One might think that coming in a distant fourth in the race to become one of two city councillors in Ward 6 would have been punishment enough, but a Guelph citizen is demanding an audit of Glen Tolhurst's donations from the 2014 election be performed. Why? Two words: GrassRoots Guelph.
Susan Watson, a community activist known for her work with Fair Vote Guelph, has employed the services of Toronto-based lawyer Ian Flett to formally request a compliance audit on the filed expenses of Tolhurst. Of specific interest is a $400 donation from Grassroots Guelph. "She has reasonable grounds to believe that [Tolhurst] has made either mistakes or withheld certain information from his filings, the financial statements that he has to file under the municipal elections act," Flett told the Guelph Mercury.
"If you calculate the $400 he received from Grassroots Guelph and add it to the benefit of the advertising than it's our theory that he might have received too much from Grassroots Guelph, that it might have exceeded its contribution limit," said Flett, who believes that the total amount of advertising paid to the Guelph Tribune by GRG was just shy of $7,000.
During the election, GrassRoots Guelph took out a number of adds in the Tribune, including one that endorsed a slate of candidates. Tolhurst, along with eventual Ward 6 victor Mark MacKinnon, were GRG's pick for Ward 6, which was notable because Tolhurst is a regular contributor to the blog belonging to GRG's founder Gerry Barker, Guelph Speaks, and was a member of GrassRoots Guelph.
Tolhurst, for his part, affirms that he's done nothing wrong, telling the Mercury that "he followed the relevant rules and was conscientious when he accepted the donation from Grassroots Guelph."
"The Municipal Election rules allow third parties to participate in civic elections. Funny, this question did not arise following the Guelph Civic League's very active participation in the 2006 civic election that wiped out the city council save for two members," wrote Barker on his blog, the only forum through which he would talk about the subject. "Revenge on Glen and the thousands of Grassroots Guelph members and citizens for their ole in dumping the former mayor. They want to discredit Grassroots Guelph and the blog guelphspeaks.ca so that those organizations will not be a factor in the 2018 election."
Watson was a campaign volunteer for the 2014 re-election bid for Karen Farbridge, whose tenure was heavily criticized by Barker and GRG, but is it that hard to discredit GrassRoots Guelph? The exact membership of GrassRoots Guelph is uncertain; in fact there were rumblings after the election that GRG was nothing more than an outlet for Barker and his own political tastes. On top of it all, the website for GRG was closed the day after the election, there have been no new social media posts on its Facebook page since E-Day 2014, and none of the "regular newsletter for members keeping them informed of the issues" promised in GRG's 2013 launch have been sent out. Did GRG exist solely to get the politicians Barker liked elected?
The City has a committee that will be convened to hear the complaint on May 6, at which both Watson and Tolhurst will have a chance to speak. The final deadline for submitting requests for compliance audits on financial statements is June 25.