CityCaucus Redux: Why does a corporation own Mayor Gregor's Vancouver home?

Post by Mike Klassen in ,

7 comments

CityCaucus.com originally published a post about Gregor Robertson's Californian step-dad Gordon Russell as part of our popular Know Your Donor series back in June 2009. As we dug deeper into the people who financed the Vision mayor's campaign, we discovered that Robertson's Douglas Park neighbourhood home was owned by a corporation "Ohana Partners Ltd". Continue reading for more details...

gordon russell

Name: Gordon Russell

Donation to Vision Vancouver & to Gregor Robertson campaign: $22,584

Put your hand up if you went to the Bank of Mom & Dad to help secure your first mortgage. Yeah, me too. It looks like Mayor Gregor also got a little financial help from family in his bid for Vancouver's top job.

Gordon Russell is Gregor's stepdad. Gregor's mom remarried in the mid-1970s to Russell and young Gregor moved to his new Dad's digs in Portola Valley, California where Russell still lives most of the year. Aside from occasional stays with his birth father in a West End apartment due to a custody arrangement, Robertson is a West Vancouver native who never resided in the City of Vancouver until he was 40-years old.

Before settling in Vancouver in 2005, then newly-elected NDP MLA Gregor Robertson's primary residence was at Cortes Island, where he still has property, after living for years at he and wife Amy's Fort Langley farm. In the Cortes community Robertson met a motivated and wealthy community of ex-pat US Democrats (one of them even stated publicly that Canada was a sanctuary from the perceived evil of the U.S.A. under George W. Bush after 9/11). These Americans went on to bankroll his business enterprise and political career in Canada.

While Gordon Russell is not, as Charlie Smith cleverly describes them, one of the "cappucino-swilling Kitsilano types who spend their leisure time attending seminars," (he's too old skool for that) he shares many traits of the people of Gregor's principal backers: he's loaded, he's American, and he runs a donor-advised fund. Donor-advised funds (DAF) are a slick way for people to give the maximum funding to charities for the least direct cost to themselves. This is because governments waive taxes and other restrictions that would otherwise apply to managing a private foundation.

The Tides Foundation run by Gregor backer & Cortes Island property owner Drummond Pike is also a donor-advised charity. Gordon Russell set up a donor-advised charity for the Hawai'i Community Foundation, and maintains a residence part time in the Aloha state. Russell is also Finance Chair of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, and serves as an advisor to Renewal2, a venture capital fund started by Robertson godfather and bagman Joel Solomon.

Gregor and wife Amy in their kitchen
Gregor and wife Amy in their kitchen

One of Gordon Russell's more interesting roles is as a co-director of Ohana Partners Ltd. Ohana means "family" in Hawaiian, and the company has only one asset: Gregor and Amy Robertson's house in Vancouver's Douglas Park neighbourhood. Amy Robertson, who hails from Indiana and donated $15,000 to her husband's election campaign, is listed as the other director of Ohana Partners Ltd., a B.C. registered company.

Company directors are not necessarily the owners of a company. We do know that Gregor Robertson is part owner of the corporation that owns his Vancouver home because of his financial disclosure statement posted on the City of Vancouver website. On page three of this document Robertson, presumably in his own hand, describes Ohana Partners as one of his assets. After scratching out "NO" and checking "YES" to whether he or a family trustee owns more than 30% of Ohana, he writes

"land holding, one property only. [Address blanked out], Vancouver BC"

Ohana Partners Ltd. was established just a couple of days before the Robertsons took possession of their house in 2005, which they describe in glowing terms in this WestEnder newspaper profile from last summer.

In the profile Robertson describes the house:

A tall blue house with a side yard; a living willow fence; a deck, garden and small shed in the backyard; and a basketball hoop in the alley. Our house was built in 1912 and has many of its original features.

Questioned by the reporter whether they owned or rented their home, Robertson replied:

We hope to own it all someday!

Indeed, either he or the corporation hope to have the mortgage paid off "someday". While having your residence in the city owned by a corporation is not unusual, it might be a first for a sitting mayor. The reasons for having a home owned as a corporate asset are many, but it's usually a vehicle for avoiding the payment of the property transfer tax if the home ownership changes hands to another family member, for example.

And how does Gregor describe the decor of the house owned by Ohana Partners Ltd?

