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How a Sidewalk Discovery Could Change the Vancouver Election

Elections BC is investigating a document that appears to raise questions about Mayor Kennedy Stewart’s party fundraising.

Christopher Cheung and Jen St. Denis 14 Sep 2022TheTyee.ca

Christopher Cheung reports on urban issues for The Tyee. Follow him on Twitter at @bychrischeung. Jen St. Denis is The Tyee’s Downtown Eastside reporter. Find her on Twitter @JenStDen.

Call it a “tempest in a spreadsheet,” says Stanley Woodvine.

Elections BC is now reviewing a document Woodvine found on the sidewalk that appears to show fundraising efforts by Forward Together — Mayor Kennedy Stewart’s party — involving some of the biggest real estate developers in the city.

Woodvine, who wrote the Georgia Straight’s “Homeless in Vancouver” column until 2020, found the two-page document Tuesday in front of a No Frills grocery store on West Broadway. He promptly posted a picture of the list on Twitter.

“It was fresh, perfectly folded up,” said Woodvine. “I imagine that somebody might have been reaching into their pocket to put on their face mask and maybe it fell out.”

The list shows 38 donor names, and amounts often in excess of B.C.’s political donation limit. It also sets a “goal” for each donor, some of which are in the tens of thousands. The donors are listed as “captains.”

Several people on the list say they have no idea why they are on the document.

When The Tyee sent Forward Together a list of questions about the document, the party would only say that it was actively fundraising and follows all the rules laid out by Elections BC. Political donations in B.C. are limited to $1,250 per year, and corporations and unions are not allowed to give donations.

Developers named on the list include Terry Hui, CEO of Concord Pacific, whose 2022 donation is listed as $8,200, with a goal of $31,250. Colin Bosa, CEO of Bosa Properties and Jeff Skinner, Bosa’s vice-president of development, are listed together with a 2022 donation of $15,000 and a goal of $37,500. Francesco Aquilini, the owner of the Vancouver Canucks and managing director of Aquilini Investment Group, has a 2022 donation amount listed as $64,350, with a goal of $110,000.

The names Neil, Mark and Alvin appear in the notes section of the list, along with the initials NM. Stewart’s chief of staff is Neil Monckton. Forward Together’s executive director is Mark Hosak. Stewart’s communications director is Alvin Singh (Singh is currently running for council with Stewart’s party).

Many of the donors also correspond to people who are listed as donors on campaign donation lists published by Forward Together.

851px version of 2022VancouverElectionDonorList.jpg
The full two-page donation list found by Stanley Woodvine on Sept. 13. Camera scans by The Tyee.

The Tyee reached out to several of the donors on the list, some of whom were willing to be interviewed.

One individual on the list, who did not want to be identified, confirmed the list is Forward Together’s.

And Jeff Guignard, executive director of the BC Alliance of Beverage Licensees, said that the $1,100 beside his name is an accurate amount he remembered donating. However, he said he couldn’t confirm whether the list is Forward Together’s as he donates to multiple political parties. He’s also unsure why he’s identified on the list as a “captain.”

Bert Hicks, the founder of Rising Tide, which consults on liquor and cannabis licensing in B.C., had a similar response. He said he’s a regular donor to multiple parties, including Stewart’s, but couldn’t confirm if the list is Forward Together’s.

Laura Ballance, the owner of a public relations firm, appears on the list alongside Christa Montpetit, but Ballance said she had no idea why her name was on the document. She says she did not donate the $5,100 listed beside her and Montpetit’s name. (Montpetit works as a consultant for liquor and hospitality businesses.)

“Christa and I organized a [Hospitality Vancouver Association] event that had a speech by the mayor back in early June,” Ballance told The Tyee. “There was a fundraising event held immediately prior to our event and some of our members bought tickets to that, so I think we were just listed because we were the contacts for the HVA event.”

Real estate developers are often prominent donors to Vancouver election campaigns, and city councils have the power to approve or veto development proposals. So for political watchers like Woodvine, the list brings up questions about who is influencing politicians in a city with some of the most expensive real estate in the world.

