By John Swartz
There are two long standing traditions, unwritten rules, in Canadian politics that federal and provincial elected officials stay out of municipal politics during elections and municipal politics remains free of party affiliations.
Early this week a photo of Ward 3 candidate Deval Brahmbhatt and Simcoe North MPP pictured door knocking together was forwarded to SUNonline/Orillia. The accompanying text read:
“Big thank you to Jill Dunlop MPP Adam Chambers MP friends families coming out to support knocking doors and meeting neighbours talking with key point regarding coming up orillia council elections 2022 And appreciate all kids and student for their support before going back to school. Thanks to Jeff (Czetwerzuk) and Mason Ainsworth for helping super canvas in westridge area ward 3.”
The photo was forwarded by another Ward 3 candidate. SUNonline/Orillia spoke to each candidate in the ward, Chambers and Dunlop. Ainsworth was contacted more than a dozen times for comment but did not return calls.
“I saw red,” said Ward 3 candidate Elizabeth Van Houtte. “Ethically it is just wrong, and he hash-tagged all in that Instagram, so he broke the rules, and I know they always go out as teams. They were in our neighbourhood as well. It’s just wrong. You don’t mix federal and provincial politics with municipal. It’s non partisan, keep it that way, and if you are an elected official we’re paying your salary and you’re door knocking? Promoting your PC candidates, you’re PC followers? That’s wrong and if you can’t see that, what kind of person are you?”
Dunlop said she accompanied Brahmbhatt and campaign volunteers for Czetwerzuk and Ainsworth as a private citizen.
“I was out as a volunteer working with supporters. This has been (happening) in other municipalities. As you know my mom is running for mayor in Severn Township, so I’ve done some door knocking with her. The number one priority is ensuring people get out to vote and talking to them about the voting. I’m not at their door as the MPP,” Dunlop said.
“I’ve helped a couple other candidates in my free time as a volunteer.”
“They were kind enough to do some door knocking for me during my election and I’ve given a little bit of time to help them as well. At the end of the day after the municipal election I’m excited to work with whatever all of our councils are going to look like across all the municipalities of our riding.”
“The partnership between the province and the municipality is very strong and will continue to be and I want to ensure we are getting the right support we need in our area and we are happy to work with all our councils.”
Brahmbhatt, who posted the photo on his Instagram page, said he did not know there was a tradition regarding campaigning
“At the end of the day, I’m not saying somebody is supporting me, but they are showing us the ground rules (of campaigning) and that’s very important to know, to make sure you do it the proper way, but I understand where you come from,” he said.
“I was not aware, but now people are making it a really big deal. It’s like they are community leaders, they are supporting. If people are running, anyone would have gone to them (Dunlop and Chambers) and asked them, they would have said yes. I’m pretty sure about it.”
Brahmbhatt said he was aware other candidates elsewhere were doing the same thing and he didn’t see any harm in the practice. He thought campaigning with elected representatives from higher office could be something other candidates could take advantage of and he thought it would be an educational opportunity to learn how to campaign.
“She did not clearly advertising herself, but (saying) this is a young man, I’m running. She’s just helping me. It’s a motivating thing for me,” Brahmbhatt said. “Maybe if they (other candidates) would go and ask any leader to help them, show them how to, because this is my first time in a municipally election,” he said.
He also said Chambers was not campaigning with his, Ainsworth and Czetwerzuk’s teams the day the photo was taken.
SUNonline/Orillia spent 30 minutes on the phone with Chambers regarding this subject. Unfortunately the voice recording was corrupted, so directly and accurately quoting is impossible.
The gist of Chambers’s comments are he did go and door knock with a group of about 15 people from the three campaigns (just not the day the photo was taken), but said his ground rule was he would not go to endorse any particular candidate. He also said he told the campaigns he would only go to doors alone, but then said he was with a campaign canvasser at least one residence.
He defended his participation as returning favours to the three candidates who had campaigned for him during the federal election, saying Ainsworth knocked on about 10,000 doors for him and he felt an obligation to be helpful.
Chambers maintained he only spoke about the importance of voting in the municipal election and not in favour of any candidate. When asked how he thought a resident might view opening a door to see a campaign worker and their MP, or MPP also at the door as anything but an endorsement, he conceded that impression is likely.
