Original Published on Jul 16, 2022 at 08:49

By Jessica Durling, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Patrick Brown has not answered why Brampton City Hall staffers were working at his Vaughan CPC leadership campaign office, and what documentation exists that shows they were authorized to do so.

In June, Rebel News posted a video showing two cars belonging to two City Hall employees who work for Brown parked at his Vaughan campaign office while he was running for leader of the federal Conservative Party.

In a statement to the Brampton Guardian, Brown confirmed some members of his office staff volunteered on his campaign, but said they were doing it on their own time, suggesting they were authorized to be away from City Hall where they are expected to work for the taxpayers of Brampton. He has not responded to The Pointer after questions were sent asking who authorized the time off for City employees to work on his campaign.

Typically, in the past, staffers in the mayor’s office have been employed by the Corporation of the City of Brampton, bound by City employment policies and ultimately overseen by the CAO, but some have also been hired as contractors directly through the mayor’s office, still paid by the taxpayers.

Acting CAO Paul Morrison did not provide any explanation for Brown’s use of City Hall staff to work on his campaign. Brown did not respond to questions.

On July 6, Brampton Council was set to discuss the issue of staff working for Brown’s campaign at the Vaughan office, but Brown cancelled the meeting, citing his concern over the way former councillor Charmaine Williams would be replaced. A series of written questions was added to the agenda for the cancelled meeting including:

1. What specific measures has the CAO taken to address the content of the Rebel News video & story to ensure Brampton taxpayers are not paying the salary of the Mayor’s staff from the date the mayor entered the CPC Leadership race to date.

2. If it is found that the Mayor’s staff… have been working on the leadership during times when they were being paid by the City of Brampton; how will these funds be recovered?

The news story by Rebel that showed Brown’s City staff working at his campaign office raised questions about possible illegality, as federal election laws prohibit the use of campaign workers paid by a third-party company. Similar allegations were raised by a whistleblower who worked on Brown’s leadership campaign while allegedly being paid by a third-party, which led to his disqualification from the race on July 5, the day before the use of City Hall staff was supposed to be discussed by Council, before Brown cancelled the meeting shortly before it was supposed to start.

On July 7, the whistleblower, Debra “Debbie” Jodoin, made her identity known through the law firm Loopstra Nixon LLP, also revealing details of her accusations that led to Brown’s disqualification. 

Jodoin is a 22-year member of the Conservative Party of Canada and its predecessors, in April she joined Brown’s campaign as regional organizer, at his request.  

“Mr. Brown told me that it was permissible for me to be employed by a company as a consultant, and then for that company to have me volunteer with the campaign,” Jodoin said through a statement released by the firm. “He connected me by text message with a third party for that purpose. I trusted him, but as time went on I became increasingly concerned with the arrangement and suspected it was not okay.” 

According to her, in June she asked Brown personally to have mounting expenses paid by the campaign. Brown expressed surprise that the expenses had not been covered and said he was “on it”. Shortly after that, a corporation paid Jodoin’s expenses, according to her. 

Following a meeting with legal counsel, Jodoin shared her concerns with the Conservative Party and, at her request, the Party made efforts to keep her identity confidential, but shortly after she came forward through her lawyers. She did so after Brown claimed leadership opponent Pierre Poilievre was behind the allegations that led to the disqualification.

It was not the first time a whistleblower has come forward regarding Brown’s alleged improper use of staff for a CPC leadership campaign. 

In 2021, senior City Hall employee Gurdeep “Nikki” Kaur was fired after she emailed allegations and shared evidence showing Brown used City resources, including staff who don’t work in his office, to sell memberships for federal Conservative leadership candidate Peter MacKay who sought the role ahead of last year’s federal election.

She also provided information about alleged widespread misconduct under Brown and former CAO David Barrick, recruited by the mayor despite the man’s checkered past.

Her termination letter, signed by Barrick, stated that her dismissal was “a result of your failure to accept the transfer to the position of Strategic Leader, Planning, Building & Economic Development Projects.”  

Days after she was fired, Council ordered her to be rehired and she was offered a position in the planning department.

On July 6, right after Brown was disqualified from the federal Conservative race and cancelled Council’s scheduled meeting, for the entirety of the work day he stayed in his City Hall office conducting media interviews regarding the disqualification until the late evening. There is no evidence of municipal work being done during this time, while using City resources including staff and utilities needed to keep his mayor’s office open. It’s unclear why he didn’t use his Vaughan campaign office for the back-to-back media interviews he did throughout the day, in his role as a recent federal Conservative leadership candidate.

While this was happening, other members of council including Martin Medeiros, Jeff Bowman, Pat Fortini, and Gurpreet Dhillon, held a press conference (a press release was also issued with their signatures explaining Councillor Doug Whillans was unable to attend the conference due to vacation).

The group alleged Brown was abusing Brampton taxpayers, pointing to his cancellation of the Wednesday Council meeting and his refusal to attend every other one for the last month. The group that held the press conference has tried to ensure a series of ongoing forensic investigations into widespread allegations of City Hall misconduct under Brown move forward ahead of the October 24 municipal election.

“None of us were involved in the Conservative leadership, however, it had a negative impact on the City of Brampton,” Medeiros told the crowd of reporters that afternoon. 

“Looking back, we would have preferred Mayor Brown would have taken a leave of absence to focus on his leadership, as he has every right to do. Our concern is the negative repercussions for the City of Brampton: Not withstanding its image, not withstanding having four council meetings, City business does not continue, so instead of us being right now in council chambers dealing with an agenda that really impacts jobs, employment… The City’s at a standstill.”  

