Campaign Contributions 2020: Follow the Money

When you’re living in a troubled economy, there’s nothing more interesting than following the money that influenced that economy’s election results.

It’s even more interesting when you’re a failed, former candidate from the 2016 municipal CBRM election, who knows all about the donations (or lack thereof), the paperwork, the expenses, the hard physical work — and the temptation to avoid naming all your political contributors when it’s over.

Todd Riley

Todd Riley

Declaring campaign contributions is based on the honor system here and let’s face it, there’s not much honor in politics anywhere — it’s a dirty game. But elections are also big business: all those signs, brochures, TV and radio ads don’t magically appear for free. So you have to explain how you paid for them — it’s required under the Nova Scotia Municipal Elections Act, subsection 167(1):

In sixty days after ordinary polling day in an election, every candidate and agent of an association shall file with the clerk of a municipality or the secretary of a school board a disclosure statement. (8A) A disclosure statement must show the full name and residential or business address, other than a post office box unless that is the only address available, of each contributor whose contributions received during the period since the previous election exceed fifty dollars in total and the amount of the total contributions by that contributor.

There’s even a form for it. It’s called Form 40 and it’s provided to you the day you file your official candidacy papers inside the CBRM’s municipal clerk’s office.

And yet, in what may be an historic first for the municipality, a candidate — District 6’s Todd Riley, in his second unsuccessful run at a council seat — hasn’t bothered to file his Form 40 from the October 2020 municipal elections. Riley’s signs peppered the hotly contested district, although he ended up losing to first-time candidate Glenn Paruch, son of the late Ray Paruch, who had held the seat for many years.

(If you’re familiar with my history with Riley — my former boss at the Sydney Call Centre against whom I filed a complaint last fall over the center’s alleged failure to pay staff for stat holidays — you may think I’m picking on him, but I swear: I had no idea when I took this assignment that this would be my lead item.)

Not filing is serious:

Subject to subsection (11), every candidate who fails to file a disclosure statement within sixty days after ordinary polling day, or who files a false disclosure statement, is guilty of an offence.

But it’s apparently not up to the returning officer to enforce this. The office of the municipal clerk, Deborah Campbell-Ryan, who serves as returning officer in CBRM, told the Cape Breton Spectator Monday — after several days looking into Riley’s missing disclosure form — that it would be up to police to lay a charge under the Municipal Elections Act if and when someone in the community files a complaint.

All the other candidates in last October’s municipal elections filed Form 40s.


No limits

CBRM doesn’t place limits on campaign contributions, unlike the Halifax Regional Municipality which introduced strict new campaign finance rules in 2018 in preparation for the 2020 elections. As the CBC’s Jack Julian explained at the time:

The new system eliminates corporate and union donations. It also caps donations from individuals and how much candidates and their spouses can pay into a campaign.

Under the amended regulations, campaign spending limits will be $30,000 for council candidates and $300,000 for mayoral candidates…

Individuals can give a total of $5,000 to council candidates with no more than $1,000 going to a single candidate. Individuals can give a maximum of $2,500 to a candidate for mayor and a candidate can self-finance to a maximum of $15,000, with help from a spouse.

If CBRM had banned contributions from unions, it would have affected two council candidates in 2020 — Gordon MacDonald, who won District 1 and received $1,087 from CUPE NS, and Kim Shepherd, who lost in District 12 and received $258.75 from CUPE).

If CBRM had banned contributions from businesses, I’m not sure we would have been able to hold an election.

Although what strikes you first about the CBRM Form 40s is how many council candidates say they didn’t drop a dime on their campaigns — 27 of 49, or 55%.

This includes three of the four successfully re-elected incumbents, Earlene MacMullin (District 2), Eldon MacDonald (District 5) and Steve Gillespie (District 4), who all reported $0 contributions. This could be down to name recognition and a stockpile of signs — MacMullin spent $1,950 in 2016 and MacDonald spent $1,400 on his two previous campaigns combined. Gillespie, on the other hand, reported a $200 “in kind” donation in 2016 from McKenzie College, which has since gone out of business, but which offered training in heavy equipment truck driving, welding and continuing care assistant programs.

The exception to the re-elected incumbent rule is Darren Bruckschwaiger (District 10), who reported contributions worth $3,100, including $50 from J Frances Investments (Sydney businessman Craig Boudreau), $200 from Harbour Royale Development Limited (Martin Chernin’s company with the exclusive rights to develop the Sydney waterfront), and $500 from Plaza Ford Sales Ltd (headed by Regis MacDonald).

