Over the past decade and a half, I’ve been blessed to get to have some amazing experiences in politics and political campaigns. I’ve had the chance to learn a lot about organizing, campaigning, media, communications, inter-personal relations, social media, sign construction and lots of other things. But in that time, I’ve also had the good fortune to have some amazing mentors and teachers who taught me not just the skills, but the ethics and morals around campaigns too.
I’ve been lucky to learn from great people who taught me about campaigning the right way, following the letter and spirit of the laws and simply being a decent human being while campaigning. Some might say that’s impossible, but it’s not. So one thing I always watch for is examples of people who decide to try to go against those golden rules of campaigns or worse, the laws themselves. I use them as examples to the next generation of campaigners when I do training with volunteers or candidates, and yeah, I use their abject and predictable failures to show why you don’t do that, as you’ll eventually get caught.
Back in the spring of 2019 I pointed to such an example in Alberta, which the RCMP is still looking into. But today I came across a stunning story out of city council in London, Ontario, one that blew my mind and will surely become a part of my examples going forward:
Everyone take the time to bask in the stupidity of this attempt at running a smear campaign against another candidate. According to reports, London’s councilor for Ward 10, Paul Van Meerbergen, allegedly paid to a company named Blackridge Strategy $1,320 to “provide an anonymous website and attack ads against his opponent Virginia Ridley”. The proof of this comes from London lawyer Susan Toth, who represents Ridley and another councilor, Maureen Cassidy. Turns out in the last election both were targeted with anonymous websites that criticized their voting records and their character. They went to court to force Blackridge to hand over the proof, and voila!!!
Amazingly (and probably predictably) Van Meerbergen had said in the past that he had “no intention of taking responsibility for something of which I had no knowledge,”. But in the documents made public today, Blackidge invoiced Van Meerbergen personally in a very detailed kind of way:
Look at that; “Attack ads against Virginia Ridley, Anonymous website”. Who in their right mind would sign a contract and have it in print and writing, ‘oh yeah, we’ll have fake websites, that will be $600? Yeah, who in their right mind would say or do that? Well it turns out it might be Mr. Van Meerbergen himself, because he said that exact quote to the CBC back in May and well now we have the invoice, although with a slightly bigger price tag. As for the other candidate, don’t worry, they’ve got some proof on him too, courtesy of Facebook Messenger:
Thumbs up indeed folks! Yep, it looks like they’ve been caught red handed and it only took a bit more of a year to get the evidence to put it all together. Needless to say, I hope that London City Council decides to take this seriously and investigates this thing right to the hilt. Given these comments from London Mayor Ed Holder, that might just be in the offing:
I want to repeat those last words from Mayor Holder, a former Conservative MP from the area; “Public service, above all, is about integrity and public trust. Without those values, nothing else matters.” This is true, no matter what your partisan bent, or party affiliation is, or at least it should be. Running for public election is running to serve the public. That means earning people’s trust and showing your integrity, and if you can’t do that in your attempt to win, you’re doing it for the wrong reasons. And of course, add to the fact that you will get caught, as examples like these keep showing. Every story like this eats away at the publics trust and the integrity that we expect to see. And sadly, there are more stories like these than ones of people facing punishment for alleged acts like these.
I hope that they throw the book at these two because every time a story like this comes out, it pushes good people away from serving in elected politics and gives politicians the worst possible image. As the quote on this blog says, “the greatest way to defend democracy is to make it work”, and in my view, the best way to make it work is to ensure that those who allegedly transgress against the rules get the punishment that they’ve earn. We’ll see if that happens here.