*After Reading this page Please Sign the Petition and Please Donate by Clicking the buttons at bottom of this page*
Midhurst Secondary Plan
As Mayor of Springwater, Bill French stood up for the residents of his township. He was elected in 2014 despite a massive campaign launched against him by proponents of the Midhurst Secondary Plan.
Midhurst was targeted for mega-growth (from a village of 3,500 to a city of 30,000, on prime agricultural land). Residents – those with deep roots in the community as well as newcomers – made it clear at meetings across the township that they like their way of life and want to preserve it. But the province had introduced a ‘Special Rule’ to make the development possible despite the fact that it was in violation of its own Places to Grow legislation.
Bill was elected to stand in defence of our rural municipality – and for the four years of his term, that is what he did.
-In early 2015, supported by a resolution of Springwater Township Council, Bill met with the then Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Ted McMeekin and presented an 80-page document that argued against the Midhurst Secondary Plan and requested the Ministry revisit the Special Rule and consider revoking it.
-When the Greenbelt expansion was proposed, Bill supported it in principle as a way to prevent future urban sprawl onto agricultural and natural heritage lands.
-Bill fought hard against Simcoe County, which, in a behind-closed-doors deal in the midst of a September 2016 Ontario Municipal Board hearing, granted a further 3,000 population allocation in Midhurst despite the fact that County Council had previously rejected the added population in an open council meeting. After heated exchanges, the matter was resolved by ensuring the Township retained control over phasing of the additional population.
The threats began as soon as Bill French was elected. Lawyers representing Midhurst developers sent letters to various bodies of which Bill was a member – including Springwater Township Council, Simcoe County Council and the Nottawasaga Valley Conservation Authority – warning his colleagues against support for his position.
These tactics did not work. So the threats continued. One was an anonymous message delivered through a family member advising him to step down as mayor – or he would be “litigated into poverty.”
Those could be prophetic words. So far, Bill has incurred approximately $55,000 in legal costs fighting a spurious complaint under the Municipal Elections Act about his 2014 campaign financial statement. And if he continues to fight, the costs for Bill could rise to as much as $100,000 or more as the Compliance Audit Committee had no limit on spending. However, the committee ceased to exist on November 30 2018; it’s not clear what authority is being exercised over the private prosecutor appointed by the committee. (This will be updated if new information is received.)
Most of the initial allegations made by former deputy mayor Dan McLean, who launched the complaint – for instance, about a newspaper column, and about campaign office rent that was claimed to be too low – were found to be without merit. Bill’s election expenses, subject to the spending limit, came in at $15,214.72 which is $5,149.18 under his spending limit of $20,363.90 and in the end the amount of expenses at issue in the compliance audit was found to total $1,091.00 when compared to the original filing.
Nevertheless the compliance audit committee – whose members had been appointed jointly by pro-development councils (Oro-Medonte and Springwater) elected in 2010 – pursued Bill implacably. The matter cast enough of a cloud over his 2018 re-election campaign, contributing to his defeat by an 82-vote margin.
The Municipal Elections Act is designed to stop candidates from gaining an unfair advantage by hiding expenses that would otherwise put them over their spending limit, or by hiding contributions from donors who might later request favours in return.
That is not what Bill did, forensic auditor Ken Froese told the compliance audit committee in May 2018, adding that there had been no attempt to hide any expenditures and Bill and his wife Lorraine (his campaign finance manager) cooperated fully with auditors. The instances of apparent non-compliance with the act were due to inadvertent error, not intent to conceal.
In other similar and even in more egregious cases, compliance audit committees have decided that pursuing charges would not be in the public interest. But in this case, the committee appointed a prosecutor who has laid 10 charges (see Legal Action) under the Provincial Offences Act, with each charge potentially leading to a fine of $25,000.
This is not about a free and fair election – which is what the Municipal Elections Act is supposed to ensure. In fact, this case could set a precedent that will put any person seeking public office in jeopardy – unless they have deep pockets or are backed by powerful interests.
That’s why Bill French is fighting back – and that’s why we are supporting him. There’s a need to ensure that ordinary people can seek election without facing the threat of massive financial penalties for minor errors.
We back Bill French in his battle against this abuse of power. We are raising funds so he can continue to resist efforts to remove him from the political sphere. His legal team is headed by Toronto lawyer Philip Horgan, who has had a long career in many areas of civil litigation. He has appeared at all levels of courts, including on several occasions at the Supreme Court of Canada, and on leading cases involving constitutional protection of civil liberties.
Unfortunately such resistance is terribly costly. Our goal is to raise as much money as possible to offset Bill French’s costs for this unprecedented case. We need your help. This is not just about Bill French. It is not even about the Township of Springwater. It is about democracy – the right of the people to elect their leaders and the right of those leaders to represent the people without being subjected to harassment by special interests.
*Please Sign the Petition and Please Donate by Clicking the buttons at bottom of this page*
Committee for Justice for Bill French
- Kate Harries
- Barb Kutcher
- Stephen Ogden
- Bernard Pope
- Anne Ritchie Nahuis
- Jim Sales
- Gerald Scanlan
- John Spring
- David Strachan
- Matt Garwood