On July 7th 2012 a fundraiser was held in St. Catharines its title and slogan repeated by speakers should of meant something more than hypocrisy. Instead Integrity in Politics was a shameful face put together to raise funds in support of Eleanor Lancaster. Lancaster's own words at the end of her speech, “we do hold our politicians to a higher standard,” still fouls the air with duplicity and hypocrisy.
Mayorgate has raised a number of questions in articles relating to the illegal contributions for the municipal elections of 2010. One question has been repeated over and over again, how was it possible for Eleanor Lancaster to decide she would become judge and jury, how was it possible for Eleanor Lancaster to intentionally leave out the biggest contravener with the most illegal contributions from her sanctimonious scrutiny? Mayor Brian McMullan of St. Catharines had more illegal contributions than anyone else in the Municipal Elections of 2010 and Eleanor Lancaster intentionally left Mayor Brian McMullan out of her audit request. Integrity in Politics is a worthy goal to aspire to but it is sad that Eleanor Lancaster seems to equate her version of integrity with her selective justice.
Attending Integrity in Politics Fundraiser knowing that the chief fundraisers were Jeff Loucks and Andrew Gill required self control. Mr. Jeff Loucks is not known to Mayorgate though Andrew Gil is very well acquainted in the pages and articles presented in the past. It was the opening speech by Jeff Loucks and his statements which set the scene for the rest of the evening. Mr. Loucks said that “it does not matter if this was a mistake those contributions were illegal,” and then followed up with “when all candidates follow the rules that is a true test of our democracy.” No one could argue with these statements though they were expressed in the wrong place and the wrong time.
The Webster's Dictionary has this as a meaning for the word integrity - “the quality or state of being of sound moral principle, uprightness, honesty and sincerity.” For hypocrisy Webster's says “a pretending to be what one is not, or to feel what one does not. esp. a pretence of virtue, piety etc.
Integrity in Politics Fundraiser and Eleanor Lancaster as its centre can only lay claim to the latter description. Mr. Sean Foley took the podium to introduce Eleanor Lancaster, he spoke of her country upbringing, her devotion to her husband and then her work. He brought to attention Eleanor Lancaster's nine years as a Regional Councillor and commented how Lancaster was on the Executive Committee of the Niagara Regional Council, “so she was well aware of the whole operation.” Now the fabric of Eleanor Lancaster's excuses and motivations begin to unravel.
As Eleanor Lancaster took the stage herself the groundwork of hypocrisy had been laid. Eleanor Lancaster opened with these words “Governments have put in place strict financial regulations to guard the integrity of those candidates who have put their names for elections.” True there are strict financial regulations for municipal elections but it was Eleanor Lancaster who decided she would choose who would face scrutiny. Lancaster said many things relating to the Municipal Elections Act, that it was established in 1996 and the regulations. Then Eleanor Lancaster made an attempt to explain what motivated her into action.
She said “one of the Standard reporters identified in an article in April in the newspaper that a number of municipal councillors who had received very generous donations from a local developer who claimed that it was a democratic thing to do - that tweaked my interest and just was the beginning to ask myself just how much democracy was this developer buying.” Eleanor's smug hypocrisy brought laughter from those who were present. Lancaster continued, “with very careful investigation of these expense forms, some of them very badly filled out, and that was mostly from the experienced councillors – to try and determine how related companies the monies that were paid into the candidates coffers, with very clear black and white evidence.”
The Standard article Eleanor Lancaster used as her 'tweaking' was titled, 'This is our way of participating in the democratic process' by Matthew Van Dongen. Examining the article it becomes difficult to understand Eleanor Lancaster's arrogant audacity to use Matthew Van Dongen's piece as evidence or proof of her motivation. Matthew's article was a one-sided piece of journalism yet he did have this to say, “For example, his companies (referring to developer Dan Raseta) gave $1500 to Mayor Brian McMullan...” I guess Eleanor Lancaster chose to not be 'tweaked' on this statement for whatever reason. In fact as Eleanor Lancaster had said “with very careful consideration of these expense forms...” and “with very clear black and white evidence,” she decided to intentionally leave out the biggest contravener of the whole bunch, both in the number of illegal contributions and total dollar value of illegal contributions. I guess it was not black and white enough for Eleanor Lancaster's interpretation of integrity in politics that Matthew Van Dongen even states the dollar amount, and that amount happens to be double the allowable maximum. Her “very careful investigation of these expense forms” would of shown that Mayor Brian McMullan had double the allowable maximum from Tom Rankin, Len Pennachetti and Angelo Nitsopolous. Still Eleanor Lancaster saw nothing wrong in that. As a self-appointed judge and jury Eleanor Lancaster intentionally left out Mayor Brian McMullan out of the audit request. Three thousand dollars in illegal contributions from four individuals, yet Eleanor Lancaster chose to single out only one developer for her cowardly slander in public.
