An intense, internal conflict within the Facebook group Tantramar Community Concerns boiled over during the municipal election campaign and landed on the desk of New Brunswick’s Chief Electoral Officer.
Kim Poffenroth says she has no power to investigate allegations of possible election manipulation in connection with the Facebook group.
“I…wish to ensure you are aware that as the Municipal Electoral Officer, a statutory officer of the Legislative Assembly, I only have those authorities and powers granted to me under the Municipal Elections Act, Poffenroth wrote in a letter on November 28th.
She was responding to former group moderators Jean-Pascal Lavoie and John Dale who submitted their complaint after being removed from their positions by the Facebook group’s owner, Micheal Landry who lives in northern New Brunswick.
Lavoie, Dale and other moderators had blocked Tantramar mayoralty candidate Bonnie Swift from participating in the group because they felt she had violated group rules.
The dispute reached a climax after Tantramar Community Concerns published a link to a Warktimes article that reported on Swift’s controversial tweets.
Swift herself was blocked from commenting on the article in the Facebook group and Landry eventually responded by dismissing Lavoie, Dale and several other moderators and replacing them with ones who would lift the ban on Swift’s participation.
Tantramar Community Concerns is now administered by Will Kriski, Swift’s husband.
In their complaint, Lavoie and Dale said they were concerned that Landry had claimed in online conversations with them that he had received funds in the 2021 municipal election from a mayoralty candidate in Campbellton and they worried that Landry was being influenced in the Tantramar campaign by a financial contribution, although they acknowledged they had no direct proof.
They also say they have no evidence that Swift herself was involved in any way, but were asking Elections NB to look into the matter.
Poffenroth wrote that she found nothing in the complaint or in online text conversations submitted as evidence to indicate the law had been broken.
“Although the behaviour complained of may be considered distasteful, it does not appear to give rise to a violation of the Municipal Elections Act,” she wrote.
String of local groups
Aside from Tantramar Community Concerns, Landry runs a network of more than 20 local Facebook and social media groups in the province with a potential reach of about 20-thousand members.
He says he removed Lavoie, Dale and several other moderators for pushing a pro-left wing narrative while blocking Tantramar mayoralty candidate Bonnie Swift along with many of her supporters and attempting to silence her election platform.
Landry also points to a $50 donation he received from Lavoie to help him out financially and claims the admin/moderator was trying to buy the group from him to promote his left-wing agenda.
In her letter, the Chief Electoral Officer advised the complainants to go to the police if they believed the law had been broken, or if they felt the law needed to be strengthened, they could reach out to their MLA, who is Megan Mitton.
In a statement to Warktimes, Mitton suggested that legislative changes governing the role of social media should be part of a larger package of reform:
It’s essential that we have transparency in our electoral system, and that there is confidence from the electorate that our elections are free and fair. In our municipal elections, candidates don’t need to declare who donated to their campaigns and there are no clear third-party advertising regulations. This is a serious problem. Municipal elections need to require the public reporting of expenses, like we do for provincial and federal elections.
I call on the government to introduce legislation to strengthen the Municipal Elections Act to ensure greater transparency in our elections, as Minister Allain has committed to. This needs to include measures to address the issues around financing and the role social media plays in our elections. The government also needs to implement the recommendations that the Chief Electoral Office has already presented to the legislature.
Other changes that are needed include legislation to prevent intimidation and non-physical coercion of voters, ending the practice of publicizing candidates’ home addresses, and ensuring Elections NB has adequate resources so that polling stations are located in areas that are convenient and accessible for voters.
For previous coverage of the temporary takeover of Landry’s Facebook group by an entrepreneur from Saint John in 2020, click here.