These are the same five councillors who previously vowed to restore good local government in the city following a number of scandals involving Barrick and Brown. Barrick was recruited by the mayor, who he shared a number of close Conservative ties with, before he was fired in February when the five members and Williams had grown frustrated with how Barrick and Brown were running City Hall. 

Four of the five councillors released a statement this week calling on the RCMP to investigate Brown’s use of City Hall resources and contracts that have gone to Brown’s friends, without telling Council of his ties to the people who received the lucrative City work. Some of it, staff recently revealed, was never done, despite the money being handed over. They highlighted concerns that the alleged misconduct could be tied to the allegations of federal crimes the CPC forwarded to Elections Canada, after Jodoin came forward.

“At least one man in Brown’s inner circle who worked on his federal campaign, worked for a firm that received more than $500,000 from City Hall,” the press release calling for an RCMP investigation stated. “Staff are unable to determine how this amount was approved under Brown or what work was completed for the money paid by Brampton taxpayers.”

The man referred to is Rob Godfrey, one of Brown’s closest friends and son of Postmedia Chair Paul Godfrey who wrote an opinion piece for the newspaper chain in May defending Brown against allegations of flip-flopping levelled by members of Canada’s Jewish communities.

“I have known Patrick Brown for the last decade,” Paul Godfrey wrote, vouching for his character. “He believes in democracy,” he claimed, adding his endorsement of Brown as Canada’s next prime minister. 

An alarming recent City Hall staff report showed Rob Godfrey’s firm was given three times more money than what was approved by Council, more than $500,000. Kaur previously told The Pointer Rob Godfrey often called her demanding money be paid and she was told by staff working under Brown’s direction to make sure cheques to Godfrey’s firm were approved, despite the lack of work to show for it.

Mayor Patrick Brown’s office social media expenses skyrocket over federal campaign

Now, questions about Brown’s use of staff who worked on his leadership campaign are swirling, but they are not the only questions about City Hall resources he has avoided.

His office has refused to answer why the mayor’s social media expense invoices skyrocketed after announcing his bid for the Conservative Party of Canada leadership.

Since his campaign began in March, Brown chose not to take a leave of absence despite missing the majority of council meeting sessions and many votes. When he did briefly appear it was usually virtually from another city. His social media platforms show he was rarely in Brampton or dealing with City business during his hectic campaign schedule.

“I was travelling the country to every corner of Canada,” Brown told CTV the day after he was disqualified, explaining he had invested all his time into the leadership campaign. “I don’t like being away from my children…I hated being away from family, but I made the sacrifice to run.”

It’s clear City Hall business was not on his radar and his social media since March shows the leadership was almost exclusively the only issue he addressed.

During this time, his City Hall mayor’s office social media expense invoices blew up, to promote his leadership, even though this social media use was paid by Brampton taxpayers.  

In 2021, Brown had 11 charges ranging from about $900 to $1,154 for social media. Seven of them were marked “social media campaigns/social media management and analytics for COVID-19 campaigns.” Others were invoiced as “social media promotion and monitoring charges.”

In March 2022, after he announced his candidacy, the City received an invoice for $2,849.29, followed by another for $5,138.89. In April, the City received two more invoices for $4,833.61 and $4,121.29.  

Within the two-month period this led to $16,943 for social media campaigns charged to the City from Solarit Solutions Inc., a web design and digital marketing company, compared to $9,880.76 for all of 2021. 

The same Twitter account he has used as mayor has been dominated since March by posts promoting his CPC leadership bid. It’s unclear if City Hall staff worked on his social media promotion while he criss-crossed the country campaigning. Brown has not responded to questions from The Pointer.

According to the City of Brampton’s Mayor and Councillors’ Expense Policy, members of council are required to verify that expenses were incurred in the performance and benefit of City business and standard office equipment and furniture assets are to be used only for City purposes.

Another Brampton policy which clarifies what municipal employees are allowed to use City funds for is the Use of Corporate Resources Policy. Section 5.1 of the policy lays out which assets municipal officials can not use for campaign purposes.

Activities not permitted during an election campaign period include the use of City property, whether directly or indirectly booked, for any election purpose; as well as use of equipment, supplies, services, staff or other resources of the municipality for any campaign or campaign-related activities. This also includes use of City funds to acquire any resources for any campaign or campaign related activities, including ordering of stationery and office supplies. 

It’s unclear why Brown’s social media expenses were approved. 

City Hall’s departments are required to report expenses incurred on behalf of a member of council to the Treasurer. It is the responsibility of each member of council to report any expenses under a cost-sharing arrangement to the Treasurer. 

Only statements for which member approval has been received, such as Brown’s expenses, are posted on the City’s website

When the CAO’s office was contacted with questions about the approval of these specific items, Paul Morrison, Brampton’s Interim CAO, reached out to The Pointer and said he was on a medical leave.  

“I specifically sent it to Bill Boyes (Brampton’s fire chief), who is the acting CAO in my absence, and Natalie who is the acting director in communications, to please respond.”

Communications responded with a link to the Use of Corporate Resource Policy as well as the Mayor and Councillors’ Expense Policy. Neither addressed why these specific items were approved.

No email from Boyes was received. 

It also remains unclear if City Hall staff were authorized to work on Brown’s campaign, who approved any possible leave, and why, if it was granted, this was done, considering the priority to work on behalf of Brampton taxpayers, instead of Brown’s now defunct federal leadership campaign.

This item reprinted with permission from The Pointer, Mississauga, Ontario