Mitzie Hunter using constituency office for leadership race activities, text messages show

By Sabrina Nanji January 8, 2020

Liberal MPP Mitzie Hunter has used her constituency office for partisan activities related to her leadership campaign — something the province’s ethics watchdog has previously suggested breaches Ontario parliamentary convention. 
According to text messages obtained by Queen’s Park Today, Hunter’s campaign team set up shop in her Scarborough—Guildwood constituency office in December to help prepare thousands of Christmas cards for people linked to her bid for leader. 
There is a longstanding “requirement to keep partisan matters out of the constituency office,” according to a past ruling from Ontario’s integrity commissioner.
Last month in a WhatsApp group chat for Hunter’s campaign, Qadira Jackson, president of Hunter’s Scarborough riding association, relayed a message from constituency office (CO) staff seeking volunteers to help package holiday cards for the campaign. 
“Over the past week, the CO staff folded and stuffed over 4 thousand holiday cards, with 8 thousand additional cards for campaign contacts which will be delivered to the CO. These cards need to be folded and stuffed, and the CO staff have our regular responsibilities to catch up with after a long week,” the December 16 message reads. 
Three days later, a few people had made plans to stop by the constituency office on Kingston Road to help, and by the evening, an organizer said the “cards are done!”
The next morning, the same organizer told the group “there won’t be any card stuffing this evening at the constit office. The staff need a break.” 
Hunter denies any wrongdoing. 
“I have appropriately separated my leadership campaign matters from my constituency office,” Hunter told Queen’s Park Today via text message. 
“Regarding Christmas cards specifically, the cards to constituents were prepared and mailed by my office staff which is common practice for sitting members. Cards to those supporting my leadership campaign were purchased by my campaign and prepared by volunteers,” she said. 
In a 2015 report censuring then-NDP MPP Jagmeet Singh for allowing the use of his Brampton office in connection with a political rally, the ethics commissioner’s office said “it is inappropriate to permit any partisan political activities in the [constituency] office.” 
“A constituency office represents all constituents in the riding and the expenses of that office are paid by the Legislative Assembly,” the commissioner went on to say.
“MPPs are entitled to participate in initiatives which are political in nature, however, such participation must be outside the constituency office, after hours.” 
As for staff, “Ontario parliamentary convention prohibits them from engaging in any partisan activities from the constituency office. This includes times when they may be inside the constituency office but not necessarily ‘on the clock’ (for example, during break times). This also means that they are prohibited from using any constituency office resources to engage in these activities, including email accounts, telephones and computers,” the watchdog said at the time. 
A Liberal insider familiar with Hunter’s campaign blew the whistle because they were concerned about the ethical implications. 
“If you’re not taking every step to avoid breaking the rules or potentially breaking the rules, then it’s a problem,” said the insider, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retribution. 
The source acknowledged political candidates may not be able to secure a standalone campaign office, but in those cases, it’s typically considered a best practice to do such work at a separate location, such as a supporter’s home.
Two Liberal sources also said they received calls from Hunter’s office inviting them to her leadership campaign launch last summer, and raised the matter to the Ontario Liberal Party. 
Hunter said those calls “were handled by volunteers.” 
OLP said it has not received a formal complaint about the use of legislative or constituency resources for leadership activities.