Morinville – One candidate in last summer’s municipal by-election told voters he supported local businesses, but disclosure information reveals he also had the financial support of one major local business. Councillor Sheldon Fingler has disclosed that Champion Petfoods donated $4,700 to his campaign bid for a seat on Council.
Under provincial legislation, all municipal candidates must disclose campaign donations within 90 days of the election. In response to a Morinville News inquiry ahead of that date, Fingler confirmed the local manufacturer donated the sum to his campaign, an amount $300 shy of the $5,000 maximum contribution allowed.
Fingler said he was fine with the donation and has been open with people about it. “Champion came to me and said after witnessing me and hearing me at Chamber [of Commerce] lunches and Chamber events they saw that I had a true passion for the businesses in Morinville – they saw that I had a true passion for Morinville,” Fingler said. “They came forward and asked if I’d be willing to have them support me.”
The candidate-turned-councillor said the offer of financial support came with no strings attached. Fingler said the company provided the sum of money, then stepped back and let him run his campaign.
Sees no conflict
Champion Petfoods has run afoul of Council on a number of occasions over the past two years. Should the company find themselves before Council at some point in the future, Fingler does not see a conflict in dealing with it. “Champion came forward to me because they believed in my philosophies, and believed in my passion and care for the Town of Morinville,” he said. “At any point there is a decision to be made about Champion and their business, I will do what’s in the best interest of Morinville. They were very clear at the start of it that they were giving me support based on me and at no point did they ever discuss any expectations.”
Champion President and CEO Frank Burdzy reiterated the company’s reasons for backing Fingler in an e-mail interview with The Morinville News. “Champion supported candidate Fingler because he was able to clearly articulate his commitment to the Morinville business community and the community as a whole,” Burdzy wrote. “The job of a councillor is to represent all members of the community. Our desire was to see a member of the business community at the table to speak to all issues with all constituents in mind. This is all we expected”
Signs and surveys
One of the hard-to-miss aspects of Fingler’s summer campaign were the large signs facing Morinville’s entrances and exits. The signs were not paid for with money from Champion; they were an in-kind donation from another business. “I was lucky to have a friend that has a sign company, and when I announced to him my ambitions to join Council…he saw an immediate need to join me and help me out,” Fingler said. “All my large signage was free.”
But big signs were not the only sign an election was on last summer. Residents received phone calls from a survey company asking a number of questions related to the election and local issues. Champion confirmed Sept. 5 they were behind the survey and said although the survey asked questions related to the election, the purpose was to determine where the company stood with its new chimney and to gauge where the company should be spending its community dollars. Champion has subsequently made a five-year commitment to fund Morinville festivals in the amount of $20,000 per year.
Burdzy said the purpose of the survey was twofold. “First, the new chimney had been operational for two months and we wanted to get a sense of the views of the local residents,” he said. “As well, we were in the final stages of making key decisions about our corporate donations program and priorities and wanted to get a sense of the priorities within the community. Our polling company advised us that the by-election was an ideal time to obtain unbiased survey results. We didn’t share any results with anyone before or after the by- election. We did the poll to find out where odour levels were on the minds of residents, and also to find out where we can donate charitable dollars to.”
Fingler said he was equally surprised to learn Champion was behind the survey. “It was one of those catch you by surprise things,” Fingler said. “I didn’t know about it. I found out afterwards just like everybody else did. I found out about it through the same channels everyone else did. We all had our suspicions as to who it might have been. They [Champion] weren’t on my radar at the time.”
Ready to run again
Councillor Fingler won the Sept. 20 election with 263 votes, beating Kevin Wedick, his closest rival, by 32 votes.
Fingler said he does not feel the Champion and free signage donations gave him an unfair advantage in the election. He wishes he had more time to knock on doors. “Connecting with the community is truly the way to win an election,” he said. “I didn’t have as much opportunity to connect with the residents of Morinville because of my business. I think that hurt my numbers. I think I could have been far more successful had I been really able to give that time. Unfortunately, the election came at a time when my business was at a peak and people were on holidays. I did the very best I could with the time I had.”
Councillor Fingler said he spent about $2,000 of his $4,700 contribution from Champion in the by-election and will be donating $1,000 of the remainder to the Midstream Support Society and Morinville Food Bank Society in the amounts of $500 each prior to Christmas. The remaining $1,700 or so of the original contribution will be used in his re-election bid next fall.