Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Toronto City Elections Discriminates Against the Poor

I'm In A Funk - Poor People Discouraged From Running

When I ran for election in ward 18, it was because I wanted to connect to my community and have an impact on the issues raised during the city election campaign. I had no illusions of winning first time running, but thought I had some perspectives and ideas to offer, and I wanted in on the public debates.

I was testing myself, but also testing whether someone not part of any partisan party elites or having networked money backers could really run and make some small difference. To put it another way, I wondered if someone in the low income bracket (ie., "poor") could participate in the democratic process by more than just by voting. My initial take was yes, since it seemed anyone with $100 could run for city councillor ($200 for mayor).

My conclusion, sadly, is that the system is definitely biased against those of us considered 'poor', which according to various statistics is somewhere around 15-20% of the general population.

* The biggest shock I got when I went to file my campaign expenses (and why I have been in a funk for a while) is that in order to participate in the "Contribution Rebate Program" (where the city refunds about 75% of any political donation), was that I needed to have an AUDITED financial statement by a licenced auditor. This was not something explained at the initial city hall orientation meeting; I thought it applied evenly to all candidates.

That means, of the $745  I had in donations and ran on (against partisan party competitors who easily raised the $28,747.30 maximums allowed), the current Toronto city bylaw expects me to pay an auditor between $500-$1000 to audit my meager revenue and expenditures. Anyone can see this makes no sense and is inherently unfair.

So, when I went to file my financial statement, I was not allowed to arrange for contribution rebates to be paid out. Thus, the four donors who I had honestly thought would get city funded rebates paid out by this September will NOT be paid by the city.

Now I am in a dilemma of how someone like me, who is on Ontario Disability and has about $1,000 a month to pay rent, food and all other expenses is ever going to come up with the $518.75 that my four contributors were promised and expecting.  I am left feeling embarrassed and depressed that this situation is happening. I am also angry that the city has not thought their bylaws and procedures through to be inclusive in the democratic process.

As I wrote on my filing:

As someone on low income (Ontario Disability), I protest strongly that the requirement for me to pay a licenced auditor (est. cost $500-$1000) is at its core, anti-democratic. The net effect is to disenfranchise a large segment of the population who must exist on low income. Therefore, the city bylaw requiring this is discriminatory in the extreme.  - Ken Wood  March 24, 2011

Note: I spoke with my duly elected City Councillor, Ana Bailao, about this on March 24th and she has agreed to look into the bylaw at my request. I am hoping that there will be a change to eliminate this roadblock to democracy.
* This is from an email I received from the Toronto city elections office: 
Candidates participating in the Contribution Rebate Program must submit:

- Financial Statement;
- Auditor's Report (provided by a licensed auditor);
- Photocopies of expense invoices (the Clerk will not accept originals);
- Pink copies of Contribution Rebate forms (if using EFFS, these are submitted electronically and do not need to be provided with the financial statement); and
- Any surplus reported on the financial statement (cash, cheque, money order – payable to "Treasurer, City of Toronto").
If any of these documents are not submitted at the time of filing, contribution rebates will not be paid out.
Candidates NOT participating in the Contribution Rebate program must submit:
- Financial Statement;
- Auditor's Report (if raised or spent over $10,000); and
- Any surplus reported on the financial statement (cash, cheque, money order – payable to "Treasurer, City of Toronto").`
Notes: The city bylaw in question is No. 1257-2009 and the only reference to the suditor's report I find was 11 d) The Clerk is satisfied that the candidate has filed any financial statement AND AUDITOR REPORT ...

Reference is made to the Ontario provincial Municipal Elections Act 1996 which has a lot of legalese, but states this: "Exception re auditor’s report - (5) No auditor’s report is required if the total contributions received and total expenses incurred in the election campaign up to the end of the relevant period are each equal to or less than $10,000. 1996, c. 32, Sched., s. 78 (5)."

Thus, there is nothing provincially that requires an audited report.

It is only a city requirement for an audited report to participate in the donor contribution program !