‘I should have dug deeper,’ campaign manager tells audit committee

Mayor Bernadette Clement addresses the Election Compliance Audit Committee on Wednesday, May 15, 2019. Seated behind her is campaign manager Etienne Saint-Aubin. The three-member panel heard from two complainants, the mayor and the campaign manager and will render a written decision. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston)

CORNWALL – The campaign manager for Mayor Bernadette Clement admits he “should have dug deeper” into the rules surrounding the campaign when it came to personal campaign financing.

“I take the blame upon myself that I realize that I should have dug deeper and to my dying day I regret not having done that given my knowledge of the clerk’s previous inconsistencies to use a gentle word,” Etienne Saint-Aubin told the Elections Compliance Audit Committee Wednesday.

He said the rules were “fraught with a degree of complexity” and created “confusion in many quarters.”

Based on his correspondence from the clerk, Saint-Aubin said he believed that the personal campaign funding limit was $25,000. In fact, it was around $14,000. Clement put $18,357 of her own money into her election.

But Saint-Aubin says that doesn’t remove the fact Manon Levesque did not issue a certificate of self-funding. “Accordingly, there being no such certificate, the limit was $25,000 and that being the limit the law was abided (sic) by.”

He also criticized the clerk’s actions on many fronts during the entire election process.

In his statement, Saint-Aubin also lashed out at most of the local media for confusing the situation, calling the self-funding limit overspending. “That is not the issue at all. That it totally untrue. The spending limit was fully complied with and with significant leeway.”

Audited statements from MNP show the campaign had spent all of the self-funded contributions, including the over-funding, plus all contributions from outsiders, ending the process in a deficit.

Saint-Aubin characterized the complaints of two former mayoral candidates as “career complainants” launching “personal attacks.”

Given the audited statements, Saint-Aubin told the committee that another audit is not necessary and legal proceedings don’t need to be taken. “The apparent contravention of the limit was explained by the fact that the limit was not created properly by the clerk.”

Mayor Bernadette Clement also spoke to the committee. She said the spending versus the personal contribution has created a lot of confusion.

“When I sat down with the CAO on April 8, and she informed of the over-contribution, the self-funding limit, I was shocked. I was fully transparent,” Clement said. She said she felt the need to make it public through a Facebook posting.

“At the end of the day, this is my responsibly. Somebody told me the other day, this would be humbling for me and I might be made stronger by it. This is not the way you want to be made stronger,” Clement said, her voice wavering.

The mayor added that she will continue to work with the clerk and can still continue to exercise her duty.

The committee was debating Wednesday night behind closed doors and is expected to release a written decision. There is no timeline for that decision.

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