Published April 13, 2023

Former Barrie City Councillor, Mike McCann, addresses funding of Love Barrie sign

Former Ward 10 councillor says he raised nearly $400,000

The Love Barrie sign at Heritage Park on the waterfront has been a popular spot for picture-taking since it was installed last summer.

It's also been a popular topic on social media, and among Barrie city councillors.

Barrie businessman, Mike McCann, pitched the sign idea to the city when he was the councillor for Ward 10.

Council accepted his proposal to privately raise the $200,000 cost of the sign, which he did.

But he also raised another, approximately, $170,000 (the City of Barrie's website shows 11 donations of $20,000, 13 donations of $10,000, and four donations of $5,000. This equals $370,000, though a figure is not listed on the website).

Now, the question is how the money was, and will be, spent.

City council was hoping to find that information in the financial statements filed on behalf of McCann by the accounting firm Smith, Sykes, Leeper and Tunstall LPP of Barrie.

It was not.

McCann also provided the following statement to council.

On March 29, 2023, Barrie city council passed a recommendation that asked the city's legal services department to get external legal advice on the sign, including guidance on any potential "implications and actions" that could stem from a "lack of financial information" provided to the city by McCann's Heart Barrie company.

Barrie 360 reached out to the former Ward 10 councillor for comment. He came to our studio for an interview. Here is a transcript of our conversation, edited for clarity:

Why the sign in the first place? What was it, and what is it meant to be?

You know, I wanted to help change the energy in downtown Barrie, and in Barrie. We were in a pandemic and we had business owners that were screaming at Barrie City Council and the City of Barrie, because they felt that we just didn't care, that we weren't doing anything. And, I wanted to stop waiting and actually start creating a better experience in downtown. So, I thought to myself, hey, so many communities out here in the world have their own signs that attract tourism, but more importantly to me, attract our own to the sign and make an experience, have a starting point where maybe they enjoy a beautiful waterfront, or hopefully for some of the businesses in downtown Barrie, they may go up and have a slice of pizza, or maybe dinner, or maybe lunch, or maybe go to some of the stores and buy stuff, right? Just create an experience, creating some energy, positive energy, because we were going through two and a half years of negativity. So why the Love Barrie sign? What was my real purpose? It was change the energy in Barrie.

Civic pride's the focus, but right now we're in a situation, especially at City Hall, where there are question marks regarding the funding of the sign. Nobody disputes the fact, you, through donors, raised $200,000. That was the cost of the sign. You sent those numbers to the city. The one question Barrie Council was asking was, there was no supporting financial data, there were no numbers there.

So, let me answer that for you. So, I had a lot of communications with the CAO and the CFO of the city of Barrie, letting them know that I was very happy to share the financials with them. But the statement I got from them was that they didn't want to see the financials, because legally they were not able to comment on them. But I think what you're asking me is this, Mike, like what happened with the money? Like why did you raise more money than $200,000? Well, you know, when you have a purpose, that creates passion. And I was very passionate about this Love Barrie sign. And I believe that close to 90% of the people that I asked for money said yes. They all thought it was a great idea. And they weren't all local from Barrie. They were from all across Ontario. And, so I raised almost $400,000 in cash and in-kind. And for those who don't know what in-kind means, it wasn't actually money in my pocket or money in the bank account, it was in-kind for promotion to start a movement, start a mindset that we need to start loving more. We need to start being more of a caring community, and the Love Barrie sign was just a symbol of that. So, I raised just under $400,000. You know, a big chunk of it was in-kind, a big chunk of it was going to the Love Barrie sign.

And again, in-kind is not cash in hand.

It's not cash in hand, it's promotion. What's not included is Mike McCann. I have not taken a single penny. This has been over two years that I've been running this campaign. I spent thousands and thousands of dollars on gas, on restaurant foods, dinners, and lunches to get the money from the sponsors, and also my time. I spent probably over 200 hours of my time, maybe even more, and I haven't taken a single penny. And, I feel a little embarrassed that I have to say that publicly because I never expected to take money, but I just wanted the public to know that's how much passion and purpose I had for this Love Barrie sign. So what's left? Probably the big question is, what's left, and what are you going to do with it? Well, there's roughly over $70,000 left after all the promotions, the sign, the ice sculpture, the in-kind, and I'm going to spend 100% of all those dollars on promoting our beautiful City (of) Barrie. Right? That may be in some sports tournaments, that may be in some festivals coming to town, that may be going to some charities, and let's not forget the beavers and the turtles.

And, that was indicated in the city council motion, too, that a certain amount should go to the beavers and turtles, any money raised on top of the $200,000, that no donation receipts were provided. So, you say again, close to $400,000, a certain amount was in-kind, emphasizing again that is not cash in hand. What has been spent already of that money that you have received on top of the $200,000? You are working on certain things you said that you can't discuss right now because it's still in the coming-together stage.

Well, I mean, I can discuss them. I'm just choosing not to discuss them because this is going to benefit the city and, you know, quite frankly they're ideas right now that I'm percolating. I spent five, six months on bringing this festival to the City of Barrie that's going to completely put Barrie on the map, some sports events that can put Barrie once again on the map.

