Judge finds Chelsea developer Sean McAdam guilty in election spending case
A Gatineau judge ruled Sept. 12 that Chelsea real estate developer Sean McAdam violated the act respecting elections and referendums in municipalities when he took out an ad suggesting candidates in the 2017 municipal election had property-related conflicts of interest.
During Chelsea’s 2017 municipal election campaign, McAdam bought ad space in The Low Down to Hull and Back’s Oct. 18 edition to publish an open letter, for which he paid $626.46.
His letter addressed all 16 municipal candidates. According to Justice Lafrance’s ruling, it is “beyond a reasonable doubt” that, with his ad, McAdam targeted four people who ran for council in 2017. The court ruling also states: “The choice of words, the writing style and the tone clearly demonstrate opposition to the candidates.” Lafrance ruled that the letter put the four unnamed but identifiable candidates at a disadvantage in Chelsea’s 2017 electoral race.
Brought to the witness stand were 2017 Chelsea election candidates Tim Kehoe, Andrea Lockwood, Barbara Martin, then director-general Charles Ricard, as well as Low Down publisher Nikki Mantell. McAdam did not testify.
In the second paragraph of his open letter, McAdam wrote: “Among the current municipal candidates, there is at least one candidate running in almost every ward, as well as the mayoral race, that has an undeclared property-related interest in municipal land-use.”
McAdam went on to write that one candidate “fought the establishment of a trail network that backs onto their properties in the village core.”
Without naming names, McAdam pointed to three other candidates, whose properties happen to border what is now known as the Voie Verte, for allegedly opposing trail development.
He said these candidates “[own] property adjacent to land slated for public enjoyment,” adding that none of these candidates were involved in Chelsea politics before talk of trail development.
At the end of McAdam’s ad, he asked the four candidates to back out of the race if they agreed to declare conflicts of interest.
According to the judge’s decision, Kehoe, a mayoral candidate, was identified in the letter. Formerly an Ottawa councillor, he ran for Chelsea mayor for the first time in 2017. According to court documents, Kehoe opposed trail developments because, according to him, council did not conduct any fiscal or environmental studies on the project at the time.
Kehoe said McAdam’s letter cost him the election. According to the ruling, McAdam's letter spurred a negative community response surrounding his campaign.
Dominic Labrie, councillor for Ward 2, filed the original complaint with the Chief Electoral Officer of Quebec (DGÉQ), according to the Court of Québec, one week following the Oct. 18, 2017 publication. According to Labrie, McAdam’s ad did not uphold the integrity of the Elections Act.
Quebec election law states that only official agents can pay for ads concerning candidates – whether to promote or undermine.
The morning after the court decision, on Sept. 13, Labrie spoke with the Low Down about why he filed a complaint about McAdam’s open letter.
“For me, it was evident that it was an attack against democracy,” he said. “It’s not okay that people with lots of money can intervene in the political system.” The councillor added that the ad undermined the reputation of some candidates. He said former candidates had to diffuse rumours and try their best to salvage professional reputations.
Andrea Lockwood was one such person.
On Oct. 25, 2017 – a week after McAdam’s ad – Lockwood submitted a letter of reaction to the Low Down. Her Letter to the Editor read, “[a]lthough Mr. McAdam did not identify people by name, he provided enough information for voters to clearly understand that he was referring to me when he was referring to the second candidate.” Lockwood, an environmental lawyer, has lived in Chelsea since 1988. Court documents say she favoured the trail developments but had environmental and fiscal concerns.
In his letter, McAdam said someone who fits Lockwood’s description helped create a Chelsea law that bans construction within 30 metres from a body of water in the early 2000s. He also claimed that this individual – who he does not name in the letter – later built a structure near the water because of an “acquired right.” Lockwood, who identified herself in the letter, argued that she did not have an acquired right and that McAdam had his facts wrong.
“If McAdam wants to contest the [elections] law, there are other ways to [revise] a law than to violate it,” said Labrie.
McAdam's lawyer Michael Rankin said that they will appeal the decision. He also said the case will continue next week to "address the constitutional arguments raised." He wouldn't comment further. According to Elections Quebec lawyer Corinne Fournier, McAdam’s appeal will hear the “constitutional validity of the offence.” If rejected, McAdam will be forced to pay a $5,000 fine, plus fees.
McAdam did not respond to the Low Down by press time.