Welcome to Justice for Bill French

Bill French, former mayor, had the opportunity to address Council on allegations made by current Mayor and CAO at April 3 Meeting. Watch my comments here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rvEXMS128IQ&t=7s

Mayor Allen, Members of Council. Thank you for allowing me to address you this evening. …….. First, some significant milestones as noted on the slide:

January of 2017; Madam Justice Frances Kiteley noted that the Compliance Audit matter was developing a life of its own and advised the parties to conference with Assistant Chief Justice Frank Marrocco and seek a less expensive and early resolution in May of that year.

January of 2018; Madam Justice Ann Molloy, on behalf of the tribunal, noted in her decision, that the Compliance Audit Committee misunderstood its role and that the Township might intervene if the costs were excessive.

April 17th 2019; all charges against me were withdrawn by the prosecutor.

This is the first time I have addressed Springwater Council on my compliance audit matter because, as Mayor during the last term, I recused myself from any meetings or discussion on my Compliance Audit as required under the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act. On those occasions I passed the chair to a member of Council.

I only come forward because my situation was discussed in open Council in an Update at the April 3 Council meeting when it was still an active legal matter. Prior to that, my Compliance Audit had only been discussed in Closed session – as it was a legal matter. Whether intended or not, I consider aspects of the update to have been an attack on my character, reputation and integrity, and as such, I must respond. Council is already in possession of my lawyer Phil Horgan’s comments on the update.

The issue I have with the update was the proposition that FIRST, – I was responsible for most of the over $310,000 of Township costs and SECONDLY, – that the Township could do nothing to curb the spending. I disagree.

I launched a Judicial Review Application in November 2015 challenging the decision of the Compliance Audit Committee’s failure to take action on the Grant Thornton Auditor Report in the 30 day time frame under the Act and also the unprecedented appointment of a second audit.  There is no other case in the history of compliance audits where the first audit has been discarded and another one commissioned.  We also now know there was no significant difference between the findings of the two audits as both noted minor discrepancies, but still $5,000 under the spending limit.

We expected my JR to be heard in June or July of 2016, rather than 18 months later in December of 2017. Lawyer Harold Elston, acting for the Township, fully supported my application and concurred with my lawyer Renatta Austin, that the Compliance Audit Committee had exceeded its jurisdiction.

So, if I did not cause the significant delays what happened?

Dan McLean, through his lawyer Mr. Jack Siegel, launched a separate Judicial Review to challenge the original appointment of Grant Thornton, but Mr McLean did not file his Notice until July of 2016. That application became a moot point after the Superior Court decision in January 2017. Madam Justice Frances Kiteley supported Grant Thornton’s motion to dismiss the application, upholding that the Committee, not Grant Thornton, were the decision makers on whether charges should be laid.

Madam Kiteley’s order to dismiss Mr. McLean’s appeal of the motion was supported by both the Township and myself, but was opposed by the Compliance Audit Committee.

Justice Kiteley expressed concern that this matter was costing everyone a lot of money and that the parties should consider some alternate course of action. In her decision she wrote and I quote, “All of this is unfolding at considerable expense to the parties and to the ratepayers. I encourage all counsel and the parties to consider whether a judicial settlement conference with A.C.J. (Assistant Chief Justice) Marrocco (who has agreed to make himself available for that purpose) might lead to an earlier and less expensive resolution.”

Under the auspices of Justice Marrocco, a settlement conference was held in May 2017 with all the parties present. Justice Marrocco proposed an early resolution, which was acceptable to Mr. McLean and I, but lacked full consensus.

In the decision of my JR, Justice Ann Molloy,- speaking for the tribunal, – noted in her decision – that the Compliance Audit Committee misunderstood their role and I quote, “A Tribunal ought not to compromise its neutrality and impartiality – by taking an active position to one or more of the parties that appeared before it”.

If the Compliance Audit Committee had not directed their lawyer to argue against in both the Grant Thornton case and at my JR – or – if they had agreed to the course of action proposed by Justice Marrocco back in May 2017 – how much money and time might have been saved by the Township?

The update on April 3 failed to provide this information, which cast me in an unfavourable light. The update was anything but evenhanded. As noted on the slide, the actions of others, – not me, – delayed proceedings 20 months.

The update stated that this Council and Administration could do nothing to stop the increasing costs, so you must also be saying, that if the costs had escalated to a million dollars, there was nothing you could have done? Does that make any sense?

The Township might have applied for its own Judicial Review when the Compliance Audit Committee exceeded its mandate in Oct 2015. I believe a court would have taken seriously – concerns expressed by the township regarding the cost to ratepayers, and may have ordered a resolution that would have been fair to all parties.

That was certainly indicated by Justice Molloy in her decision, which was referenced in the update. In the same sentence that was noted in your update, Justice Molloy stated an exception, and I will quote, “unless there was some issue such as excessive spending by the Committee that might have been of direct interest to the Township.” Do you not think $310,000 is excessive and a direct interest to the Township? That probably would have paid for most of the road construction that Mr. Spring just noted in his delegation. Since 20 of the 24 months of delays were created by other parties,- I also suggest that most of the $200,000 in extra legal costs,- noted in the update, – were caused by other parties, not me.

Since my personal matter was brought into this chamber, in an open – rather, than closed session, I ask Council to acknowledge that the update provided on April 3 lacked balance and that my position be given equal weight in any future communications on this matter. I would also ask that the letter from Phil Horgan in response to the update, be posted as Correspondence at the earliest convenience.

It may be appropriate for the Township to also support our petition on Change.org to ask the province to “End misuse of the Municipal Elections Act” which to date has garnered almost a 1,000 signatures.   Thank You for listening and I invite questions.

All Charges Withdrawn April 17, 2019 by Prosecutor

After a very tiring 4 year challenge the Compliance Audit matter relating to my 2014 Election expenses came to an end. The following is my statement on the outcome.

I am pleased we were able to finally resolve this matter. I think the withdrawal of all charges says it all and is in the best interest of justice.

From day one, I acknowledged there were some minor errors and omissions in my 2014 Election filing. I still firmly believe the Compliance Audit Committee erred in approving the Compliance Audit in the first place as the nature of my minor filing errors did not warrant it. The costs to the Township is well in excess of $310,000 today. I expect that when all the bills are paid it will be much more. Just think of what could have been done with that wasted taxpayer money.

To my surprise, certain actors inside and outside the Township were able to use the Municipal Election Act as a weapon and succeeded in having me defeated in the 2018 election by 82 votes which was their ultimate goal.

Most people know I do not dwell much on the past. Going forward, I plan to be a loud voice for the people of Springwater as I have been for the last 15 years. I enjoyed my term as Mayor and I am very proud of the initiatives we were able to launch in that 4 year time frame. The last council under my leadership set a clear vision and foundation for the future.

My wife and I have supported the Elmvale and District Food Bank in recent years. Lorraine hosted an afternoon tea during the 150th Anniversary in 2017 and raised over $1,000 for the cause. Lorraine has also donated gift cards to the Food Bank at Christmas, so it is appropriate that to bring this matter to an end, that the Elmvale and District Food Bank be the recipient of my $2,000 donation as a gesture of my goodwill.

And since I purposely asked for God’s blessing on everyone at the many functions I attended as Mayor, I today also thank God for staying close to me, my family and friends and giving us comfort through what can only be considered a very interesting journey.

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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

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.

Compliance Audit

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.

Fighting Back

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.

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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

New Members Welcome justiceforbillfrench@gmail.com