Balance the Books
Joanna Chapman demands returns from local government
BY Anya Wassenberg
As if on cue, an elderly man opens the door of Chapman Books in Dundas, Ontario, and approaches the owner. “You don’t know me,” he begins, “but I’m an admirer of yours. I may be a pensioner, but I’d like to help out,” he continues, reaching for his wallet. Genteel and unassuming, Joanna Chapman—bookseller, one-time town councillor and, more recently, champion of Canadian voters—smiles and thanks the gentleman graciously.
Such generosity is becoming more commonplace to Chapman, who spent much of the past year, and thousands of dollars of her own, on a crusade to increase the checks and balances in the municipal electoral system. “I don’t like to see politicians who essentially buy their way in,” she says. Judging from the response she’s received from the courts and local voters, she’s not alone.
Chapman’s ire was raised by a 2004 report, which appeared in the independent paper, The Hammer, listing apparent irregularities in the campaign finances of some candidates in the 2003 municipal election. The story led her to conduct her own research into campaign contributions on the internet, looking for irregularities such as contributions over the legal $750 limit or multiple contributions from the same individual or corporation. “Some of the cases were so obvious, you don’t need to do any investigation,” she explains. “It made me wonder what else there was to be found.”
She narrowed her search to eight candidates, including Hamilton’s successful mayoral candidate, Larry Di Ianni, whose records Chapman says contained the most irregularities. “I saw a $750 donation from St. Lawrence Cement, another from TCG Asphalt & Construction and another from Dufferin Construction,” she says, noting that the latter are divisions of the former.
She took her concerns to city council, requesting an audit of Di Ianni’s books. Private citizens in nearby Guelph had already made similar requests that were acted upon by those municipal councils. In Hamilton, it was a different story. “I provided clear proof, and Hamilton City Council didn’t follow through,” says Chapman. So, she took her fight to court, where, after several appearances and a vigorous battle by Di Ianni’s lawyers, Justice Timothy Culver ordered city council to audit Di Ianni’s campaign books, as well as those of two failed candidates. Late this past spring, council backed a motion calling for an audit of all municipal candidates.
While the papers have dubbed Chapman the mayor’s nemesis, she insists Di Ianni was singled out only because his records contained the most irregularities. To date, Di Ianni has returned about $20,000 in irregular campaign donations as a result of his audit. And that makes Chapman feel like her struggle to hold municipal election candidates accountable has been successful, having spent thousands of dollars of her own money on legal costs.
Back in her bookstore, the older gentleman has made his contribution to her legal fees, duly noted by Chapman in a weathered notebook. “Would you ever run for council again?” he asks. “Oh, no. I think, for me, those times are over,” she says with a laugh. But she looks pleased that he would ask nonetheless.