TORONTO — A defeated municipal candidate sanctioned for her failure to file campaign expenses should have been disqualified from running for the Progressive Conservatives in the next Ontario election, a former president of her riding association says.
Instead, Stephen Searle is accusing party brass of playing favourites by giving their blessing to Cozette Giannini to seek the nomination in the east-end Toronto riding.
"It looks bad when you don't put in your financial statements from a campaign because what are you hiding, was it $15,000 or $20,000 and where did the money go?" Searle said. "It's also fodder for the opposition."
Giannini was unsuccessful in her bid to become a Toronto councillor in the 2014 municipal election. When she failed to file her campaign expenses as legally required, the city declared her a "candidate in default," which bars her from running for local government office in the next municipal election.
While she said she had no intention of running municipally, she nevertheless attempted to have courts set aside the decision, saying she wanted to avoid disqualification by the Tory nominating committee as a potential candidate for Scarborough-Agincourt in next year's provincial election.
Among other things, Giannini claimed to have been unaware of the requirement for filing an audited financial report, said she had previously been unable to afford a lawyer to ask the courts for a time extension, and had gone through a "difficult separation."
However, in a stinging rebuke earlier this month, Superior Court Justice Sean Dunphy declined to grant what he called the "extraordinary" remedy she wanted.
"Rights seldom come without corresponding obligations," Dunphy wrote. "The right to present oneself to the people as a candidate for election carries with it the responsibility to make fair and timely disclosure of financial returns in the manner prescribed."
Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown, who has previously said candidates who might embarrass the party's brand weren't wanted, did not respond to requests for comment.
It's not the first time Brown has come under fire over candidate selections. Some rejected candidates and longtime party members have complained about interference in the nomination process from party headquarters.
"Members in the riding are concerned as she worked very closely with the leader as an outreach employee and it appears that there is special treatment," Searle said. "The riding has lost excellent members, especially ethnic members, and the problem Brown has is (that) his own party is in turmoil."
Despite the ban on running municipally, there is no legal impediment to someone like Giannini running provincially, a spokeswoman for Elections Ontario said.
However, Searle said the party had previously blocked another potential candidate, Mohammad Latif, from running in a Mississauga riding because he, too, was a candidate in default. Latif refused to discuss his situation.
Doug Ford, brother of the late Toronto mayor, has been campaigning with Giannini, who will go up against a retired citizenship court judge, Aris Babikian, at a nomination meeting on April 1.
"It is up to the PC party executive to deem who is qualified to run as a nominee," Babikian said Thursday.
Neither Giannini nor the party's head office responded to requests for comment.
Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press