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John Blommesteyn defending the indefensible

There was a time not so long ago when John Blommesteyn would bring a deputation to Council neatly dressed in a dark suit and wearing a collar and tie.

Yesterday, I observe a hot and sweaty John Blommesteyn wearing trainers and a billowing  white golf shirt. He has let himself go a bit.

Despite his pasty-faced appearance, he is all suppressed fury, like a coiled spring. He is here to defend his wife, former Newmarket Councillor Maddie Di Muccio, now President of the York Region Taxpayers Coalition.

On 30 March 2015, the Council adopted a motion calling on staff to

“prepare an Information Report advising whether former Councillor Maddie Di Muccio’s use of her expense account for obtaining personal legal advice and for payment of advertisements while seeking the provincial nomination are permitted by Town policy.”

In his presentation Blommesteyn seems to suggest that the Motion was off-point because, by the time it appeared in the Era newspaper, the former Leader of the Ontario PCs, Tim Hudak, had banned her from standing as a PC candidate. He didn’t explicitly say this but that’s what I took it all to mean. (The transcript is set out below.)

Fancy Dancing

Personally, I think Blommesteyn’s argument amounts to nothing more than a lot of fancy footwork. He forgets the old legal maxim: He who seeks equity must come with clean hands.

Blommesteyn spends much of his time rolling in the gutter. His campaign a few years ago surreptitiously to buy up Tom Vegh domain names (a practice, he confesses, his wife would never have approved of) tells us everything we need to know about the moral universe he inhabits.

Whether the ad was placed while seeking the Provincial nomination or afterwards is immaterial. The advertisement should never have been paid for using public money. It is tendentious. It is partisan. In my view it would be impossible for any reasonable person on reading it to conclude that this was an appropriate use of public money.

If Maddie Di Muccio wants to place an advertisement in the Era, excoriating and demonizing her political opponents, using her own funds, that’s up to her. We live in a free country and, so long as the ad is not defamatory, she can do what she wants with her money. But what she cannot do is bill you and me. But she did.

Blommesteyn, full of injured innocence, says the Era is being sued for libel. This has been threatened before.

Legal action threatened (again)

As someone who has previously been threatened with legal action by Maddie Di Muccio (which was all hot air) I hope he is serious. There is nothing more damaging to a person’s credibility than to threaten legal action and not follow through, relentlessly and with absolute conviction. My advice to Blommesteyn is this: don’t say it if you don’t mean it.

As it happens, I wrote to the Town’s Chief Administrative Officer, Bob Shelton, on 24 August 2013 drawing his attention to the half page advertisement Di Muccio placed in the Era on 22 August 2013 about the Mayor’s record on property taxes. I told him:

“It seems to me this is an improper use of her councillor’s expense account.

“Can you point me to any Council policy, advice or guidance which sanctions the use of councillors’ expense accounts in this way? And has Councillor Di Muccio ever sought advice from you on the advisability of placing such an advertisement which is tendentious and personally attacks another member of the council.

“If Councillor Di Muccio wished to draw attention to the Mayor’s statements on property taxes she should have paid for the advertisement out of her own private funds.

“In the absence of a Council policy sanctioning such advertisements paid for by the taxpayer, please take this as a formal complaint which I should like to see investigated.

New Expenses Policy

Shelton replied saying the Town was going through a process of creating an expense policy. He said there were opportunities for input and I should contact the Town Treasurer which I did.

The Town’s Treasurer told me on 8 October 2013 that Council did not want staff to make decisions about the appropriateness of Council expenses.

“It is acknowledged that you would like your email to be accepted as a formal complaint. My investigation indicates that there is nothing further that I or any member of staff can do on this issue. If you would like to pursue this further, I could refer you to the Clerk’s Office to make a request for deputation to Council.”

I allowed myself to believe that Di Muccio’s lapse was a one-off and I let the matter drop.

History Repeats Itself

In April 2014, I was again in touch with Bob Shelton:

“I am sorry to trouble you again but I wonder if you would confirm that no public money was used to pay for the half page advertisement placed by Councillor Di Muccio in the Newmarket Era of Thursday 10 April 2014.”

I heard from the Town’s Treasurer on 26 April 2014 saying he was reluctant to comment on specific cases until these were posted as a claimed expense on the Town’s website. Expenses are reported on a quarterly basis so expenses for the period 1 April to June 30 would be posted within 30 days – by 30 July 2014.

I was told it was the responsibility of the Town’s Treasurer:

“to make individual councillors aware of any potential non-compliance and to attempt to resolve the situation. If a dispute cannot be settled, then it is brought to Council for a decision.”

I don’t know if there were any discussions between the Town’s Treasurer and Maddie Di Muccio once she had lodged her claim for $1,225.19 for the advertisement. But I did not see any report to Council which was supposed to happen if a councilor and the Town were at loggerheads over a disputed expense.

The whole thing flared up again as an issue with the Council motion of 30 March 2015. Once again, I asked if I could  lodge a formal complaint, asking for the Integrity Commissioner to be brought in despite the existence of the “six month rule” (which prevents an investigation going ahead if the alleged violation happened more than six months before the filing of the complaint.)