Eleanor Lancaster said, “just how much democracy was this developer buying,” in return one could ask “how much democracy was the candidate selling at the time.” The article Eleanor refers to, (she even used as evidence in her application for the audit request), mentions other individuals who made multiple donations, still that was irrelevant to Lancaster. Eleanor Lancaster singled out developer Dan Raseta for the slanderous statement and left out Tom Rankin, Angelo Nitsopolous, Len Pennachetti and Norman Rockwell. Each of these individuals provided illegal contributions yet for whatever reason Lancaster saw no reason to include them.
The words Eleanor Lancaster used in her speech still reverberate as in an empty drum. She said, “very clear black and white evidence.” Nitsopolous, Pennachetti and Tom Rankin all provided double the allowable maximum to Mayor Brian McMullan. Tom Rankin in fact no stranger to illegal contributions had also provided double the illegal maximum to Mayor Brian McMullan in the 2006 Municipal Campaign. As Lancaster had said the Municipal Elections Act was instituted in 1996 and only strengthened in 2009. Mayor Brian McMullan had illegal contributions from Tom Rankin back in 2006, has Mayor Brian McMullan refunded that illegal contribution?
Has Tom Rankin requested a refund? Yet Eleanor Lancaster only decides to slander Dan Raseta. She in fact went further with another irrelevant comment saying “Tom Richardson who is the lawyer for this developer and for these four councillors.” What was Eleanor's implication here?
Mr. Dan Raseta did provide illegal contributions and he himself will not deny this. He sat down for an interview with the publisher of Mayorgate to answer some questions. In his words he simply wanted to clear the air and explain what he did and why. Dan Raseta said, “During the election on at least two occasions we enquired and were verbally advised by the City Clerk in regards to the treatment of donations from related companies. We relied on that advice when making those donations which we now know was mistaken or misunderstood by us.” Raseta further stated, “We did not knowingly make over contributions as suggested by Eleanor Lancaster and that is why I was confident at the time to publicly say, “It's not unfair because those are the rules.” I believed that statement to be true and had no problem telling a reporter who I knew would publish it.”
In his opening speech Jeff Loucks said, “it does not matter if this was a mistake these contributions were illegal.” He was correct in a fashion, they were illegal, yet Mr. Dan Raseta has not walked away from his responsibility nor his actions. In our interview he made it clear it was a mistake but that he was willing to accept all responsibility. Angelo Nitsopolous, Len Pennachetti and Tom Rankin were all given an opportunity to put their side of the story forward with more than one email request for an interview with Mayorgate, no one responded. What can anyone of them fear in answering why did they provide illegal contributions. Tom Rankin for instance had done so in two municipal election campaigns, in 2006 and 2010, both times to Mayor Brian McMullan.
A second email was sent to each, with no response or acknowledgement.
Cowardly slanderous statements hidden behind the guise of a fundraiser garnishing snickering laughter from a small group seemed to bolster Eleanor Lancaster. Dan Raseta did provide illegal contributions, and he was not the only one. Under Lancaster's guidelines of selective justice one then may ask the others how much democracy were they buying. Eleanor Lancaster owes Dan Raseta a public apology in the least.