And then there’s the defeated incumbent, Ivan Doncaster, who reported $2,900 in contributions, much of it his own money.

But council campaign contributions were peanuts compared to the money that went into the campaigns of the leading mayoral candidates.


Big bucks

Overall, the biggest money went into the unsuccessful campaign of the incumbent, Cecil Clarke, who raised almost $92,000. Meanwhile the winner, former District 8 Councilor Amanda McDougall,  raised just $55,000.

Clarke had also raised the most money in his successful 2016 campaign — much of it from the CBRM’s (largely male) power brokers or company owners who collectively forked over more than $101,000 to him. That said, Clarke’s 2016 opponent, New Dawn CEO Rankin MacSween, wasn’t far behind, raising a whopping $90,000, much of it from the same people and companies. Which is interesting, because McDougall, who received MacSween’s endorsement, didn’t attract the same kind of business support (with one glaring exception, as you’ll see in a moment).

Annette Verschuren, Rodney Colbourne, Irwin Simon

Annette Verschuren, Rodney Colbourne, Irwin Simon, together put $39,000 into CB mayoral campaigns.

Clarke’s 2020 backers list reads like a Who’s Who of the island’s rich and powerful men: the millionaires, the realtors, the golf clubbers and yacht owners, the lawyers and the big construction/trucking firms all gave him donations running to three or four figures. McDougall’s, on the other hand, reads like a handful of pages out of the phone book, individual donations in the $50 to $250 range — with the exception of a mind-boggling $20,000 donation from Annette Verschuren.

Verschuren, the former Devco bureaucrat is also the former CEO of Home Depot Canada and Asia and the current chair and CEO of NRStor Inc, a Toronto-based energy storage development firm that works with firms like Tesla to sell and install home solar energy panels, among other projects. She’s also chancellor of Cape Breton University. It’s worth reiterating that in Halifax, this donation would have been capped at $2,500.

There were a few people and businesses smart enough to play both sides in 2020, giving money to both top mayoral contenders. This included Membertou Band Council which donated $1,000 apiece to Clarke and McDougall. (How it is possible for a government to donate to the mayoral candidates of another government is a story for another day.) Businessman Craig Boudreau, vice chair of the Cape Breton Regional Chamber of Commerce, donated to both Clarke and McDougall and did so through a variety of entities. McDougall’s campaign received a total of $2,350 from SIX Boudreau ventures — 3338565 NS Ltd, J Francis Investments, Freshii Sydney (Boudreau is a co-owner), New York Fries, Carmika Multi-Corp, and Magnet Signs CB.

The same companies gave $2,500 to Clarke.

Incidentally, as noted above, the law governing this disclosure process states:

A disclosure statement must show the full name and residential or business address, other than a post office box unless that is the only address available, of each contributor whose contributions received during the period since the previous election exceed fifty dollars in total and the amount of the total contributions by that contributor.

And yet, candidates frequently get away with listing just numbered companies. And while McDougall’s list includes civic addresses (redacted from the forms posted online), Clarke’s includes nary a street name.

Moreover, if someone like Boudreau donates to candidates through six different entities, shouldn’t his total contributions be given at some point? Isn’t that, you know, the law?


Place your bets

Among those who gambled and lost on Clarke was Irwin Simon, a multi-millionaire originally from Glace Bay, owner of the Cape Breton Eagles and the Cambridge Suites, CEO of Leamington-based weed firm Aphria Inc, who gave Clarke $10,000.

Close behind him was Rodney Colbourne, whose various ventures gave the incumbent mayor $9,000 — OTS Offshore Technologies ($5,000), Colbourne Ford Limited ($1,000), Colbourne Chrysler Limited ($3,000).

Simon and Colbourne are partners in the Lakes Golf Course and Resort in Ben Eoin, as is Mike Kenny of Kenny’s Pizza, who put $1,000 into Clarke’s campaign.

The resort’s official agent, The Breton Law Group, donated $5,000 to Clarke, in addition to donations from individual lawyers with the firm, like James Gogan (yes, the same guy the CBRM has hired to handle the Spectator’s access to information request), who forked over another $1,000 and Dwight Rudderham, who donated $2,500.

