After flicking his campaign website off and on earlier this week, it seems that Ward 1 council candidate Thai Mac is now all the way back in just two weeks after saying that he was unofficially pulling out. In his latest statement, Mac made a lot of accusations about an unnamed Ward 1 candidate, and added that he’s talked to local LGBTQ+ advocacy groups about how he can do better in the future.
“Previously, a Guelph Ward 2 resident who is running for Ward 1 Councillor, inquired about advertising her political campaign on the http://www.CaughtinGuelph.com Facebook community that I run. The response was that there may be equal opportunities for all candidates at a later date,” Mac said in his statement.
“Shortly after this inquiry, her boyfriend/friend who is well known for his anti-police activism, and some members of her campaign team took to various channels on social media to start their offensive campaigns against me. Going through almost 400 past Google Reviews dating back 11+ years to find the distasteful reviews in question,” he added.
“There’s only thing he said that’s true,” Ward 1 candidate Erin Caton told Guelph Politico Friday afternoon. Caton said that they did reach out to Mac about advertising on the Caught in Guelph Facebook page, but they had a very specific purpose in mind.
“He had his admin profile set up like an election post, and because there’s campaign finance rules, and you’re allowed to have a certain amount of personal payments, I wanted to know from the clerk whether or not that counted towards campaign finances because his group is monetized. People pay to advertise in that group,” Caton explained. “The clerk asked me to ask him if I could advertise on the page and see if was disallowing other candidates from doing that so I did.”
“He’s turned like a regular, very normal campaign accountability thing into a conspiracy theory,” Caton added.
“[Caton] came to me and asked about the responsibilities in any case for any candidate where there’s an affiliation with an advertiser like one of those sites,” said City Clerk Stephen O’Brien. “They came to me as a candidate and asked some clarifying questions, which I responded to.”
O’Brien said that he clarified for Caton the advertorial rules around these posts, which essentially comes down to the treating Facebook groups like Caught in Guelph the same way that you would treat advertisements on any other media platform like newspapers, websites, TV and radio: If a candidate pays for advertising, even if it’s their own Facebook page, it has to be included in their financial statements post-election.
“The challenge with the Municipal Elections Act is that such legislation hasn’t really kept up with the times, so I don’t think it contemplates online community groups that are available through Facebook,” O’Brien explained. “Our message to all candidates that are involved with these community groups – either as an administrator, moderator or otherwise – is that they should be treated almost as media properties, so there should be a fair approach to providing advertising space to any and all individuals.”
The other piece of Mac’s accusation against Caton, the one that says that they and their “boyfriend” dug up the incriminating social media posts that forced him to leave the race in the first place. Caton said that the person in question is not their “boyfriend” and that they didn’t have to go looking for the posts.
“People have been sending me screenshots, people I don’t even know have been contacting me and sending me all this stuff since May,” Caton said.
Repeated attempts to reach Thai Mac for comment were unsuccessful.
There was still more controversy though in Mac’s posted statement about re-entering the election race. He again acknowledged that the previous social media statements he made were hurtful to the LGBTQ+ community, and along with a pledge to donate the planned salary increase for councillors to unnamed “local non-profit marginalized groups”, Mac said that he reached out directly to Guelph groups that support the local queer community.
“I have since had the wonderful opportunity to reflect and meet with the Chair of Out on the Shelf, of which Guelph Pride is a subsidiary of. Through conversation and kind words of encouragement to further educate myself, I am committed to growing and furthering my positive impact on our community through applicable programs available,” Mac said. He also mentioned HIV/AIDS Resources & Community Health (ARCH) and the Rainbow Diversity Institute.
“He reached out to us, but we don’t have any involvement with anything politically,” explained Barry Moore, the aforementioned chair of Out on the Shelf. “We can’t endorse any political parties or candidates or anything like that.”
Many people online took the prominent mention of Out of the Shelf as a tacit endorsement of Mac’s campaign rehabilitation. Moore explained that while Mac’s outreach was in the form of offering some kind of partnership, both Out on the Shelf and Guelph Pride are non-partisan organizations, and that they take a neutral stance to any political discussions, even if it involves statements that could be offensive to individual members of the LGBTQ+ community.
“While those statements are harmful to queer people, they’re not harmful to us as an organization, and my response was to tell him that going forward, if you want to make some changes and resume your political career, which he had said he was planning to, my suggestion was to look for opportunities to learn, look for resources, and learn about what the needs of the queer community In Guelph are,” Moore explained. “That way, if you continue to have a position of power, then maybe you can impact some change.”
Moore said that Mac understood their concerns, and notes that the mentions of ARCH and the Rainbow Diversity Institute in Mac’s statement were suggestions that they gave Mac in terms of getting more resources about Guelph’s queer community. Like many people, Moore said that they were taken aback by such a prominent mention in Mac’s statement.
“I can understand why people misread it that way, and maybe it could have been a little bit clearer, but I had someone ask me earlier if I felt I was misrepresented, and I didn’t really feel that either,” Moore said.
“I think the part that people got particularly confused about was the phrase ‘kind words of encouragement,’ and I think some people thought we encouraged him to continue to run because of something that Barry said,” they added.
“I felt safe and comfortable hearing him out, I understand why someone else maybe would feel uncomfortable with that, but I spoke to the other board members, and I said I felt comfortable and safe taking on this conversation, and that it could be an opportunity to encourage someone to learn and grow. I think those are the ‘kind words of encouragement’ he referred to.”
Still, not everyone is comfortable with Mac at the forefront of Ward 1 politics again. Although Mac and his supporters have repeatedly claimed that the candidate and his family have received threats, it’s actually the candidate he accused in his media release of attacking him that’s now going to the police.
“‘You people honestly make me sick to my stomach. You’re all a bunch of misfit losers that have nothing better to do than dig up crap from the past. A bunch of entitled snowflakes trying to ruin someone’s life. You push your stupid pathetic views on people then you wonder why you are hated so much. Get the f**k out of our city,'” Caton read from one social media post they received.
Caton explained that this type of harassment against them, and other members of a Facebook group called Queer Happenings, increased in the days after Mac left the race on September 8. Caton also said that their election signs have been repeatedly targeted for vandalism, and that they can’t help but think of a connection.
“I have done literally nothing to him, and I don’t know if it’s because I’m non-binary, and he seems to have a thing against that, but I’m so busy right now and I have zero time to deal with his crap,” Caton said.