A supposed fight for the integrity in politics demands equality on all levels. Eleanor Lancaster has chosen only selective justice without a hint of integrity. The praises sung by Jeff Loucks, George Darte and Sean Foley remain empty when the facts are examined. Eleanor Lancaster must answer the question, why did she leave Mayor Brian McMullan out of the audit request, and if necessary under oath. Brian McMullan had more illegal contributions and the greatest dollar value in illegal contribution of all candidates. Mayor Brian McMullan with some 25 years political experience and with illegal contributions dating back to 2006 has no excuses. He signed his financial statements and no one else. Is he to say that he did not read what he signed? Is Mayor Brian McMullan to claim that he has no ability to manage his financial affairs as the Municipal Elections Act requires?
The Municipal Elections Act states very clearly what the penalties for intentional breaches of the Act are. It states: “Any person who contravenes the Act is liable to a fine of up to $25,000.00 and or up to six months imprisonment if the offence was committed knowingly. The fine for corporations and trade unions is increased to $50.000.00” Immediately below this warning the sub-heading is Candidates, and I quote, “All of the above individual penalties plus the forfeiture of office if the offence was committed knowingly.” Judge Harris I guess did not read the Municipal Elections Act.
This hunt for integrity in politics has taken another step into the murky waters of reality in politics. Eleanor Lancaster is still on the trail of her hypocritical attempts to exactly do what is anybody's guess. If you were to ask Loucks, Darte or Foley, and yes Andrew Gill then only gushing sticky sweet praise will come forward. On the other hand “very clear black and white evidence” points to the examination of fact and that leaves Eleanor Lancaster standing in a far different landscape.
Now Ontario Supreme Court of Justice, Judge Joseph Quinn is to bring forth his enlightened decision. Judge Quinn said that an audit was unlikely to “uncover more smoking guns.” That may be true, yet a proper and equal audit of all who contravened and accepted illegal contributions may produce some foul smelling bodies by now and not only the cliched “smoking guns.” Simply look at Mayor Brian McMullan's 2006 Financial Statement which he also signed. Judge Quinn asks, “What would the audit provide that we do not already know” (Doug Herod, The Standard, June 27 2012). If it is to remain within the parameters that Eleanor Lancaster had set out then the answer clearly is nothing at all. Yet if it is to be set within the parameters of legislation, fact and “very clear black and white evidence,” then maybe finally we can get a glimpse of true integrity in politics.
So where do we as a society go when the words of Jeff Loucks in his opening address of the Integrity in Politics Fundraiser said, “when all candidates follow the rules that is a true test of our democracy.” Within these parameters Eleanor Lancaster grossly failed us, her motivations are far from grandma's altruistic desire for equality. Our legislative process has failed by ignoring glaring evidence and fact. Our judiciary has failed by interpreting the laws to suit whatever motivation. Finally our 'Lord' Mayor Brian McMullan has failed us, he breached the legislation that is in place equally applicable to all candidates, he has done so in both the 2006 and 2010 Municipal Campaigns, and now appears to be free an clear of all consequence.
On July 7th 2012 Integrity in Politics took a ride down a very dangerous slippery path in St. Catharines. The ideals expressed on that summer's evening were no less grand than that of the believers of Eden yet the sad reality remains and questions hang in the air unanswered. Mayorgate would be willing to sit down with anyone willing to answer the hard questions. Eleanor Lancaster will not accept this invitation, the truth would be too embarrassing for her. Is anyone willing to explain how was it possible to take the claim on a title of 'Integrity in Politics' and relate that to what Eleanor Lancaster had done?
Finally, the duplicity of Eleanor Lancaster becomes more evident when one compares her comments as quoted by Marlene Bergsma of The Standard in the article 'Mayor looking into possible election campaign over payments' of July 7th 2011 and her own speech at the Integrity in Politics Fundraiser July 7th 2012. Marlene Bergsma said that “Lancaster denied the allegation, and said she only searched the records of those candidates who were running in contested seats.” Bergsma quotes Eleanor Lancaster as saying, “These were chosen because they were closely contested seats.”
Now fast forward to July 7th 2012 a year after this article with Bergsma. At her own fund raising event staged to aid in the expense of legal costs Eleanor Lancaster had this to say: “One of the Standard reporters identified in an article in April in the newspaper that a number of municipal councillors who had received very generous donations from a local developer who claimed that it was a democratic thing to do – that tweaked my interest ... with very clear black and white evidence.” That article titled 'This is our way of participating in the democratic process' by Matthew Van Dongen states in very clear black and white, “For example his companies gave $1500 to Mayor Brian McMullan...”