Woodvine, who has lived homeless in the Fairview neighbourhood for 17 years, has found a number of items of public interest in that time.

In 2019, he found the blueprints of Granville Station for the Broadway subway, which is still under construction. That same year, one of his homeless peers found the guest list for an MLA dinner, which included email addresses and dietary restrictions. After announcing the find on Twitter, Woodvine was contacted by B.C.’s Information and Privacy Commissioner. He’s also found Canada Border Services Agency uniforms.

But those items were found in dumpsters. Woodvine found the donor spreadsheet on the sidewalk.

The spreadsheet — if it is a donor list that belongs to Forward Together — raises a number of questions for him.

“This is the cognitive dissonance that Kennedy Stewart is portraying himself as the representative of the renters,” Woodvine said.

Stewart had promised the “strongest renter protections in Canada” near the end of his term. Earlier this week, he promised to get 220,000 new homes built over the next 10 years.

Woodvine wonders if it’s even possible to be a politician in Vancouver and ignore developers. “Is there some other way?”

The view inside of a McDonald’s from the street. There is a man sitting by the table in the window, looking at the camera, holding a document. He has a bike and trailer parked outside the window, lugging several plastic bags.
Stanley Woodvine pauses after chatting with CKNW at a Fairview McDonald’s on Wednesday. His document discovery has garnered media interest and even an investigation by Elections BC. Photo by Christopher Cheung.

Elections BC says provincial legislation doesn’t prohibit people from acting as fundraisers for civic parties. Fundraisers are allowed to solicit funds from employees and colleagues, but they can’t do this as part of their job.

People are also allowed to volunteer to help with fundraising, but anyone fundraising for a civic party must be authorized by the party’s financial agent and ensure contributions are accepted and recorded in compliance with legal requirements.

Andrew Watson, a communications staffer for Elections BC, confirmed that the government agency had received a complaint about the spreadsheet and is reviewing it.

Breen Ouellette is running for Vancouver council with COPE. He said his party was alarmed when staffers received three cheques from different individuals that came in “an envelope that was clearly Concord’s Pacific’s envelope, the postage was paid on a commercial poster meter, that is traceable back to whoever paid the postage,” Ouellette said.

In a statement sent to the Vancouver Sun, Concord Pacific said the cheques were from employees of consultants who work with the company.

The company said that instead of selling tickets to fundraising events to raise money for a specific party or candidate, Concord Pacific “encouraged their consultants, vendors and friends to participate in the civic election by donating to some or all of the parties of their choice.”

COPE returned the cheques and asked Elections BC to investigate.

Watson told the Vancouver Sun that the Concord Pacific cheques don’t appear to violate campaign finance legislation, but Elections BC is continuing to review COPE’s complaint.

“It just doesn’t make sense,” Ouellette said. “Why would an individual need to send a donation to Concord Pacific first?”

This isn’t the first time donations from real estate developers have become a hotly discussed election topic. Before B.C. introduced the new political donation limit in 2017 and banned unions and corporations from donating to political parties, the province was known as the “wild west” of campaign finance, with no limits on donation amounts or rules about who could donate.

The BC NDP, supported by the Greens, enacted new rules in November 2017. Right before those new rules came in, a 2017 Vancouver byelection showed just how much developers give to parties: real estate donations made up $205,000 of the total $278,000 raised by Vision Vancouver, the party that controlled council at the time.

During the 2018 civic campaign, the Globe and Mail revealed that developer Peter Wall had paid for billboards touting Hector Bremner, a mayoral candidate who was pushing to build more housing across the city. In August, the Vancouver Sun reported that Wall had paid tens of thousands on political attack ads on Facebook — activity that is legal under B.C.’s election finance rules.

Ouellette said it’s time to consider banning private donations for political parties altogether, and using public funds to make sure all the parties are on the same playing field.

“I think voters should be taking a hard look at all the parties… and asking themselves: Who are the people making these donations, and how is that influencing the way the policies are going to be shaped in the next four years?” Ouellette said. “Because we’re the ones who are going to have to live with that.”  [Tyee]

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