47% of all donations to Vision Vancouver came from the corporate community
The Vancouver Sun has been doing a wonderful series on the impact of donations on civic campaigns in British Columbia. In today's edition, a large photograph of Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson appeared above a caption that spoke about all of his American donors. In the Sun's weekend edition, writers Chad Skelton and Lori Culbert caught up with Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan to get his take on the impact campaign donors have on our civic government.
In Burnaby, the five largest donors just happened to be unions. They contributed over $100,000 to the left-leaning Burnaby Citizens Association. In response, Corrigan argues that the hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations made by labour unions were "altruistic". Here is an excerpt from the Sun article:
Unlike with corporate donations, he [Corrigan] argued, union donations are more "altruistic" because his city's municipal contracts are negotiated as part of a group before the Municipal Labour Relations Bureau (MLRB).
Having Burnaby's Mayor cite the MLRB as a defense for union donations is rather curious when you consider what was written in a Vancouver Sun article last November:
The City of Vancouver has given notice that it plans to leave the Metro Vancouver Labour Relations Bureau at the end of 2011, dealing another blow to the regional bargaining agency.
Vancouver is the fifth Metro municipality to abandon or give notice to the organization, which was set up in the mid-1960s to provide a united front for Metro’s 21 municipalities when negotiating labour contracts with their unions.
Surrey, Richmond and Port Coquitlam are already out while Burnaby said earlier this year it plans to leave. Vancouver council agreed last week to send the bureau notice of its intent to leave.
Hmmm. On one hand the Mayor cites the independent MLRB as the reason why union donations are altruistic...yet on the other hand he's pulling out of the Bureau altogether. With news that Vancouver is also abandoning ship, the MLRB is all but a dead duck and the unions are now in the driver's seat when it comes to labour negotiations. One has to ask whether the pending death of the MLRB will change Corrigan's perspective on how "altruistic" union donations really are.
If you are wondering what kind of role unions can play in an election, you may want to read an old column by the Sun's Vaughn Palmer, one of the best political writers in the country. He interviews former NDP operative Brad Zubyk and gets his perspective as a campaign insider. Here is an excerpt from his column:
All this coordinated effort -- events, advertising, volunteer recruitment and voter identification -- amounted to parallel campaigns, one run by the unions, the other directly by the NDP.
"The NDP expected this coordination to permit the party's own resources to be freed up for investment in other campaign activities," Zubyk says.
"It was effectively the pooling of resources (financial and human) to serve the end of electing as many NDP candidates as possible."
He goes on to discuss the implications for public awareness of the role played by the unions.
"This represented a substantial benefit to the NDP without the unions ever having to make a formal donation to the party," Zubyk observes.
Preferable, he goes on to suggest, because formal donations "would have to be reported and would become known to the unions' members as a discrete figure."
Some union members who are not devout NDP supporters might even take exception to the size of donations.
Allen Garr from the Courier also reports that the labour supported left-leaning Vision Vancouver also received 47% of all their donations from corporations. What does Mayor Corrigan think about his brothers and sisters in Vancouver accepting all those corporate donations? Here is what he told the Sun:
The likelihood of self-interest is much higher in corporate donations. There is absolutely no reason for a corporation to donate unless you see it affect their bottom line.
Is Mayor Corrigan really saying this his left-leaning pals in Vancouver are being impacted by all those businesses who are bankrolling the party? What exactly does he mean when he says that companies don't donate unless it affects their bottom line? Perhaps this is all the more reason for Vision to reveal who donated tens of thousands of dollars at their big fundraising event last fall at the Sheraton Wall Centre. To date that information has been kept hidden from the public.
In the last 18 months, Vision has been accused by their detractors as being a bit too cozy to the development community. They argue the STIR program is nothing more than a big giveaway to developers. Others say their tax shift policy is a gift to the business community. Others claim their business tax incentives are too generous.
Anyway, it makes for fun reading for political watchers like us who are paying attention to these kinds of gross inconsistencies. What do you think? Are union donations "altruistic" as Mayor Corrigan says? How about Vision Vancouver's top bankrollers in the social change movement – Joel Solomon says he only donates "when people like Gregor run" for politics. Is he also being "altruistic"?
- post by Daniel