New documents obtained by The Pointer through a freedom of information request show Patrick Brown, while running for the Conservative Party of Canada leadership, charged Brampton taxpayers through his mayor’s expense budget for social media posts used in his federal campaign.
This appears to be a violation of federal election laws which prohibit candidates from charging certain expenses to third parties, or only allow certain expenses by third parties if they are registered. In this case the City of Brampton paid for the costs, which appears to be a violation of rules prohibiting the municipal corporation from supporting a political campaign.
Expense reports show Brown’s social media costs charged to the City went up ten times after he entered the CPC leadership race in March. His social media use while he ran in the CPC leadership race was almost exclusively for the campaign. The documents show at least some of the expenses were charged to the City under his role as mayor.
Expense statements show Brown’s office’s social media spending went up from $9,880.76 for all of 2021 to $16,943 for just the months of March and April in 2022, while he was campaigning to be the CPC leader, paid to SolarIT Solutions.
An additional $11,448 was paid in July, adding up to $28,391 paid for social media over the time of the CPC campaign. Brown was disqualified from the race on July 5 for allegedly breaking federal election laws when he allegedly used a third party to pay a campaign staffer and used sequential money orders to pay for memberships that are supposed to be paid by the individuals joining the Party.
Invoices obtained by The Pointer under FOI show SolarIT Solutions, a Mississauga based company headed by Srinikanth Pannerselvam, was paid through Brown’s mayor’s expense account to set up social media campaigns for Brown, boost posts and monitor the social campaign activities including comments, impressions and reviews.
The company kept track of engagement data on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, wrote posts and invested in paid promotions for Brown’s posts. It would also meet with a “communication team” to provide content analysis and schedule other social media campaigns.
This included content and copywriting for ad campaigns and posts, as well as strategizing keywords and target audiences to increase engagement.
A June 11 post written by SolarIT, according to an invoice to the mayor’s office included in the FOI documents, used the wording: “COVID travel restrictions impacting unvaccinated Canadians have caused people.” This appears to be the description used in the invoice and does not include the entire social media post that was written by the firm.
The phrase “COVID travel restrictions impacting unvaccinated Canadians have caused people” is only connected to one post, which appeared on Twitter, word-for-word on Brown’s account, which was a CPC election advertisement, stating: “I’ve heard heartbreaking stories of how COVID travel restrictions impacting unvaccinated Canadians have caused people to miss out on visiting dying relatives, forgo meeting new grandchildren, and lose their jobs.
This should not happen in Canada — not now, not ever.”
Attached was a quoted picture: “Look, as an aspiring Prime Minister, let me say this: your vaccine status is not my business,” then a link to his CPC election campaign website: fighterleaderwinner.ca.
A post written by SolarIT on April 5, according to an invoice to the mayor’s office included in the FOI documents, stated: “My heart goes out to the family who lost their two precious children to this senseless tragedy. Road safety is paramount. And reduced sentences that result in a fatality need to be reexamined by the Youth Criminal Justice Act. Canada needs criminal justice reform- it’s time to put victims first.” This was after an incident in Vaughan involving a teen driver who struck and killed a brother and sister playing at the edge of their driveway.
Below the words in the post, Brown adds, “Canada needs criminal justice reform – it’s time to put victims first.”
In April, while Brown was running for CPC leadership, according to SolarIT’s invoice to the mayor’s office, the company’s work included his posts around the federal Youth Criminal Justice Act, as well as a post about fighting “against cancel culture.”
For a CPC leadership campaign event, when Brown was travelling across the country and came back to Brampton, he tweeted, “Great to be back home this morning in #Brampton at the Bramalea Christian Fellowship to speak about my commitment to fight against cancel culture, which often singles out faith communities in Canada,” SolarIT wrote on Brown’s social media April 3, according the company’s invoice to the mayor’s office.
Brown has not responded to The Pointer’s questions about his social media, the dramatic increase in costs since he entered the CPC race and who has been paying for it.
When Brown announced his CPC candidacy in March, he told supporters not to believe what they might have heard, after “the media tried to make me cancel culture’s latest victim by smearing me with false allegations, I fought back and won.”
This was a reference to a legal battle with CTV after it released a story about two yound women who accused Brown of sexual misconduct. The legal battle concluded with CTV adding a correction to the age of one of the accusers to 19 at the time of the alleged encounter, which Brown denies.
The allegations still stand and CTV’s story was never taken down.
Brown’s use of City funds to pay for his social media campaigns while seeking the CPC leadership appears to violate laws. The federal Canada Elections Act requires anyone spending more than $500 on election advertising to register as a third-party.
Municipally, any expense incurred to promote political parties or candidates in any election campaign can not be covered by taxpayers using public funds.
The social media spending are not the only expenses of Brown’s that have raised flags. The mayoral campaign teams of his opponents are now questioning why more than $15,000 of City funds were used to pay a consulting firm in September after it invoiced Brown’s mayor’s office.
In Brampton, usage of consultants for members of Council is an ineligible expense. Daisy Consulting Group, the company that invoiced more than $15,000 for consulting services charged to Brown’s office in September, said Brown is not the first Brampton municipal leader the firm has worked for, stating it was also hired by former mayor Susan Fennell. There is no indication or public record that Fennell ever violated the expense policy prohibiting council members from charging consulting services to their municipal council expense accounts. If she did use the consulting service it was most likely paid by her campaign.
The City’s Mayoral and Councillors’ Expense Policy expressly prohibits payments for: “Usage of Consultants by Councillors.
Daisy Consulting, which is headed by its president, Warren Kinsella, told The Pointer none of the work billed to Brown’s mayor’s office related to election campaigning, and the firm is “prepared to bring legal action against anyone who suggests otherwise.”
Brown and his office have not replied to questions asking if they could provide a detailed description of the work done by Daisy Consulting Group, the name of the company that appears on Brown’s September expense statement released by the City.
Brown has also not replied to questions about Justice Risk Solutions.
City Hall documents show $180,800 paid by Brampton taxpayers to a third-party company, Justice Risk Solutions, a niche insurance provider for law firms, went to lawyer Howard Winkler.
Winkler represented Brown in his lawsuit against CTV following allegations of sexual misconduct and defended him in a lawsuit filed by senior PC MPP Vic Fedeli against Brown following the release of his tell-all memoir in 2018.
The City’s Mayoral and Councillors’ Expense Policy prohibits payment for legal advice, stating that “eligible expenses for Councillors do not include professional services or advice, such as legal and planning advice and services, or any such other expenses that are not permitted under any other City policy and the Council Handbook?”
It’s unclear why the social media, legal and consulting fees for Brown were approved.
A number of rules have been violated since Brown became mayor. Former CAO David Barrick, brought to Brampton by Brown, hired senior staff who were unqualified and didn’t meet the requirements under the job posting; the FOI process was illegally moved away from council’s oversight; and an independent investigator, Froese Forensic Partners, found procurement and contract rules were broken, including for one contract given to a friend of Brown. These are just a few of the issues around the lack of accountability that have dogged Brown inside City Hall since he became mayor four years ago.