Developers' donations carry costs, says COPE

Developers’ donations carry costs, says COPE
Cassidy Olivier, November 18, 2011
The Province

The law governing political donations at the municipal level should be altered to prevent local developers from buying influence through fat campaign contributions, says COPE city council candidate Tim Louis.

Speaking Thursday outside City Hall in the final days before the Nov. 19 election, Louis, a two-time councillor, said Vancouver’s council would be healthier and more democratic if elections weren’t determined by developers, a group that historically sinks big bucks into the city’s main political parties.

“I’m very pleased that COPE has, on a matter of principle, a long-standing history of not taking donations from developers,” said Louis, flanked by Coun. Ellen Woodsworth and council candidate R.J. Aquino.

“I’m not so concerned with the transparency prior. It’s the funding during that influences decisions after.”

The comments come as Vancouver’s two main political parties push aggressive construction platforms designed to address both the city’s homeless problem and, perhaps more pressing, its growing affordability crisis.

COPE – the Coalition of Progressive Electors – unveiled its affordable-housing strategy in detail on Thursday.

Both Mayor Gregor Robertson’s Vision Vancouver party and Suzanne Anton’s NonPartisan Association have separately said that one of the ways they will address these issues is by dramatically increasing unit supply by the thousands.

Part of Robertson’s affordable-housing plan calls for the creation of 38,000 units over the next 10 years, while Anton has pushed for a faster development approval process, especially along transit corridors such as south Cambie Street.

Both Vision and the NPA enjoy cozy relationships with Vancouver developers.

According to election records from 2008, the parties received contributions in the tens of thousands of dollars from developers such as Bob Rennie & Rennie Marketing Systems, Concord Pacific, Henderson Development and Wall Financial Corp.

Contrary to Louis’s claims, COPE also received donations from a developer in the form of four separate $500 donations from Terrence “Terry” Hui, the president and CEO of the Concord Pacific Development Group.

The relationship is expected to repeat itself this year with the Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver party charging in a statement Thursday that developer donations will make up a considerable amount of the estimated $2.5 million Vision and the NPA will spend on their election campaigns.

While underscoring the reality that the developers are not doing anything illegal, Simon Fraser University political scientist Patrick Smith said the unregulated donation process is indicative of greater flaws of B.C.’s municipal government, which he described as the “most unregulated in the country.”

Smith also noted that it is not only developers who make large contributions, noting that unions also make donations in the tens of thousands.

According to spending records, various CUPE locals contributed an estimated $440,500 to Vancouver’s political parties in 2008.

Regardless of the source, the money opens the door for third parties to have influence on the political progress, Smith said.

“Those who contribute significant amounts of money have real potential to have influence,” he said.

“Simply put, it’s not terribly democratic and we know it is not democratic because we’ve changed it federally and changed it, for the most part, provincially.

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