Which is the truth?, a question Eleanor Lancaster will not answer. 'Judge' Eleanor Lancaster decided to intentionally absolve the one who had contravened the legislation the most with “very clear black and white evidence” staring her in the face. In the end how do we trust Eleanor Lancaster and her motivations?
Interview with Dan Raseta, June 11th 2012
Mayorgate: Mr. Raseta did you know that an individual or business can give a maximum of $750 to any one candidate in Ontario, then would you need to give more than the allowable maximum to any candidate?
DR: Our understanding of the election rules was that an individual and or business could give up to $750.00 to a candidate and that each business would be treated as a separate individual. During the election on at least two occasions we enquired and were verbally advised by the City Clerk in regards to the treatment of donations from related companies. We relied on that advice when making those donations which we now know was mistaken or misunderstood by us. It would have been very easy to have contributed to those candidates in the same amounts had we donated from either of the two principals “as individuals” and/or the corporation separately which would have kept us in compliance with the rules. In the future we will consult with our own legal counsel before taking any action rather than relying on the advice of others.
Mayorgate: In an interview with Matthew Van Dongen of The Standard you are quoted as saying, “It's not unfair because those are the rules.” What did you mean by that? With that statement it appears you knew the rules of the Elections Act, could Van Dongen have taken your words out of context?
DR: We did not knowingly make over contributions as suggested by Eleanor Lancaster and that is why I was confident at the time to publicly say “Its not unfair because those are the rules” I believed that statement to be true and I had no problem telling a reporter who I knew would publish it. I was always up front about those contributions, which were publicly disclosed.
When we received a copy of a Compliance Audit Notice requested by Eleanor Lancaster that alleged some of our corporations as having, based on the associations between each other, over contributed in the recent Municipal Election, we immediately took steps to have the notice reviewed by a municipal lawyer in order to establish whether the notice had any merit. To my dismay our legal council advised us that in their opinion there were over contributions and that we should take steps to correct them. We immediately wrote to affected candidates advising them of the error and requested repayments to bring all of our contributions in compliance with the Municipal Elections Act. All the over contributions were returned at that time.
Mayorgate: Eleanor Lancaster who requested the audit has said when she was a politician she experienced pressure from donors who expected her to vote according to their interests. Was that something you considered?
DR: We wanted to support candidates who we felt were going to do a good job of leading our community where we do business, pay taxes and where our families live, we make no apologies for that and that is why at the time I made the comment encouraging others to participate in democracy as well. I can’t comment on what experiences Eleanor Lancaster may have had in her career regarding donors. We would not be interested in having our community led by individuals who are easily pushed around, as Eleanor implies she was.
Mayorgate: You questioned Eleanor Lancaster's motivation behind the formal audit request, do you still feel the same way?
DR: We believe that her motivation comes from her active participation in PROUD, which is a well known anti growth special interest group. PROUD and Eleanor Lancaster were actively involved in that election by working on campaigns like that of Carlos Garcia, and endorsing a list of candidates in a PROUD funded publication that was also used to criticize their opponents.
The candidates who PROUD supported generally lost, which might explain her motivation to litigate elections that her group could not win. This honest mistake on our part is now being used by PROUD and Eleanor Lancaster to embarrass its political opponents. Other elected officials who were not their political opponents had the same issue but clearly Eleanor Lancaster filed selectively against the people whom she and PROUD failed to beat in the election. This convenient targeting of her political opponents does not serve the public interest and clouds the whole issue.
Mayorgate: Judge David Harris in a written decision on February 9th 2012 said, “The Act states a contributor shall not give more than $750 to any one candidate. To do so would be a clear contravention of the Act. The obligation on the candidate is different however.” Do you think this is a fair interpretation of the responsibilities under the Act?
DR: I think it’s fair to not fault individual candidates if they unknowingly made errors, if a refund to correct the error was not permitted by the Act, candidates could be sabotaged by receiving contributions from corporations which were associated but not apparently so. Therefore I think it is a fair interpretation of the responsibilities under the Act.
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