Vancouver city councillors from three different political parties used words such as “uncomfortable” and “perplexed” to describe their reaction to a former city councillor advocating for developers in meetings with Mayor Kennedy Stewart.
The councillors were reacting to a story posted May 9 on the Courier’s website, which revealed former Vision Vancouver councillor Raymond Louie participated in 10 meetings with Stewart between November and March.
“I’m uncomfortable with Raymond Louie seemingly acting as a lobbyist for developers so quickly after his time on council ended,” said OneCity Coun. Christine Boyle in an email to the Courier.
“There was clear public concern that the last council was too cozy with developers. These meetings reinforce the need for a lobbyist register, and a cooling off period after elected officials leave public office.”
Seven of Louie’s 10 meetings were with developers, including Ian Gillespie of Westbank Projects Corp., Bruno and Peter Wall of Wall Financial Corporation and Brian McCauley of Concert Properties.
The meetings were recorded in the mayor’s monthly calendars, which are regularly posted on the city website. The calendars, which cover November to March, didn’t disclose the topic of each meeting.
Louie’s participation in the meetings are in contrast to a major plank in Stewart’s election campaign that called for a 12-month cooling off period for elected officials and city staff before doing any business with the city.
Louie’s term ended last November.
Stewart’s request for a cooling off period and a lobbyist registry received the unanimous support of council in December, but the measures have not been put in place yet. City staff continues to work on the file and has not publicly updated council on progress.
“I’m perplexed that the mayor is knowingly participating in meetings with industry facilitated by former councillor Louie when this is exactly what his conflict of interest motion recommended against — a 12-month ban from former councillors lobbying city hall,” said NPA Coun. Lisa Dominato in an email to the Courier.
Dominato successfully moved a motion in March to have councillors also disclose their calendars. She said such a move helps build public trust in the democratic process.
Dominato expects the calendars to be made public by September.
“That way people can see the broad range of people and organizations that we meet with on a regular basis,” she said by telephone. “I have been part of meetings with the development community. I’ve met with individuals, I’ve met with residents’ groups, I’ve met with non-profits and it’s really to understand the different issues and challenges to make sure I’m informed.”
Green Party Coun. Pete Fry said he thought Stewart could have been “more circumspect of the optics” of the frequency of Louie’s meetings with developers in the mayor’s office.
“It certainly does fly in the face of what the mayor’s been talking about [regarding conflict of interest rules and a lobbyist registry],” he said.
At the same time, Fry said, he didn’t believe there was “anything sinister” that can be concluded from Louie’s presence at city hall. He also met with Louie, he said, to learn more about the role of a councillor.
“To be totally frank, Raymond has spent a long time in government and is probably looking for where his life now takes him, and what is his role and what is his job and what’s he going to do,” he said. “He’s not going to go back to being a shop steward on a press floor, which is sort of where he was before [he got elected].”
Fry said he and some other councillors met with "a bunch" of developers in December to understand their position around some of the motions being brought to council regarding "renovictions" and the city's Rental 100 program, which provides incentives to developers to build rental housing. Louie was not present, he said.
The Courier left several messages for Louie last week but had not heard back from him before this story was posted. Messages were also left for several of the developers listed in the calendar, but none returned calls.
Stewart described the former Vision Vancouver councillor’s role in the meetings as “advocating” for developers, although he said he didn’t know if Louie was being paid.
“Raymond’s relationship with the other folks in the room are only known to them,” the mayor told the Courier. “I have no idea what their arrangements are, and you’ll have to ask him about that.”
The mayor said the three one-on-one meetings with Louie were to seek his expertise on local government experience. Louie served 16 years on council with COPE and Vision and was president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and vice-chairperson of the Metro Vancouver agency.
The mayor has also met with a variety of people representing non-profits, residents’ associations, housing advocates, First Nations leaders and members of the Vancouver Fire Fighters union, among others.
“I am glad to see that Mayor Stewart has been meeting with non-profit housing providers and tenant advocacy groups, too,” Boyle said in her email to the Courier. “I can tell you that he is talking about housing all the time. I know he is fiercely committed to tackling the housing affordability crisis.”
Stewart wouldn’t disclose details of his meetings with developers but said he didn’t really know any of them before the election. He said his goal is to get developers to build more rental housing at below market cost.
Note: This story has been updated since first posted.