Is political scandal visiting tony West Van?

Post by Daniel Fontaine in ,

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Daffy looks like a DuckKudos to the Vancouver Sun's Daphne Bramham for her ongoing expose of some potential shenanigans in the recent West Vancouver civic election held on November 15th. If the allegations are proven to be true, it could result in several politicians, including the Mayor, being tossed out of public office.

Bramham reports that West Vancouver police are now investigating complaints regarding questionable activities that occurred during the civic election, which may have contravened the Local Government Act.

The reality is that it has been a long-standing tradition in some BC municipalities that 3rd party groups such as unions, rate payers associations, housing advocates, etc. play a significant backroom role in who gets elected to your local government. Keep in mind, the City of Vancouver alone is a billion dollar a year operation – there are a lot of tax dollars to gain control of.

In outlying municipalities it is not uncommon to see "independent" or "progressive" civic candidates magically appear on the same brochures, advertisements, conduct their coordinated phone campaigns out of a centralized office, and even have similar designed lawn signs.

Let's look at the influence of trade unions, for example. They regularly provide significant cash, volunteer support and endorsements to select “labour-friendly” candidates (see Vaughn Palmer's recent great story on this topic), while other community politicians are left scrambling to compete. However, when these labour-friendly "chosen ones" are confronted with whether they are part of an organized slate, they bristle at the suggestion.

Do they really think the electorate are that stupid? Apparently, yes.

Thanks to Bill 7, a change to the Local Government Act, it is now against the law to run for political office and not indicate you are linked to a civic electoral organization. This new legislation is intended to clear out the smoke from all those backrooms and expose who is really electing your civic politicians.

In other words, if all that political support candidates receive looks like a duck, and sounds like a duck, it probably is one. Bill 7 makes it the law to confess when you're a duck.

Even in New Westminster the "non-slate slate" raised eyebrows, as evidenced in this recent letter to the editor.

As part of this story I have included passages from Hansard below with very good points raised by BC MLAs Mike Farnworth and Diane Thorne about campaign financing in Coquitlam below.

Thanks to Bramham's great coverage I suspect that we're only seeing the tip of the iceberg on the problem of hidden municipal slates. Stay tuned to CityCaucus.com for any continuing coverage of this topic.

Mike Farnworth from Hansard

I want to raise this issue with the minister and just remind her of the issues that we're concerned about. In the last municipal election in 2005 the rules were very clear. If you're an incorporated organization, function as a municipal political party, campaign as a municipal political party and advertise as a municipal political party, you have to disclose where your donations are coming from. Seems straightforward.

If you don't register as a local political party or a municipal political party and yet a bunch of you get together and wear common name tags, as Coquitlam First did in Coquitlam and the Tri-Cities, and if you all sit in the same leaflet saying "Coquitlam First" but you don't register…. If fundraisers are held and moneys transferred to Coquitlam First in a generic sort of name not specifying individual donors, you don't have to disclose where that money came from. You don't have to disclose who the individuals are making the donations.

Some $100,000 in money was not properly…. It may have been technically, but it did not comply with the spirit of the act and was not disclosed. We saw a campaign, a disingenuous campaign, to try and somehow say: "Oh no, no, no. The Privacy Act says you can't disclose. That is just nonsense.

The Privacy Act does not prevent the disclosure of campaign donations. It is just nonsense to say that it prevents the act. In fact, the act was meant to ensure the disclosure of donations, and it was a major failing in the legislation, as it then stood, which came to light in the last municipal election in the city of Coquitlam through an organization called Coquitlam First.

There were other organizations, such as Delta First. They were registered, but Coquitlam First did not. So you had huge sums of money that were not identified as to where it came from. We raised that in this House. I raised it with the minister in the estimates debate, I believe, in 2007 and 2006. The minister indicated that she would look into the matter but made no promises about legislation."

Diane Thorne from Hansard

We do have section 88, which is already in there, providing that donations from corporations must be classified as such, but these amendments I see here today don't appear to correct this oversight. Without that, this bill could be interpreted so that a corporation may still make contributions through persons other than a financial agent; make anonymous contributions of more than $50 and also make more than one anonymous contribution that will total more than $50; make multiple anonymous contributions to the same elector organization or campaign organizer in relation to one or more elections; and make a contribution — and this is probably the most concerning — indirectly, giving money, property or services to a person or an unincorporated organization for that person or organization to make as a campaign contribution.

I cannot see how what we see in front of us in Bill 7 is going to solve the problem that we had in Coquitlam when we had a number of candidates — seven or eight; I forget exactly how many — and a great deal of money raised and used to run those people for city council and mayor. Nobody in the community ever was told or found out where the money came from, who was supporting this group of people. We were told that the reason for that was because they didn't register. They were an unregistered group. Well, why would anybody register a group if they don't have to worry about defining where they get their money and having everybody know about it? ---

“…The slate was called Coquitlam First, and it was in the last municipal election, so it was in 2004. There was a mayoral candidate and a number of council, and I think also school board, candidates on the slate. The story goes that the slate was formed too late to be registered as an official organization, I guess you would call it.

They went along and ran as a slate, did all of their advertising together and got their donations and contributions together, both cash and in-kind. At the end of the day, when it was time to do the financial disclosures that I would have to do or any other city councillor anywhere in the province of British Columbia, they did not have to do that. I understand that that was not an isolated incident, but I'm only speaking about my own community.”

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