Are these your ideas or because I know you indicated in an interview we did in June and I think you've said it publicly too that you would be going to the donors to say, 'hey, it was your donation in-kind or cash, what do you want to do with the extra money?' Have you reached out to them and if so, how have they responded?

I've reached out to all sponsors, and all sponsors quite frankly just said McCann, we trust you, do what you want to do, but I am open to all great suggestions. I was with a business owner downtown Barrie and I said to them that hey listen if you're interested in doing a promotional idea, I would love to support that through Love Barrie. So, right now, we've got a great deal of money, a lot of money, $70-80,000, a lot of money, and we're gonna do a lot of good for Barrie pride.

Are you able to break down how much of that money was in-kind, that wasn't cash in hand?

Ian. I am, but let's talk with the positives here … my accountant has the information, you know, I've offered all this information to Barrie City Council back on March 15, right, in case there's any debate. There was an email trail. I've got confirmation from a couple of council members as well that I have offered all of the financials to Barrie City Council,

Why not just give it to them?

Because it's private information, Ian. If you disclose your information and you gave a donation I wouldn't be sharing your information, right? I am not a city councillor anymore. This was not done by Councillor Mike McCann. This was done by a private resident and this is private information.

The municipality's legal services department (has been asked) to get external legal advice on the Love Barrie sign, including guidance on any potential, I'm quoting here, "implications and actions that could stem from the lack of financial information provided to the city by Mike McCann". How do you interpret that?

Well, I pay a lot of tax in the city. I own property, and that gets my blood going red, right, that they would actually spend money externally when I've already offered them the information. So, I'll, you know, I mean, if I'm speaking with a little, a little vigour, that's because I'm very irritated with that, with that motion and that it passed. You know, maybe if councillors don't understand that I have offered the finances to them, check your emails because there's an email string there.

Have you had any councillors, or the mayor, ask you for the financials and have you presented it to them?

You know, and great question, I'm disappointed because half the councillors all have my personal cell phone number, and some just trust me, which I get, but the ones that maybe don't trust and maybe publicly have said, hey, we'd love to see your finances, hey guys, you've called me a thousand times before, why not call me on this issue and ask for the finances? Because my answer would have been absolutely.

Okay, so if councillor such-and-such reaches out to Mike McCann today, here are the numbers, let's talk if you want to talk.

Yeah, I will set them up with my accountant and they will have a formal meeting. I will not give any information out.

What about publicly? Does the public have a right to see?

Well, Ian, that answer is simple and it's complicated. This is a private organization and sponsors donated their private money. I think that hopefully we'll recognize here that zero dollars of taxpayer dollars has now gone to the Love Barrie sign, that it was all raised privately. Most of them were companies. There was actually one really amazing woman that donated and she got a tax receipt from the city. So, the notion that I'm going to share private information, I don't see why, when I've actually hired an accounting firm to actually double check all the numbers and they are legislated by the province not to lie. So, there is no story here that any monies have been misrepresented. And once again, I have offered all the financials to the city of Barrie, and not one person has come to me and said, Hey, Mike, can I see them?

One of the statements that went out from the accounting firm was to the board of directors. Who are the board of directors? Are you not-for-profit? What is Heart Barrie?

Yes, so I'm not a corporation. I am a not-for-profit and so the board of directors would be two people legally, so I am one member and the other person, quite frankly, I'll keep that private.

And also, to the shareholders. Who are the shareholders?

Once again, it's not a corporation, this is a charitable organization, so there are no shareholders.

So, in conclusion, Mike, you've raised nearly $400,000, some of it in-kind, what has some of that money being spent on outside of the events that you're planning on doing, or helping the turtles and beavers? What sort of things have you done already with that money?

So, the in-kind money, and the money that's been spent on Love Barrie has been to promote the City of Barrie or to promote raising money for the sign.

When the dust settles, or if it settles, or at the end of the day, you've made it clear you don't want this to be a legacy Mike McCann project, this is all about the city that you grew up and were raised in.

Ian, thank you for the opportunity. You know I just wanted to be the spark that maybe changed a mindset, that we need to love more.

Barrie 360 reached out to the City of Barrie regarding Mr. McCann's financial statement and received the following statement from Chief Administrative Officer Michael Prowse:

"All documents that were received from Mr. McCann regarding his financials for the Heart Barrie sign were posted publicly on the City’s circulation list. These documents did not contain any financial details related to Mr. McCann’s fundraising, as he committed to at the June 6, 2022 Council meeting.

Mr. McCann’s version of events is not what occurred. We have consistently indicated to Mr. McCann that anything that he provides to the City on this file has been and will be made public and shared with City Council. City staff are not licensed to provide an audit or review opinion of his third-party financial statements.   

"Some background information that might be helpful:

"The City received $200,000 that was required as part of Motion 21-G-166 and it was used to pay for the cost of the sign. The list of donors that was provided to the City from Mike McCann’s Office is listed on its website, as per item 2 in Council Motion 22-G-062:

"For further background, here is a link to the latest memo from May 30, 2022 -"

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