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‘Nonsense’: Complaint about Julia Hanna’s finances on shaky ground, says Toronto lawyer

Julia Hanna is a 2022 mayoral candidate for the Town of Oakville | Julia Hanna campaign
Julia Hanna is a 2022 mayoral candidate for the Town of Oakville | Julia Hanna campaign

Less than a month after undergoing breast cancer surgery, Julia Hanna is facing a request for an audit of her finances in last fall's municipal election.

A complaint has been filed by local resident Scott Barber, who questions a number of items on the mandatory financial statement filed by the North Oakville restaurant owner.

Hanna, who ran for the job of Oakville mayor in both the 2018 and 2022 elections, came within 1,000 votes of unseating veteran Rob Burton in October.

Barber's complaint alleges that Hanna did not seem to spend enough money on signs, rent or phone costs but spent too much on bank charges when compared to Burton's expenses.

The complaint notes that Hanna spent just over $10,000 on signs, while Burton spent slightly more than $15,000 on his.

"Even the most casual observer would have seen that Candidate Hanna had twice the number of signs, and the figure warrants deeper investigation," argues Barber's complaint.

Hanna questions the logic of trying to invalidate her expenses by comparing them to Burton's spending.

As Oakville News noted in our story in May, Burton outspent Hanna by more than 60 per cent during the 2022 battle for the town's top job.

"How relevant is it that we had a better sign campaign than Burton did?" she asks. "Just because we had a better sign campaign doesn't mean we did something irregular."

Toronto lawyer and election law expert Jack Siegel is also dismissive of the complaint against Hanna and doubts that an audit will be ordered.

"You never know what any individual compliance audit committee is going to do, but I'd be surprised," said Siegel, a partner with Blaney McMurtry LLP.

The request for an audit is scheduled to be considered by the town's Municipal Election Compliance Audit committee at a meeting on Aug. 29.

The complaint and Hanna's financial statements are available alongside the agenda for that meeting.

'You don't understand what you're looking at'

Siegel says the onus is on the complainant to show that there are reasonable questions to be raised about the accuracy of Hanna's financial statements.

He says many of the issues raised by Barber don't appear to meet that standard.

For example, the complaint challenges the discrepancy between the contribution limit of $25,000 claimed on the first page of the form with the $16,739.24 in cash donations that Hanna and her spouse made to the campaign.

"That's not a reasonable question," says Siegel. "That's a 'you don't understand what you're looking at.'"

The contribution limit simply notes the maximum that a candidate and their spouse can contribute to their campaign, he noted. It would only be an issue if Hanna had spent more than $25,000.

He is also dismissive of the fuss the complaint makes over the business address supplied for members of the Guglietti family who donated to Hanna's campaign.

Any Ontario resident is entitled to make a political donation, notes Siegel.

And while donations must be made by individuals and not companies, Siegel says the address accompanying the name is irrelevant to making a determination as to whether it is a proper personal donation.

"The defining thing would be where does the money come from, not what address did they use," he said.

Finally, the complaint that there are missing addresses for three of Hanna's donors is only relevant if there is any evidence that they are not Ontario residents, Siegel said.

While candidates do have an obligation to provide a complete form, he notes that there might be a reasonable explanation for the missing addresses, including the possibility that they were illegible.

"If you think in practical terms, what is an audit going to do? It's certainly not going to accomplish much if all we're looking for is the addresses of three donors," says Siegel.

"It will be up to the candidate as to how much she wants to put in in response or to go in and say this is nonsense. Both are viable."

February cancer diagnosis

Hanna said she took advantage of a 30-day grace period for filing her campaign financial statement because she was diagnosed with breast cancer in February.

It was stunning, life-changing news that pushed everything related to the election to the back burner, she says. A battery of tests, followed by a slew of appointments with doctors and oncologists to develop a treatment plan, left her "literally a walking zombie" this spring.

"When you get a diagnosis like that, there's two months of sheer chaos that follows," she said. "Until you have all that information in front of you, you have no idea what your course of treatment is going to be or whether you're going to live or die."

However, Hanna says she has complete faith in her campaign's record-keeping.

"We were so meticulous because we knew there was a potential of this happening, so I feel confident in our team," she said.

But she has requested the committee meeting be delayed because her accountant Bianca Tino is currently on holiday in Italy. She says Tino, a partner with Oakville's Tino-Gaetani & Carusi firm of professional accountants, is in the best position to explain the campaign's finances.

"We have everything; it's all there, but it's our accountant that we need," she says.

"I am so resentful of the dirty politics that we live with and accept. The last thing I would do is be part of it."

Earlier this month, the Municipal Election Compliance Audit committee ordered an audit of Ward 7 councillor Nav Nanda's campaign spending.