. For example, if you don’t know who wrote the report, how do you know it was not written by someone registered as a third-party advertiser?

    Also, you infer intent to tarnish Mayor Letham’s reputation but that may not be the intent at all – it is impossible to know, isn’t it, since the report author is anonymous. (I can’t imagine any professional writing a report s/he/they do not put their name to. That it is anonymous suggests to me the report is written by a non-professional.)

    One thing we can agree on is that politics is dirty or, as others have described it, a blood sport. What I find far more disturbing than the report you claim must have been written by some wealthy developer is the reports I have heard, from candidates at the candidates meetings, of personal threats and attacks made to the families of some candidates.

    Of course, the threats and attacks on candidates’ families has not been reported on by media. But maybe it is something you might want to ask candidates about. In my view, candidates themselves are fair game for criticism but their families are not. And threats and menace are intimidating and are criminal offences.

  5. Thank you for your thoughtful comments Joan.

    There are no third party advertisers listed on the city’s website for this election. Many municipalities provide this list. You can check other municipalities e.g. Newmarket doesn’t have any for this election, Barrie has one. Furthermore, materials have to be identified under the legislation.

    There is no doubt that it is an attempt to tarnish Mayor Letham. It uses faulty logic to assume/suggest malfeasance on Mayor Letham’s part throughout. As discussed in the article, the entire Lindsay Advocate editorial team found no merit in the claims/suggestions/innuendo contained in the report.

    My assumption on the ‘professional’ production is based on the size and presentation of the document, and I base this on my experience as a consultant. I have also asked other current consultants, in general terms, about the document. In my previous experience (in a former life!!) I was once a consultant for a development bank. My reports never had my name on them — they were written for a client. And many writers and ‘content producers’ never get to put their name on what they have written as part of their contract. The only thing that I have written that has won a national award does not have my name anywhere on it. That is just an accepted fact for certain parts of the writing industry..

    We are definitely in agreement that ‘attacks’ and ‘threats’ have no place in our elections. And they can be criminal. As is spending over a certain amount to influence an election (even by an individual citizen.)

    I was not aware of the threats you have mentioned. If you feel like sharing that information with us, please send it to us — for a story or for background information on a future story. That is most troubling.

    Perhaps the next election should START with a public meeting that is more about establishing a tone and reminding candidates and the electorate alike that democracy may well be a blood sport, but even blood sports have rules. And laws.

    Thank you again for your comments. I appreciate them.

    Trevor

  6. When you wrote reports for the banking industry, surely your company name was on them? And as we now know, of course, the report in question was written by our very own local eccentric, Bill Denby. I understand he hand-delivered his report to the recipients, including the City Clerk’s office, so he wasn’t exactly hiding who was responsible for the report. He doesn’t call himself a professional, although he certainly professes, but he does call himself or his enterprise a corporation.

    I don’t know when Denby registered as a third-party advertiser – maybe after he circulated the report – but as we all know, he is now so registered.

    One of the candidates says the problem Denby’s report skirts is that of an appearance of malfeasance created by the fact that nowhere in Council Minutes is it recorded that Mayor Letham ever declared his pecuniary interest in various CKL developments.

    If it is true that the mayor did not declare his pecuniary interests, it would violate the City’s Code of Conduct that requires the mayor and the councillors to avoid even the appearance of conflicts of interest.

    Is it true? Does Bill Denby, the mayor’s long-time archenemy, have a point?

    Council Minutes are public documents. Voters should do their own research.

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