City farmhouse!

- post by Mike. If any of our readers has any insight on the reasons someone would purchase a home in Vancouver through a corporation, leave a comment or email us at CityCaucus@gmail.com.

7 Comments

I am very dissapointed by this entire website. I was excited when I first saw the tag line "Civic Issues for Urban Minds" but I find little that is about issues, that is civic or even urban about the content. It seems a political site focussed on narrow Vancouver centric issues. Can you suggest a site where there is real discussion of the policy issues facing our cities? I have no interest in narrow political badgering.

Steven, there is no such thing as a blog or website that does not have an editorial slant - at least I have not found one yet. Hard to even find a newspaper that does not have an editorial slant.
Given that this site is run and paid for by private individuals who can discuss, say and think whatever they like, you are going to have to do like I do - read 5-6 blogs and try to separate fact from opinion.

I have often suspected,that Americans are much less relaxed about the "filthy rich" than they think when paying their taxes. So that's why they move their 'assets' to Canada. Remember Conrad Black, anyone? Or even better, Leona Helmsley, the American bitch (hotel owner) who was jailed for tax evasion. Her most famous remark: "only the little people pay taxes." Of course... nothing like this in Robertson's case :-)LOL

Well, it's always sad when excitement turns to disappointment. Yes, many articles here are highly focussed on Vancouver politics, an urban issue one might think would not be too much of a shock on a Vancouver based political blog. Nonetheless there have been many non partisan articles (in a non NPA sense). Here is one of my favourites,

http://www.citycaucus.com/2009/12/tax-break-goes-to-sahotas-for-urban-farm

It certainly opened my eyes to an infuriating example of the law of unintended consequences.

To be honest your comment comes over a bit passive aggressive, like those teachers we can probably all remember who, with a deeply pained look and perhaps a shake of the head, would intone some platitude such as, "The only person you're letting down is yourself." Actually also rather like Patti Bacchus and her deep, caring and sincere concern for the mental health of anyone who disagrees with her.

@Steven Forth. I respect your comment about not wanting politics. The fact is that politics and policy are very hard to cleave. Daniel and I, the principal contributors of CityCaucus.com, are both very interested in policy. We are also very consumed on the method in which policy is implemented. Ergo, our political take on what is happening at Vancouver City Hall.

We've posted about 1800 entries here at CityCaucus.com since our inaugural post in December 2008. We've discussed many, many topics. We've discussed rapid transit, streetcars, walkable communities, schools, sprawl, budgets, ways to create bureaucratic efficiency, policing, public sector salaries, union collective agreements, view corridors, Olympics, social housing, DTES businesses, four pillars drug policy, separated bike lanes, bike routes, industrial land policy, town centres, leadership, ethnic politics, parks, density, accountability when it comes to political donors, and finding ways to make South Vancouver as important as its north side cousin.

In doing so, Steven, we've expressed our opinions as well as our deep dissatisfaction with how Vision Vancouver has governed the city. We've pointed out their failed promises on homelessness, openness and transparency, and the sheer hypocrisy of their green initiatives.

If you come here expecting to have your views validated, you might have to find another website source. If you come here looking to have your ideas challenged you might find more of what you're looking for. I sincerely hope it's the latter, as you clearly bring a breadth of understanding about cities.

Mention of California's Portola Valley probably rings no bells for Canadians. Too bad. It is, in fact, one of the wealthiest enclaves on the San Francisco Peninsula.

The Portola Valley is home to the rich and super-rich. It is located about 35 miles S of San Francisco, and immediately south-west of Stanford University just the other side of 280. Part of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Centre runs through it.

Median annual family income is $244,771. It is the sixth wealthiest area in California, and in the Top Forty of the entire United States.

It is home to the horsy set, and what passes for 'old' money in the larger Silicon (Santa Clara / San Mateo) Valley of which it is a part. Including the village of Woodside, it is home to the palaces of Oracle's Larry Ellison and Apple's Steve Jobs -- among many famous others.

California's Portola Valley is a place of unimaginable privilege and power. It may, or may not, have shaped Gregor's world view.

I stand to be corrected but my understanding is that since the home is owned by a corporation, the principal residence exemption is not available and all capital gains will be taxable. Also, since Gregor is a shareholder of the company and is using company assets for his personal use then CRA will view this as a taxable benefit.

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