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Election Audit Committee hears complaints against Mayor

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By Nick Seebruch
Election Audit Committee hears complaints against Mayor
Mayor Bernadette Clement testifies to the Election Audit Compliance Committee on Wednesday, May 15, 2019 (Nick Seebruch/ Seaway News).

CORNWALL, Ontario – The Election Compliance Audit Committee held their first and likely only public meeting at Council Chambers on Wednesday, May 15, 2019.

The committee was formed in compliance with the law after two complaints were filed against Mayor Bernadette Clement after she revealed on Facebook in April that she had over contributed to her own campaign by $4,153.80.

After the Mayor announced the infraction, City of Cornwall CAO Maureen Adams issued a statement to Seaway News that this mistake was due to a City error. No candidate in the 2018 municipal election, save for one, received their certificate that outlined their personal contribution limit.

RELATED STORY: City error leads to campaign contribution confusion

The committee was made up of three members, Naresh Bhargava, Wes Libbey and Rachel Poirier, who was elected to chair the committee. They heard from complainants Jamie Gilcig and Nicole Spahich.

Both complainants were given 10 minutes to make their cases to the committee.

Both complainants stated that the Mayor had overspent in her campaign. To clarify, the infraction made by the Mayor in her campaign was under the personal contribution rules, not the spending rules.

Spahich made the point that no other candidate had violated the rules.

“Three of them are going to live by the rules and one is not,” said Spahich referring to the other three mayoral candidates, of which she was one.

The the statement of events as submitted by City Clerk Manon Levesque, she stated that Clement Campaign Manager Etienne St. Aubin asked for the campaign spending limit after he had not received it, which she then sent, along with the formula for the personal contribution limit, but not the contribution limit certificate, which is required to be issued according to the Municipal Act.

READ MORE: City Clerk releases election contribution statement

Aubin was invited by the Mayor to give testimony to the committee.

“You will note in the response of the Clerk to my email, she simply quotes and repeats the formula to self funding,” Aubin said. “She makes no other specification of any kind. She did issue the spending certificate. The law requires two certificates. The self-funding certificate and the spending certificate.”

Aubin went on to concede blame to the committee.

“My motive is to not cast aspersions on anyone. I place the blame on myself. I should have dug deeper,” he said “But my failure to dig deeper does not change the fact that no certificate of self funding was issued.”

Aubin went on to assert that since no certificate was issued, he believed that the campaign contribution limit was set at $25,000, which was not exceeded.

“Mayor certainly did not have the willful intention to contribute more than the appropriate limit, because she relied on me for such things,” said Aubin.

Aubin stated that the campaign’s finances were audited by a reputable accounting firm, but did not state which accounting firm conducted the audit. In his closing remarks, Aubin stated that the committee should decide that “enough is enough” and to choose to take no further action.

The last person to testify before the committee was Mayor Clement herself.

“I want to start by saying it is an honour to be the mayor of Cornwall and an honour to engage with so many residents in so many ways,” she said.

Clement went on to say that her campaign filed their financial statements on time on March 22 and that when she was informed by the Clerk and CAO days later of the contribution infraction, she immediately put them at an arms length in regards to the issue and made the issue public.

“I felt I had to make it public,” she said. “I had to let the people of Cornwall know about the issue. I knew I had to let people know what happened. All of this confusion was inadvertent.”

Clement went on to say that she will continue to exercise her duties as Mayor, as the head of Legal Aid in Cornwall and will continue to have a good working relationship with the Clerk.

“Ultimately, it is my responsibility,” she said. “I do hope there is learning from this process. Learning for everybody involved.”

The Audit Committee closed the public meeting and went into a private in-camera session to deliberate. The Audit Committee has until May 23 to issue its findings. The committee’s findings will be published on the City of Cornwall website.

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