RTH contacted city councillors and registered candidates to find out where they stand on the Citizens at City Hall election pledge.
By Ryan McGreal
Published August 30, 2006
In the wake of last week's election pledge campaign launch by Citizens at City Hall (CATCH), RTH contacted our city councillors and registered candidates and asked them if they support the campaign and will commit to it - or if not, then why.
The responses we received fell into four categories: those who support the pledge; those who will support it if everyone else supports it; those who support it in principle but object to the timing mid-campaign; and those who raised concerns. (Several councillors and candidates did not respond to our request by press time.)
Exactly two sitting councillors agreed unconditionally to support the pledge.
Brian McHattie, councillor for Ward 1, did not accept any corporate or union donations in his 2003 campaign, so he had no problem stating, "I do support this campaign and am committed to it." Asked whether he worries, as some other councillors do, that the pledge may violate provincial law, he replied, "If it does then we need to change the provincial law."
Margaret McCarthy, councillor for Ward 15, wrote, "My campaigns have always been completely self-funded; therefore, I would definitely support the initiatives not to have campaign donations from developers or special interest groups."
Keith Beck, a candidate for Mayor, is familiar with the CATCH campaign and has already committed to sharing the list of donors over $100 before election day.
He is accepting donations from corporations and unions, but supports making those donations public. He is also willing to "stat[e] for the record that some organization was a donor if that organization has business before council."
Diane Elms, another candidate for Mayor, also supports the pledge. Her own policy is to make available the list of contributions over $100 and accept no contributions from unions or corporations.
She believes further that the amount of contributions should be deducted from the elected representative's pay over the term in office, and that up to $100 in household contributions should be deducted from property taxes.
Sean Gibson, a candidate for Ward 3, is a small business owner himself. He stated that his campaign focus is on community and local business, and volunteered to provide the names of some of the local businesses that have contributed to his campaign, including: Sealed Art ($100), Sam's Auto ($100), Main Hearing Center ($100), Hamilton Fire Control Co. ($200), and Ab Mendosa ($100).
V. Shawn Des Jardins, a candidate for Ward 6, says the CATCH campaign is "fair and transparent" and thinks it should be the policy for all public offices. He does not see any problems with following it.
Aznive Mallett, a candidate for Ward 12, responded, "Absolutely I support this!"
Peggy Chapman, a candidate for Ward 13 (Dundas), is willing to make her campaign finances public and transparent. She believes "politicians owe the public that level of openness." Chapman also decided at the start of her campaign not to accept donations from corporations or unions.
Julia Kollek, another Dundas candidate, is planning to fund her own campaign, and will welcome donations from individuals only.
Bob Bratina, councillor for Ward 2, initiated a discussion among his fellow councillors with an email on Monday, August 21 asking them to endorse the pledge at the next council meeting.
Asked whether he will take the pledge, Bratina responded, "I would support this campaign if my opponents agreed to as well." He explained that disclosing this information without reciprocal disclosures from his opponents would confer "some advantages" to them.
Sam Merulla, councillor for Ward 4, also stated a willingness to comply as long "all candidates sign on to the agreement," including "incumbents and new candidates. This can only work if applied globally."
Mark-Alan Whittle, a candidate for Ward 7, wrote, "I've never accepted union or developer money and have always self-funded." As for making his books public, he said he will take the pledge if councillor Bill Kelly, the incumbent in Ward 7, takes it.
Kelly did not respond to the RTH request for his position by press time, but he has since announced publicly that he will not seek re-election.
Joseph Baiardo, a candidate for Ward 11, would support the proposal "if the rules applied to all candidates by way of a change in policy." He believes the policy of disclosure should also apply to gifts received during public office.
Mayor Larry Di Ianni did not respond to this request before press time. According to a Hamilton Spectator article from August 23, Di Ianni supports the principle, but argued, "You don't change the rules midstream."
Councillor Merulla expressed concern that the CATCH campaign "should have been pursued at the beginning of the term and not during the election period." He wondered whether "logistically it is practical from a timing perspective."
Phil Bruckler, councillor for Ward 9, responded, "I believe improvements can and should be made to the elections Act respecting donations. Such changes should be well thought out and offer extensive opportunity for debate. As stated by some of my other colleagues, I believe the timing is off."
Joseph Baiardo cautioned that such a change in policy needs careful consideration to assess its consequences, including the effect it may have on voter turnout and whether citizens decide to run for office.
He asked whether it could have a "reverse effect favouring only those who are rich and/or well-connected (incumbents) or those who can afford to finance their own election campaign".
When councillor Bruckler was asked whether he would voluntarily take the CATCH pledge even if the election act doesn't change, he responded that he has "some questions beyond timing and that is why I feel a full and open debate is required." He would not be drawn on his questions, saying he will "leave that for the debate."
David Mitchell, councillor for Ward 11, stated that he does not have a problem with the pledge in principle, but "in my position I have to make my decision on what council can and cannot do by what our professionals tell us."
He explained, "The rules on this issue I understand are governed by provincial stature which we in Hamilton have no say over." He added that he is interested in the debate.
When asked if he thinks provincial law may prohibit the pledge, Mitchell replied that he does not know. "That is a legal question that will have to be answered when this issue comes forward."
Bill Cottrell, a candidate for Ward 8, expressed "full support" for an open donation process and agreed he would be willing to disclose his donation list. However, he said the decision to recuse oneself from council decisions affecting corporate or union donors is "more problematic."
"My decisions will always be made with the best interest of the residents of Ward 8 in mind and to the larger picture of Hamilton as a whole and not necessarily the best interests of the donor."
Councillors Bernie Morelli (Ward 3), Chad Collins (Ward 5), Tom Jackson (Ward 6), Bill Kelly (Ward 7), Terry Whitehead (Ward 8), Maria Pearson (Ward 10), Murray Ferguson (Ward 12), Art Samson (Ward 13), and Dave Braden (Ward 14) did not respond to our inquiries before press time.
Ferguson, Kelly, and Samson have announced that they will not seek re-election.