After all I had been flagging up the issue with senior staff for ages.

But it seems the six month rule is an absolute and there the matter rests – until the next deputation.

Who said what yesterday.........................................

John Blommesteyn: I am here to talk about the information report that was published on April 26 that was made out to the public and to give you a bit of background. In April, you know, there’s been a lot of talk between myself and Town staff regarding this report. In April I met with the Acting CAO, the CEO (?) and Director of Human Resources to complain about harassment my wife has been receiving from members of this Council.

I believe and many members of the public have been fooled into believing my wife has been implicated in some sort of Mike Duffy type of expense scandal. And, were that to be true, then at a very minimum you owe the public some type of explanation and evidence that backs up your 30 March motion.

Now it is a matter of public notice or public information already that the Newmarket Era is going through the process of being sued for libel and, last week, published a notice withdrawing certain implications made in its reporting on this information report.

After this report came out I asked the authors of the report for two pieces of information which are posted up top there (Blommesteyn points to the screen).

I’ve asked to see a copy of the ad that was the subject of the report and I’ve asked to know why the report did not mention anything about the legal expense when your motion specifically asked for information about legal advice. And for the record, I’ve not received anything that resembles what I’ve requested there. And the question that should be before you right now is why not?

The report you asked for requires two pieces of information regarding former councillor Maddie Di Muccio. The report asks for information about an ad and about legal expense. But Mr Taylor’s motion, seconded by Ms Twinney, chose the wording very carefully. The report was to look at an ad quote

“while seeking the provincial nomination” and quote “personal legal advice”.

If there is any evidence of either then she would be off-side on the Council’s expense policy. But without those two amendments to the words “ad” and “legal expense” because, on their own, these two are very legitimate expenses for Council.

You all voted on this. You must believe that this information as modified is true. So I am here to ask you to produce what your staff cannot or will not provide me.

Where is this ad placed “while seeking the provincial nomination”? And what personal legal advice are you referring to? And, for your information, don’t point to the Kinahan invoice. Because when I visited your staff in April I brought with me a letter that was signed by Leo Kinahan confirming that Councillor Maddie Di Muccio’s expense related to her work as a councilor.

And I am very curious to know why the authors of this report didn’t include this fact when they published information the information report on April 26th.

On March 3rd I spoke before this Council imploring you to meet best practices in your work. None of you made a comment to me after my deputation. No. The way you responded at that same meeting was to table this information report that singles out my wife that was ultimately adopted on March 30th.

Now some people may think that Council expenses account motion was retaliatory or  vengeful or mean. And we’ll leave that up to someone else to judge. But if you can’t sit in your chairs here and lie about somebody. If you don’t feel you have lied, then produce the evidence I am seeking. It is as simple as that.

Mayor Tony Van Bynen: Thank you. I take exception to the fact that you are suggesting that this Council lied. And I am going to rule that as an out-of-order comment. And I’ll just leave it at that. Regional Councillor Taylor.

Regional Councillor John Taylor: Thanks very much. You are asking questions about an ad and legal expenses and, out of an abundance of transparency, perhaps you would help things along if you would just tell us what the expenses were for since they were expenses…

John Blommesteyn: There was no expenses. Sorry. There was no ad “while seeking the provincial nomination”. There was no ad whatsoever and there was no personal legal advice.

John Taylor: Can you just tell us what the expenses were for then?

John Blommesteyn: I don’t know what to tell you. There was no expense. How can I tell you about this expense when there was no expense. There was no ad “while seeking Provincial nomination” and there was personal legal advice. So I can’t. It is almost asking me to prove a negative. There’s no such thing. It doesn’t exist.

John Taylor: Just tell us what those two expenses were for.

John Blommesteyn: And it doesn’t exist is what I am telling. You published those wordings very carefully when you published this Motion. If you go back to your motion…

Mayor Tony Van Bynen: OK. It’s just not clear. The Town did pay some expenses.

John Blommesteyn: But that’s not the wording of your motion. If that’s what you were interested in - those two expenses -  then why don’t you pass a motion regarding those two expenses?

Mayor Tony Van Bynen….

John Blommestyn: No! You chose expenses to make it look like there was a Mike Duffy expense scandal and it wasn’t.

Mayor Tony Van Bynen: Thank you.

John Taylor: Just to acknowledge. There were two expenses. Can you just tell us what they were for?

John Blommesteyn: I cannot speak to any expenses in relation to your motion. I would be out of order.

Mayor Tony Van Bynen: Thank you.

John Blommesteyn: It is not relevant. It does not relate to you order.

Mayor Tony Van Bynen: Any questions? Clarification? Being none, Motion to receive the deputation?

Proposed by Tom Vegh and seconded by Jane Twinney.

Carried nem con.

(You can view this at 1 hour 19 minutes in on the tape)

Update on 17 June 2015: The Information Report Bloomesteyn refers to was published on 26 May 2015 not 26 April 2015

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