Front row: Parker Rudderham, Chair BCB Second row (left-right): Cecil Saccary Vice-Chair BCB, Eileen Lannon Oldford, CEO BCB and Jim Kehoe Board Member BCB

The Spectator went looking for a photo of Parker Rudderham and found this one, from his days as chair of the now defunct Business Cape Breton. Front row: Parker Rudderham, Chair BCB Second row (left-right): Cecil Saccary Vice-Chair BCB, Eileen Lannon Oldford, CEO BCB and Jim Kehoe Board Member BCB

Long-time local developer and one of the biggest federal building landlords in Sydney, Marty Chernin, gambled on Clarke alone this time, to the tune of $5,450 — including a $500 personal donation plus $1,650 from each of his three companies Bentinck Investments, 386 Charlotte St Realty and Harbour Royale Development Ltd.

Frank Magazine owner, realtor, restaurateur, pharmaceuticals wholesaler and would-be kingmaker Parker Rudderham put thousands into the race, although not a dime to McDougall. Rudderham  gave Clarke $2,000 via his extra-provincial company, 4494628 Canada Inc (nature of business: “home seasonal rental”), registered with Nova Scotia Joint Stocks just days before the election on 16 September 2020. Rudderham also lost another $2,500 on Yianni Harbis who failed to oust penny pincher Steve Gillespie in District 4. Rudderham’s only winning gamble was the $1,000 he gave to Glenn Paruch, the winner in District 6. (Rudderham was a long-time backer of Paruch’s father.)

Other big money behind Clarke included construction tycoon Jim Kehoe (winner — with EllisDon — of the $6 million tender to build the new Marconi Campus in downtown Sydney) who donated $1,000 through Joneljim Concrete Construction.

Argent Fisheries owner John Wilcox (Glace Bay Fisheries) came up with five times as much, donating $5,000 to Clarke, as did Provincial Energy Ventures, owned by the Florida coal king Ernie Thrasher. Municipal Ready Mix and Northern Contracting, owned by Sheldon Marinelli and Peter Fahey, each donated $2,500.

Clarke’s executive assistant (and frequent flyer) Mark Bettens ponied up $2,500 but lost his bet (and his job, it was a “political appointment” that ended when Clarke’s reign did). Governor’s Restaurant donated $2,000 and Falcon Realty (a company revoked for non-payment from the Joint Stocks Registry in 2018) gave Clarke $1,000. Falcon was owned by Patrick Donovan, who is married to Kiki Kachafanas, the sister of CBRM regional solicitor Dmitri Kachafanas. She’s the recognized agent for another Donovan company, 3046975 Nova Scotia Limited, which also donated $1,000 to Clarke. (Donovan was in the news for all the wrong reasons this fall, when a homeless woman died in the derelict Sydney train station on Dodd Street — a longstanding eyesore of which he was the owner.)

Kirk MacRae, a local businessman with a longstanding relationship with Clarke (I remember when I first met him, waiting nervously with us reporters back in 2001 when Clarke won his first gig as an MLA) and his company, RKM Investments, gave Cecil $5,300 this time around.

McDougall’s campaign attracted $2,000 from Stanley Dicks, another construction company owner in the area, plus a handful of $1,000 contributions from donors like Boston Pizza, Rankin and Marie MacSween,  B & M Disposal Ltd (David and Penny Morrison), the former municipal law firm (Robert) Sampson McPhee Law, as well as longtime construction materials businessman Dave Gillis who supports nearly every cause (except, apparently, Clarke’s reelection bid). Another lawyer, Guy LaFosse, and the LaFosse MacLeod law firm donated a total of $1,500.

There were only a couple of other notable items in the Form 40s. Two council candidates reported sizable donations, but they came from “inside the house,” as it were. Lorne Green, who ran successfully in District 12 (the seat I bid for and lost in 2016) declared a $6,000 personal contribution while Ruby Abbass, wife of Chris Abbass, donated $5,500 to her husband’s doomed mayoral campaign. Family money was also behind mayoral candidate John Strasser who collected roughly $4,000 while the remaining candidates for mayor — Kevin MacEachern and Archie MacKinnon — spent zip.


Born and raised in Whitney Pier, Tera Camus has been a journalist for three decades,  investigating, writing, editing and shooting photos for a variety of national and international outlets including CBC Radio, the Chronicle Herald, Toronto Star, Orlando Times and Canadian Geographic. She has been recognized for her reporting on Cape Breton murderers and misuses of municipal funds and for her investigative work mapping toxic hot spots in and around the former Sydney tar ponds/coke ovens.