It is 9.50am and I am in the Cane Room at Newmarket’s Council offices in Mulock Drive waiting for the big event of the day to start at 10am. The atmosphere is subdued like a dentist’s waiting room. We talk in hushed tones.
At the top table sit the members of the Compliance Audit Committee. The Chair, Ron Colucci, is a chartered professional accountant. On his right, Kelly Gravelle, a lawyer from Oshawa and on his left Paul Jones, a former Town Clerk in Whitby whose CV is impressive but his questioning – as I shall soon find out – is less so.
In front of me sits the huge bulk of John Blommesteyn dressed for the occasion in a dark blue suit. He asks the Chair if he can raise some points on procedure before the meeting gets under way. He wants to know why we can’t meet in the Council Chamber where the meeting can be live streamed. He says he doesn’t want to come across as aggressive.
Colucci, unnecessarily exasperated by this question, tells him we are staying put.
Now it is ten o’clock and the meeting stirs into life.
Where am I?
Colucci tells us this is the first meeting of the Compliance Audit Committee of the Town of…. He pauses.
“Where am I?” he asks.
This is an inauspicious start but he recovers quickly. I learn that transparency and fairness will be the hallmark of today’s proceedings.
Blommesteyn says Taylor must have known
Now it is over to Blommestyn who, facing a time limit of 15 minutes to make his case, gallops along, swallowing and tripping over his words in his desire to get everything out in time. He is gratified that Taylor has very recently returned the $750 campaign donation to BionX but he asserts Taylor knew of the connection between Stronach and BionX years before he took the tainted money.
Blommesteyn points to page 11 of a slideshow presentation given by Taylor in 2010 which allegedly shows the relationship between Magna and BionX. Taylor then had a role with BionX Bikes. Theatrically, Blommesteyn says this is the “smoking gun”.
Blommesteyn says all three companies under the microscope (BionX Canada, Magna International Ltd and Stronach Consulting Ltd) are located on the Magna campus in Aurora. They are there because they are all part of the Magna family.
He says that even though the details of the ownership of the various corporations may be obscure it is perfectly clear who was calling the shots. Frank Stronach wielded imperial power at Magna as his staggering $52 million bonus shows.
This could cost the Town $20,000
Now it is over to Taylor’s lawyer, Jack Siegel, who tells the Committee that Blommesteyn is asking them to initiate an audit process that could end up costing the Municipality up to $20,000. “A forensic audit from top to bottom would be a dramatic step.” And one he clearly considers unnecessary.
He takes us to section 256 of the Income Tax Act which defines “control” in terms of share ownership. No-one has a controlling interest in Magna which is a public company. Now he is going on about the Stronachs and their association with various entities. Now we are in the legal thicket of trust funds. Siegel tells us that because we hear the name Stronach repeated so often it can give rise to a “potential inference”. But that’s all it is. If we look at BionX and the Stronach Consulting Group there is no “compelling evidence” of a link. He is now deep into legalese, doing what lawyers are paid to do.
Now Blommesteyn says Siegel has unwittingly proved his case for him. Blommesteyn says he is not expected to be a lawyer or a tax expert and can’t be expected to explain all the relationships between the Stronach entities. That is precisely why a compliance audit is required. He predicts it would be like peeling an onion with ever more being revealed, layer after layer. He tells the Chair there is enough “evidence of smoke” for him to order an audit.
Control and shareholdings
Colucci the accountant is not convinced. “Control” is all about shareholdings as set out in the Income Tax Act.
Now we descend into a long and inconclusive discussion about “indirect control” which is referred to in that very same Act. Blommesteyn says this phrase also appears in the Municipal Handbook but no-one it seems can turn up the reference.
Blommesteyn cuts to the chase. “We should be concerned about corporations playing loosey goosey with campaign donation rules.”
He says corporations shouldn’t be making donations at all at the municipal level where candidates are desperate for money to pay for their campaigns. He paints himself as the little guy up against the corporate movers and shakers who buy influence by spraying donations over pliant politicians across York Region.
Suddenly I feel a chill on the back of my neck. It is 10.45am and I turn to see Maddie Di Muccio enter the room giving me one of her trademark death stares.
Now Mr Jones, the retired Town Clerk from Whitby and self proclaimed expert on all things municipal, asks Taylor how he reviews the campaign donations he receives. Do you review them before the money is deposited? Taylor says he tries to look at the donations as they come in but it is pretty messy. It is an election campaign after all. He gets a lot of donations but he doesn’t take money from developers.
The Chair is now wrapping things up. The Committee does not retire to consider their position. It is all over in a matter of seconds. Colucci states baldly that he is not going to be voting for an audit. His colleagues agree.
But we are told Mr Blommesteyn can appeal to the Courts.
We are now talking big money and, I suspect, that’s very unlikely to happen.
Nevertheless, Blommesteyn has, in his own bull-in-a-china-shop way, performed a public service by reminding us all that corporate donations to candidates for political office come with a health warning attached.