Several complaints from Ormstown residents were filed with Elections Quebec and the Ministry of Municipal Affairs about a controversial document, signed by the outgoing mayor, Jacques Lapierre, which was mailed to all residents during the election period. The 10-page bilingual document, touting the achievements of the municipal council from 2017 to 2021, features the municipality’s crest on the front cover and includes references to municipal councillors who were campaigning for re-election.
“It is a serious encroachment on democracy,” says Alain Gaulin, an Ormstown resident and lawyer who filed a complaint with Elections Quebec over the questionable nature of the document. He specifically asked whether such a publication constitutes an illegal election expense, and if it could be considered a significant hindrance to the democratic process of the recent election.
“It appeared to be very partisan,” he explains, pointing out that along with the list of achievements realized by the municipal council, the document also mentions a resolution accepting the resignation of councillor Tom Vandor in October 2020, and another forcing the removal of councillor Stephen Ovans from all working committees and caucus for “unacceptable behaviour.” The document also includes a statement thanking the four remaining councillors for their collaboration and teamwork. All but one of the six councillors were running for re-election.
Election spending rules non-applicable
In an email response to Gaulin’s complaint, signed by lawyer Kevin Côté, Elections Québec explains that according to the Act respecting elections and referendums in municipalities (AERM) it is the chief electoral officer who is responsible for managing electoral expenses and suspected contraventions to this law. The letter goes on to note that a specific regime of regulations governs election expenses in municipalities with over 5,000 residents, while those with fewer citizens are subject to a lesser number of rules. As such, the issues involved with publishing such a document would not apply in Ormstown.
Côté goes on to suggest that the document signed by the outgoing mayor is comparable to that of a third party. The AERM does not regulate the intervention of third parties, and therefore would not have allowed the chief electoral officer to intervene. He notes, however, that this conclusion by Elections Quebec “could have been different, would the situation have happened with a municipality with 5,000 inhabitants or more, where ‘election expenses’ rules are provided for in the AERM.”
In his message, Côté further recalls that each member of a council must adhere to a code of ethics and conduct, and that any person may report a violation of this code to the Commission municipale du Quebec. He notes that citizens may also disclose wrongdoings regarding a municipality to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs through the Commissaire à l’intégrité municipale et aux enquêtes.
A fair election
Tom Vandor, who was re-elected to council, says he does not question the actions of the municipality’s chief electoral officer, François Gagnon, and is certain the election was properly run in Ormstown. “The issue is that publication,” he says, suggesting that while the mayor has the right to publicize his achievements at any time, “We don’t know who published it or who requested it.” He says he also submitted a complaint to Elections Quebec.
The Gleaner reached out several times to the municipality of Ormstown for information regarding the publication of the document in question, but as of press time had yet to receive a response.
Vandor suggests that any potential for this document to have swayed voter opinion may have backfired. “I guess the electorate were the final judge and jury on the document,” he says, pointing out that only he, Ovans, and councillor Jacques Guilbault were re-elected.
For Gaulin, the document simply served to feed the cynicism in the population. He suggests this may have been reflected in the 10 per cent drop (to 35 per cent) in voter turnout for the November 7 election.