For as long as there have been newspapers, politicians have been trying to corral and control them.
That’s why in Canada, the Freedom of the Press has been enshrined within our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Canadians recognize that a free and independent press is one of the cornerstones to our democracy. We rely on media to be the public’s watch dog by keeping the politicians accountable for their decisions.
Earlier this week, a York Region Taxpayer Coalition member spoke to the Town of Newmarket Council about an issue that threatens Freedom of the Press in our community.
The Town of Newmarket has begun deliberations on its 2016 Operating and Capital Budgets. This member was concerned that Regional Councillor John Taylor was voting and influencing the outcome of budget votes dealing with the Town of Newmarket’s Communications Department proposed expenditures without revealing that his spouse, Michelle Digulla, has a financial interest in these decisions. Ms. Digulla is the Vice President of Marketing for the Metroland Media Group. The Town of Newmarket spends well over $100,000 annually advertising within Metroland publications.
Failing to disclose a pecuniary interest and then influencing (by speaking and/or voting on) any related council decision can be seen as a violation of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act and a breach of the Town of Newmarket’s Code of Conduct. The York Region Taxpayers Coalition is calling on Newmarket Council to initiate an investigation into Mr. Taylor’s alleged misuse of influence and immediately order an Integrity Commissioner investigation into this affair.
Members are reminded that at this time, York Region Council does not have either a Council Code of Conduct or an Integrity Commissioner to oversee the behaviour of its members. This is a reform that our organization has been advocating for York Region Council to adopt.
Metroland Media Group delivers newspapers free of charge to almost every household in York Region. While purporting to be a Community Paper, Metroland publications have become increasingly partisan over the years. In the past, Metroland publications have donated to the political campaign of at least one sitting York Region Mayor.
As a free newspaper, Metroland relies extensively on advertising revenues, and in particular, government advertising via taxpayer dollars to support its operations. Like Newmarket, most of the Region’s nine municipalities advertise in Metroland publications.
The York Region Taxpayers Coalition is concerned that advertising contracts with the municipality may give undue influence over the paper’s editorial comments and bias in reporting. We are asking members to be vigilant against bias and report to us any concerns regarding lapses in professional or ethical standards so that we can advise our members.
We are especially concerned about Ms. Digulla’s direct connection to York Region Council, via her husband, to all Mayors and other top politicians and/or bureaucrats.
Our members should also be advised that the Municipality of York Region, as well as related entities (such as York Public Health or York Regional Police and others), spend considerable advertising dollars with Metroland Media Group publications. We will be looking into Mr. Taylor’s declarations of pecuniary interest concerning any decisions before York Region Council relating to advertising in Metroland Media Group publications.
Within the York Region Media Group, Metroland Media Group publications include:
• King Connection
• Vaughan Citizen
• Richmond Hill/Thornhill Liberal
• Markham Economist and Sun
• Stouffville Tribune and Sun
• Newmarket/Aurora Era Banner