The NDP has called for an investigation into Treasury Board President Peter Bethlenfalvy's 2018 election expenses and the campaign worker at the centre of the allegations tells QP Briefing she just wanted to be paid for work she had done.
Following a 20-month quest to get paid, which included a fight at the Labour Board, a former Peter Bethlenfalvy campaign worker Christine Brady finally received her cheque in the mail today. But that payday of less than $400 came attached with a heavy price for all involved, as the issue came with threats of burning bridges, accusations of lying, the suggestion of "under the table" payments, calls for an investigation to see whether the treasury board president broke the Elections Act, and the end of a 30-year friendship.
In a letter to Elections Ontario's Chief Electoral Officer Greg Essensa, NDP ethics and accountability critic Taras Natyshak called for an investigation into Bethlenfalvy's campaign expenses, claiming that campaign worker Brady wasn't fully paid what she was owed and what compensation she did receive wasn't recorded in the expenses that were filed.
Brady claimed in a complaint to the Ministry of Labour that she was was paid $720 and owed an additional $780 for her work and the Labour Board ruled mostly in her favour, ordering that she be paid an additional $396.
"I just want to be compensated for the work I did," Brady told QP Briefing by phone.
Reached by phone, former PC riding president Myrna Picotte, who used to look after Brady's kids and has known her for 30 years, took issue with her claims. "My side of the story is that she's a liar," she said of the former campaign worker who she brought on to the team, adding that she paid the money that she was ordered to "under duress."
Natyshak said his concern is more than just the unpaid labour — he believes the campaign may have been attempting to skirt campaign finance laws.
"I am deeply concerned that Ms. Brady’s employment is not disclosed on Mr. Bethlenfalvy’s financial statements and that this lack of disclosure may have been intentional, whether to get around a campaign spending limit or another reason," he wrote to Elections Ontario. "I seek Elections Ontario’s investigation into this manner and, if conclusive, the conviction of fines as laid out in the Act as your office deems fit."
The documents detail confusion over whether Brady was supposed to be paid directly by the campaign or whether she would be a sub-contractor to Myrna Picotte, who was then the president of the Pickering-Uxbridge Progressive Conservative Riding Association. The Labour Board ruled that she was Picotte's employee.
After Brady filed her final invoice, she received a statement that paid her $720 in total, far short of what she expected. Picotte contended that Brady should only have been paid for four hours a day twice a week, which Brady says she never agreed to and the Labour Board found that there was no documentation to support. The $720 matches the campaign contribution Picotte made to Bethlenfalvy in 2018, which she told QP Briefing was made as an "in-kind" donation of Brady's labour and is legal and "above board."
The $720 donation would have been eligible for a tax rebate worth $460.
Brady didn't immediately pursue the funds she felt she was owed, stating that she hoped to get one of the jobs in Bethlenfalvy's office. She didn't receive a job in his office, and escalated the issue in late-August 2018.
Brady stated in her complaint that Picotte sent her a text message on Aug. 30, 2018.
"I just read you [sic] attached memo to Glen," Picotte wrote, referring to the riding association CFO. "What shit are you trying to play," she rhetorically asked, saying that Brady was employed to her, and not to the riding association. She then threatened her future references, urging Brady to play ball. "Don’t try to pull this crap on me or the PC riding [sic] you will never get another job from me nor a reference. I know your [sic] short of money but this is not the way to go about trying to get help."
Brady claimed that Frank McGillan, a local PC supporter and Bethlenfalvy campaign volunteer, offered in September to pay Brady the difference out of his pocket, but did not do so because of an investigation into the issue. Brady complained to the Labour Board and sent her documentation, and it ordered Picotte to pay almost $500 in May 2019.
Picotte said she was surprised by the turn of events, and she hasn't spoken to Brady since the labour issue was escalated. "Just the thought of her name turns my stomach," said Picotte, who said that Brady's move to ask through the Labour Board for pay she felt was owed was a "fabrication" and "dirty and nasty."
Picotte was the local riding association president when Brady worked on the campaign, and she said Brady was paid as a "favour" in recognition of some difficult financial circumstances for her. "This is a woman who works under the table all the time," Picotte claimed, adding that if she had an issue she should have sorted it out with her directly rather than formally escalating it.
As for why Brady pursued the issue, Picotte theorized that she was "mad that she didn't get a job" with Bethlenfalvy and also that "she did it to harm me." Picotte stood by the text messages she sent Brady in August 2018.
"I feel very hurt by the way I've been treated by her," said Brady in a phone call with QP Briefing. She added that she never meant Picotte any harm. But she did want restitution, and so she felt she had to escalate the situation. Brady received the cheque in the mail on Feb. 20, the same day Natyshak wrote to Elections Ontario, more than 18 months after her work took place.
Brady said she is not a liar, and the independent Labour Board found in her favour when they looked at the situation, ruling that she was an employee.
She added that when she attended a fundraiser for Bethlenfalvy after she had filed the complaint, the situation was tense. Paula Hughes, Bethlenfalvy's wife, turned her back to Brady. Bethlenfalvy declined to take a photo with her. Despite this, Brady still has some positive things to say about the treasury board president, describing him as being good for the community. But the issue with her pay has revealed another side, she said. "I also feel like there's this little undercurrent of deceitfulness."
Bethlenfalvy addressed the situation following question period this morning. "I've reached out to the [riding association] CFO...I expect to comply with whatever the chief electoral officer would like to do next."
Bethlenfalvy said that he'll cooperate with any investigation that might ensue. "I'd like the chief electoral officer to look into it as he sees fit, and we'll comply fully."
Asked about the text messages Picotte sent to Brady and whether they were appropriate, Bethlenfalvy said he was not aware of them.
His office did not respond to specific follow-up questions about the appropriateness of paying anyone "under the table," as Picotte mentioned to QP Briefing, and instead reiterated in a statement that he expects all parties to comply with any investigation from the chief electoral officer.
It is not the first time that Bethlenfalvy has become involved in controversy in recent weeks. Just two weeks ago, CTV first reported that the lines were blurred between political staff and ministry staff when it came to a plan to boost his follower count on social media.
Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath questioned Bethlenfalvy's integrity. "There's a bit of a pattern with this minister," the NDP leader argued, pointing to the recent social media controversy. Commenting on the long delay to pay Brady, she added, "This is a minister who just doesn't think that the law applies to him."
Clarification: This article was updated to indicate that Frank McGillan was a PC supporter and had been a Bethlenfalvy campaign volunteer in September 2018. He only became a member of the riding association a month later.