It hasn’t taken long for the Friends of Oro-Medonte to make enemies.
The small group “of concerned citizens” was formed recently to “help the residents of Oro-Medonte find out information about the upcoming election.”
But the township’s deputy mayor, Ralph Hough, said it’s nothing more than “dirty politics.”
“I don’t mind a fair fight and I’ve had lots of them in 21 years,” said Hough, who was first elected as a councillor in 1997; he is seeking a fourth term as deputy mayor. “It’s grossly unfair that someone can do a character assassination and tell blatant lies and that’s exactly what they’ve done with me as far as I’m concerned.”
The Friends of Oro-Medonte have developed a website (voteoromedonte.ca) where it provides information about the candidates and their platforms and, in some cases, includes endorsements.
A week ago, the group, fearing a postal strike, hastily mailed out 7,000 postcards to township residences. And on that bright-orange card, the group “recommended” candidates in the various township races and also alerted voters they did “not recommend” four candidates – including Hough.
Greg Groen, one of the four key people behind the Friends group, concedes they have now backed away from recommending candidates.
“It was not our goal” to recommend candidates, Groen told OrilliaMatters. “The intent was to get people’s attention and it worked. On our website, that’s all being taken down. It was just an initial thing to get people to pay attention. We will simply let our analysis of individual platforms speak for themselves.”
That answer does not appease Hough, who said the damage has been done. He is upset because the group never sought information from him prior to including him on their “naughty list.”
“I have nothing against (Hough),” said Groen. “We simply didn’t have enough information quickly enough on him to get it on the website. However, it’s all being put there now.”
Hough counters he has served on council for over two decades and says his record speaks for itself. He also emailed the group information close to two weeks ago and, as of Tuesday, the site had not been updated with that information.
Groen, an insurance broker who is also the president of the Oro Chamber of Commerce, says he believes it “might be time for a change” when it comes to Hough. And, on their updated website, it says this about Hough’s competition for deputy mayor: “Scott Jermey is the current Ward 5 councillor and is running for Deputy Mayor. He is also the only candidate that we are specifically going to endorse.”
Groen acknowledged the group has made mistakes. He said, for example, they could have been clearer about who they are and what they are doing.
“People had no idea who we were and why we’re doing this. We should have told our story better at the beginning,” said Groen, noting the group’s other three directors are Dave McKee, Josephine Martennson-Hemsted and Marc Cohen. Their names were not on the website until late yesterday. “But it’s a brand new process.”
This is the first election in which groups such as The Friends of Oro-Medonte have had to incorporate and register as a Third-Party Advertiser under new regulations created by the previous Liberal government.
“To be honest, I don’t really like this process either,” said Groen. “I wish we didn’t have to do it like this. It’s not the way I prefer to operate.”
He said the new regulations make this their only option. He said this election is “too important” to do nothing.
“Essentially, we saw a lot of other special interest groups that were having a really big effect on the election or trying to,” said Groen, referencing the West Oro Ratepayers Association and the Horseshoe Valley Property Owners Association; both groups have also registered as Third Party Advertisers. Aware Simcoe and Save Oro are also active in the community.
“We have four groups that are pushing their own agenda. The only reason we started this was to highlight that special interest groups were doing this,” said Groen, who acknowledged there is “a bit of irony in that we had to start a special interest group to make that happen.”
That group has anted up the funds to back the campaign. Groen said about a dozen people are involved and have pledged donations ranging from $30 to $1,200 – the maximum allowed.
While the process and the group have sparked controversy, Groen said their goal is to make voters aware about special interest groups.
He openly admits mayoral candidate Sandy Agnew, who is vice-chair of Aware Simcoe, and Ward 4 candidate Bruce Wiggins, who has ties to Save Oro, were “the two really big red flags” they wanted voters to be wary of.
“Essentially, candidates closely associated with special interest groups we’re not supporting. Anybody who is running a broad platform and inclusive platform are people we supported,” said Groen.
That claim rings hollow to Hough.
“It’s kind of interesting they’re saying in one breath they’re not supporting special interest groups … but all four principles involved in the numbered company have very strong ties to Burl’s Creek,” said Hough. “To me, it’s very dirty politics.”
Several citizens have petitioned the township about the Friends of Oro-Medonte. They wanted to know if the group was a valid third-party advertiser, if there was a conflict with the chamber of commerce (due to Groen’s position) and asked the township to shut them down.
Clerk Karen Way recently sent an email to those who expressed concerns, noting that Groen, “as an officer of 2649998 Ontario Ltd., which is operating as Friends of Oro-Medonte, registered as a third-party advertiser and submitted all required documentation."
She also noted the chamber is non-profit corporation and is not an officer of the numbered company.
The bottom line? The group “meets all (the) criteria and is in compliance with the legislation. As such, the municipality has no authority to request that Friends of Oro-Medonte take down their website or change its content.”