Two years ago, when I began reporting from a media desk for municipal council meetings, I discovered that not all who enter politics do so to serve the people they represent. Some get to power owing favours to the private funders who pay for their campaigns. Although donations to municipal candidates are capped, and although financial records must be submitted for public scrutiny, wealthy corporations and individuals find ways around the rules.
Our little Town is only a microcosm of the problem that was exposed in the May 2018 “Public Money, Private Influence” series by the Globe and Mail. This investigation delved into intimidation and corruption of public officials at municipal and provincial levels. It was shocking, but more shocking still was the silence that followed from local press.
We know that the temptation of being seduced by lobbyists exists at all levels of government. But the big action is at the municipal level where developers with deep pockets begin their lobbying. That is why resistance to Schedule 10 was so necessary and why it is important to review and revise the upcoming Bill 108, a thinly veiled attempt to bypass environmental regulations and give developers a carte blanche under the guise of “jobs and affordable housing for the people, my friends.”
Sorry, but a literate society throws up a red flag when they hear the words, “We’re cutting the red tape to get rid of those pesky environmental regulations that slow down projects. Gosh darn it, we can’t let some Environmental Assessment Act stand in the way of economic growth! Ontario is Open for Business!” Bill 108, like Schedule 10 before it, shifts the responsibility to the municipalities, effectively narrowing the focus of influence peddling.
Let’s say Corporation A, or business person B, want candidate C to get elected to further their development agendas. A and B take their multi-thousand dollar donation and spread it out over family, friends, and associates who each contribute their qualifying amount to the candidate’s campaign.
Previously, the limit for municipal campaign contributions to one candidate was $750, but that was increased to $1,200 in 2017, just after union and corporate donations were banned. So now, a wealthy donor seeking influence can take $120,000 and distribute it to 100 people who make 100 legal donations to a candidate. The financial records reflect no wrongdoing, and the lucky candidate C has brochures, signs, and a tech savvy staffed campaign office to die for. The candidates without those wealthy sponsors are left with the trickle down votes.
Sadly, I discovered that some journalists are also not immune from this circle of influence, slanting articles to create a crisis where there was none, and giving a platform for the loudest candidates to get name recognition. That is a violation of journalistic integrity. That truly is “fake news” for the purpose of distracting us from legitimate issues that will affect our present and future.
Before I became a journalist, I taught for 30 years in the North York School Board, one of the most vibrant and creative school boards in Canada until ravaged by amalgamation. During that time I counseled six teachers out of the profession – people who were either unethical, incompetent, or incapable of giving their students the best personal and professional care they could deliver.
I expect the same from members of my new profession – clarity and truth, I expect the same of my elected officials – integrity and honesty. When I began my reporting career a good friend gave me a coffee mug with a meaningful quote on the front . My friend knew The Count of Monte Cristo was my favourite novel. She said, “Don’t let them get away with lying.” The quotation said, “Dear Karma, I have a list of people you missed …”
The way I see it.
Skid Crease, Caledon