Former Springwater mayor Bill French no longer faces any charges under the Municipal Elections Act. All 10 charges were dropped today in Barrie Provincial Offences Court.
“A trial is no longer necessary nor in the interests of justice,” prosecutor Angela Severson told the court.
French said he feels that statement “sums it all up.”
As part of an agreed resolution, French accepted responsibility for the alleged contraventions and volunteered to donate $2,000 to the Elmvale and District food bank.
“Mr. French has long acknowledged that bookkeeping errors were made in his post-campaign filing,” French’s lawyer Phil Horgan said in a statement. “By withdrawing the charges, no finding of guilt has been made. But it should be noted that Bill French was quite prepared to defend all of the charges.”
The matter, which has dragged on for almost four years and cost the Township of Springwater in excess of $310,000, was concluded in less than 10 minutes.
Horgan said the Municipal Elections Act does not mandate perfect compliance, but rather that candidates take all reasonable steps to comply. “Mr. French believed that he did so. He retained an expert accountant to assist in his MEA filing from the 2014 campaign. There was no effort to deceive voters, or conceal expenses, as acknowledged by the auditors involved. “
In addition, “the quantum of the errors was minimal, and had no bearing on the overall spending limits of his campaign ($15,214.72), for which Bill French stayed well within the allowed limit ($20,363.90),” Horgan said, adding: “in the interests of resolving the proceedings, which were beneficial neither to Mr. French nor to the Springwater taxpayers who were paying the prosecution’s costs, Mr. French was willing to acknowledge some mistakes, and make a charitable donation to resolve the file.”
French read out a prepared statement to a small crowd of supporters outside the courtroom.
“From Day One, I acknowledged there were some minor errors and omissions in my 2014 Election filing,” he said. “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 are 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 money.
“To my surprise, certain actors inside and outside the township were able to use the Municipal Elections Act as a weapon and succeeded in having me defeated in the 2018 election by 82 votes which was their ultimate goal.”
“We’re glad this issue of the charges against Bill has been resolved,” said Bernard Pope of the Justice for Bill French committee, adding, that the committee came together “because we know him to be an honest man and a conscientious public servant.”
The committee launched a petition calling for a review of the Municipal Elections Act and asking Springwater Township to take whatever action might be appropriate to end the prosecution. More than 800 people have signed.
The committee is also raising funds to assist French in defraying legal costs that have risen to $65,000.
“We urge people who are concerned about what happened to sign the petition and we would be honoured to accept donations,” Pope said. (See the Justice for Bill French website for more information.)