The Cedar Party is at it again.
The upstart political party wants to sweep the eight Vision Vancouver council members out of city hall for being cozy with a consultant hired to promote the Oakridge Centre redevelopment.
Leader Glen Chernen and nine others filed a March 7 petition in B.C. Supreme Court asking for a judge to disqualify Mayor Gregor Robertson and his caucus for failing to disclose a direct or indirect pecuniary conflict of interest.
On Feb. 14, Chernen filed a similar conflict of interest petition to disqualify Robertson over HootSuite Media’s non-tendered lease of a city-owned building after it helped Vision Vancouver’s successful 2011 re-election. Robertson filed a defence statement on March 10.
“This is not a political ploy, I'm doing this to help clean up the city,” said Chernen, who plans to vie for the mayoralty in the Nov. 15 election. “Running for political office is the last thing I want to do, it’s something I feel I have to do.”
The new court action revolves around Brook Pooni Associates president Gary Pooni and a lifestyle and entertainment website friendly to Vision Vancouver. The petition calls Pooni "a real estate lobbyist, consultant and negotiator" working for Oakridge owner Ivanhoe Cambridge and developer Westbank Development.
“Pooni and other employees of Brook Pooni actively fund, promote, electioneer and provide assistance to Robertson, Vision, and Vision Councillors through two front companies, The Awesome Media Network Inc. and Vancouver Is Awesome,” said the court documents.
Pooni and editor-in-chief Bob Kronbauer are registered directors of The Awesome Media Network Inc., the website’s parent company, and they share a 535 Thurlow St. office. Kronbauer was paid almost $30,000 by Rennie Marketing Systems to live at the in-receivership Olympic Village and blog about his experiences for a year.
Chernen alleges that Vancouver Is Awesome “acts as a conduit” between developers, Brook Pooni and Vision elected officials and “in turn, VIA provides benefits to Robertson, Vision and Vision councillors.”
VIA co-sponsored an Oct. 17, 2013 Vision Vancouver fundraiser and has frequently published flattering profiles about Robertson and other members of his caucus and party. Robertson penned the introduction to VIA’s 2013 annual print magazine, which featured a Vision Vancouver display ad and a photograph of the party’s executive director Stepan Vdovine modelling cycling gear.
Vision Vancouver’s 2011 campaign disclosures show a $1,425 donation from Brook and Associates Inc. and $5,000 from Brook Pooni Associates Inc.
Chernen’s petition said Vision council members voted unanimously on Feb. 18 to refer the Oakridge rezoning to a public hearing, knowing that Pooni is working on the project and is the “operating mind” of VIA.
“There is a reasonable probability that Robertson and the Vision councillors were likely to be influenced or biased in casting their vote or the apprehension of bias in relation to the matter voted upon,” said Chernen’s petition.
Pooni and Kronbauer are not named as defendants. A letter to the Courier from their lawyer, Brent Loewen, said: “Neither Vancouver Is Awesome, Mr. Pooni nor Mr. Kronbauer are lobbyists.”
“Unfortunately, the petition and its supporting affidavits contain several malicious and untrue facts and it makes quasi-criminal allegations against Vancouver Is Awesome and its principals,” Loewen wrote. “While Vancouver Is Awesome is not yet a party to the petition, it intends to address the allegations in court.”
Loewen wrote that VIA “will profile any individual or organization, including Mr. Chernen, if he/she/it brings ‘awesomeness’ to the city.”
The website profiled ex-NPA mayor Sam Sullivan (now a B.C. Liberal MLA) and unsuccessful 2008 NPA mayoral candidate Peter Ladner, but a keyword search on VIA found no profiles of the current council’s NPA members George Affleck and Elizabeth Ball or Adriane Carr of the Green Party.
This story was updated after it was first posted March 7 and revised March 9.