Brahmbhatt and Czetwerzuk are greenhorns as candidates. Their tone indicated they participated in something they hadn’t considered how it would appear.
“Honestly I really wasn’t (aware). Had I had a little more information I really wouldn’t have made that decision to kind of join in,” said Czetwerzuk.
“They (Dunlop and Chambers) volunteered their help to me. I honestly didn’t mean to offend anybody, or make anything happen. It was just a one-day canvass we did around Ward 3 and they offered to help. I’m a pretty new candidate, so (I’m) going to get any help I could get. I want to put partisan help aside; Jill is our MPP, so people who potentially I have to work with in the future, so when they offered to help, I was like, sure. I’m just getting my campaign rolling, it would be nice to have a couple extra names and maybe some support generate from this,” he said.
As to candidates appearing to be neutral regarding party affiliation, Czetwerzuk said he took steps to avoid the impression with his campaign signs.
“I went with navy blue on purpose, I didn’t want people to assume I was with any party, but it’s my favourite colour. If you notice on my sign I have bright yellow because I’m trying to respect my Ukrainian heritage, but a lot of people think it was a conservative kind of thing, so I tried to go as dark as I could (with the blue colour),” he said.
Both Czetwerzuk and fellow candidate Zak Gariba said they have had lawn signs stolen.
“I found a stash (of stolen signs) about 15 -20 minutes ago,” said Czetwerzuk. He said he’s lost more than ten signs.
Czetwerzuk says he wants to run a fair campaign.
“I speak highly of the candidates at the door. Whenever someone asks me who is running I make them well aware there’s 6 strong candidates and encourage them to read each person’s profile and say, ‘If you want to give me your vote at the end of the day I’d really appreciate that,”” he said.
It appears until SUNonline/Orillia called, he was not thinking there was any issue.
“Thanks for educating me on this. I never meant anyone harm.”
The other Ward 3 candidates all expressed concern about Dunlop and Chambers involvement.
“I wouldn’t get involved in doing any of that because all of a sudden you are trying to sway an election on a different level. I’m not really in agreement with doing that,” said Nick Wray. “It’s not servicing people at all. What you are servicing is each other.”
“You’re trying to swing it. I don’t know if whether or not it’s technically against the rules. I know it’s frowned upon. Especially at the local level. I don’t think it’s even necessary (to get, or ask for help from other office holders).”
Jay Fallis said he doesn’t affiliate himself with any party and doesn’t think party politics belong in municipal elections.
“I was disappointed to see it. I think it’s bad for politicians at that level ( to be involved); to stay out of the municipal realm. I think municipal politics is best when parties don’t get involved. That’s the best part of municipal politics is it’s independent thought, everyone works together with everyone. I think the more we bring in outside parties, or politicians from higher levels, the greater risk we run that partisan politics is going to play a bigger role at the municipal level,” Fallis said.
Zak Gariba had not heard about this development until SUNonline/Orillia called.
“Really? I am not aware of that. That’s’ not fair, though,” Gariba said. He thinks it puts other candidates at a disadvantage. “Absolutely, yes. They are supposed to be neutral.”
By email, Gariba also said his own campaign was his top concern.
“I am running my campaign and what others do or not do does not impact my campaign. I have my vision and direction and that is to serve the people of Orillia and those in Ward 3 and I am focusing on that.”
Van Houtte, who twice ran as a provincial NDP candidate and for Orillia council, took steps to stay clear of her party affiliation by choosing sign colours different from the NDP and will not talk about the NDP in this campaign. She draws a hard line about the involvement of the two experienced candidate’s involvement in this municipal campaign
“How dare you, we’re paying you to represent us federally and provincially and you’re out door knocking? You don’t answer phone calls – Jill in particular – you don’t do your job and you’re out smiling in West Ridge at all the doors. Cut me a break,’ she said. “You just don’t do that, ethically, where’s your moral compass?”
(Photos by Swartz and Supplied) Main: Screenshot of Simcoe North MPP Jill Dunlop and Orillia council candidate Deval Brahmbhat with volunteers canvassing in Ward 3.