At a meeting held on Tuesday February 21, a joint compliance audit committee has ruled that no action is warranted against 2014 mayoral candidates Jim McPherson and Barb Clumpus regarding their election expenses.
In July of 2015, the joint compliance audit committee (JCAC) denied a request from 2014 Meaford mayoral candidate Ray McHugh to have an audit conducted of Mayor Barb Clumpus's campaign expenses, while at the same meeting the committee granted a request from McHugh to have mayoral candidate Jim McPherson's campaign expenses audited.
At the time, McHugh told the committee of three – Phil Cant of Meaford, Don King of Georgian Bluffs, and Ray McKelvie of Owen Sound – that in his opinion the campaign expenses of both Clumpus and McPherson were under-reported in an effort to avoid an automatic audit of campaign expenses that would have been initiated, and paid for by the candidates, if either campaign had reported more than $10,000 in expenses.
McHugh appealed the 2015 decision of the joint compliance committee to the courts.
“By way of Notice of Appeal issued on July 29, 2015, McHugh appealed the Committee’s decision with respect to both McHugh and Cooper-Clumpus to the Ontario Court of Justice. The appeal was heard on October 4, 2016. On that date, McHugh abandoned his appeal of the decision with respect to McPherson and the Committee’s decision to grant the application for an audit of McPherson became final,” noted committee lawyer Harold Elston in a February 21 report. “In Reasons for Decision released on January 17, 2017, McHugh, Kevin G., J., upheld the C.A.C.’s decision not to order an audit of Cooper-Clumpus’s campaign finances, finding that its conclusion fell within a range of possible, acceptable outcomes which are defensible in respect of the facts and the law. McHugh’s appeal of the decision was dismissed.”
The maximum allowable campaign expenditures for mayoral candidates in Meaford for the 2014 municipal election was slightly more than $16,000. McPherson's reported expenses at the time amounted to $9,462.85, and Clumpus reported expenses of $6,362. McHugh, who finished third after the votes were tallied in October of 2014, reported a just $732.59 in campaign expenses.
While the audit of McPherson's 2014 campaign expenses conducted by BDO Canada did uncover discrepancies, they were minor in nature and did not warrant any further action. The audit noted that some expenses reported by McPherson included minor inaccuracies for items like brochures, lawn signs and advertising, the audit also noted inaccurate reporting of donations made to McPherson's campaign.
The net result however was a difference of just a few hundred dollars, and the total campaign expenses remained well below the maximum allowable for mayoralty candidates in that election.
“The net effect of the above items on the campaign expenses would increase expenses by $440.45 to a total of $9,867.30, an increase in the Contributions from the Candidate to $7,717.30 and Revenue to $9,867.30,” informed the BDO report.
As a result, the joint compliance audit committee decided no further action was needed.
“After review of the auditor’s findings, the committee is of the opinion that the aggregate understatement of campaign expenses in the amount of $440.45 is immaterial, and the minor increase in the contributions from the candidate do not warrant a prosecution,” read the ruling issued by the committee on February 21.
Contacted by The Independent for comment after the ruling of the joint compliance audit committee was released, McHugh, who did not attend the meeting, declined to comment until he has an opportunity to review minutes from the meeting.
McPherson wondered why McHugh hadn't attended the meeting after having initiated the audit.
“So all the fanfare of Mr. McHugh of July of 2015 in which he filed over six pages of accusations and innuendo and falsehoods all just fizzled. This week he didn’t even show up. He is nowhere to be seen when confronted with facts. Explain that to me?” said McPherson in a press release issued on February 23.
McPherson says he considers McHugh to be “a bully misusing the system and municipal resources.”
“I have been in court on five different occasions with Mr. McHugh trying to involve the court. I have had to waste a great deal of time and energy on this as have Municipal employees, Superior Court personnel and BDO staff. And after all that, when the all important numbers are in – what all these activities have supposedly been about– Mr. McHugh doesn’t even care enough to appear,” said McPherson.
McPherson also said that he wants a public apology from McHugh, and says he is considering legal action if he does not receive one.
“We need to prevent people like this from being able to turn other people’s lives upside down on a whim. This is sort of thing that will keep quality people from running in the future. How many people want to go through this?” asked McPherson. “We need to come up with ways of preventing this in the future. We have to stop these kinds of people from making fictitious claims and abusing the financial resources of governments.”
The ruling by the joint compliance audit committee has finally brought the 2014 election to an end for McPherson.
“For most people this election was over more than two years ago. Now it’s finally finished for me too,” he noted.
Photo: Former mayoral candidates Ray McHugh (right) and Jim McPherson (left) seen during the first meeting of the joint compliance audit committee in July of 2015. Photo: Stephen Vance