COLUMN: Which taxpayer are you working for?

A beaming Bernadette Clement thanks her supporters at Nav Center on June 23, 2015 after winning the SDSG Liberal nomination for the upcoming election. Clement vows to add some classic elements to her campaign, which could result in a slimmer lady come Election Day in October. (Cornwall Newswatch/Bill Kingston)

MORRISBURG — There is an old adage that states that “there is only one taxpayer”. This applies to the convention of thinking that it does not matter what level of government levies a tax, federal, provincial, county or municipal, the taxpayer pays. With the 2015 Federal Election campaign getting into full swing, one has to ask which taxpayer one works for, when an elected or government official decides to run for a different office?

When a municipal employee runs for office, they have to take a leave of absence, same as a provincial or federal employee. Most government managers will allow their staff to take the unpaid leave of absences while the employee is running. This did not work for Federal Prosecutor Emilie Taman who tried for, and was denied, a leave of absence to run for the NDP in Ottawa-Vanier recently. That is the exception however, not the norm.

The reasons for a leave-of-absence are many. To avoid the appearance of using your position for electoral gain. To avoid the accidental blurring of lines between the candidate and the worker. To avoid any chance of, or appearance of, any wrongdoing by the candidate. There is no law in Ontario that prevents elected municipal councillors from running to be a member of provincial or federal parliament. There is, if an MP or MPP wishes to run for municipal office however.

Which brings to light the possibility of an issue with Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry Liberal candidate Bernadette Clement. Clement was elected to a third term on Cornwall City Council in 2014, but threw her hat in the ring for the Federal Liberal nomination a scant few months later. With fixed election date legislation, it was very clear there would be a federal election in 2015. At the August 11th council meeting, Clement stated she would go on a leave of absence as of August 31, but really, it should have been as soon as the writ was dropped.

Clement is a public figure, who represents the City of Cornwall where ever she goes, like the Association of Municipalities Ontario meeting this week in Niagara Falls. Residents follow her on Facebook and Twitter, but are they getting the candidate Bernadette Clement, or councillor Bernadette Clement? The social media lines are already blurred mixing pro-Justin Trudeau messages with municipal affairs. She has also recently changed her Twitter profile picture and her bio to read “Federal Liberal Candidate SDSG.” The question for all taxpayers is, when everybody is watching every dollar, should she have cancelled her AMO appearance to prevent the problems of optics or would she be vilified for wasting over $1,000 of taxpayers money? Could another councillor not have gone in her place?

During the writ period for elected office, the candidate should be focusing on that race, taking a leave of absence from their posts elsewhere.  To do anything else is to leave the door open for possible questions of impropriety or misrepresentation. Taxpayers in Cornwall should not have to wonder if they have to ask those questions, and potential voters in all of SDSG should have a full-time Liberal candidate.
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