A communications firm that was key to Mayor Gregor Robertson’s three civic election victories is hosting the March 2 telephone town hall to promote the Yes campaign in the TransLink expansion plebiscite.
Moderated by former radio talkshow host Bill Good, city hall’s communications office promoted the evening event at the offices of Stratcom, but referred queries to the TransLink Mayors’ Council. Executive director Mike Buda did not respond to an interview request.
Stratcom is listed as one of the companies that responded to a TransLink invitation for a preferred suppliers’ list for professional planning research and policy services contracts. Port Coquitlam Mayor Greg Moore confirmed to the Courier that TransLink is spending at least $4 million on the Yes campaign, but TransLink spokesperson Cheryl Ziola refused to answer Courier questions about specific communications contracts and their dollar values. She told the Courier to file Freedom of Information requests, which can take 30 working days or more to be fulfilled.
Robertson, whose Vision Vancouver party received a $20,000 donation from Stratcom in 2014, became Mayors’ Council chair in January and also sits on the TransLink board of directors. His office did not respond to an interview request.
Stratcom’s outgoing phone message describes the company as “fundraising and campaign consultants” and counts telephone town halls and robocalls among its specialties. Its investors include Vision bagman Joel Solomon. The company boasts close ties to the federal NDP and, in 2013, was fined $10,000 by the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission for not identifying a client in robocalls.
NPA Coun. George Affleck downplayed the awkward appearance of participating in the event at the premises of a political foe.
“It’s me sitting at a telephone with [Green Coun.] Adriane Carr and the Mayor answering questions, helping people understand why they need to vote yes,” Affleck told the Courier. “That’s why I’m doing this.”
There are other Vision Vancouver connections to the Yes campaign. Vision’s veteran media spokesperson Marcella Munro is also working for the Mayors’ Council. Counterpoint Communications’ TransLink contract for business and stakeholder outreach was renewed without tender in January. Prominent Vision supporter Bob Ransford is a Counterpoint principal.
Neither Stratcom CEO Bob Penner nor Munro responded to interview requests.
A Feb. 26 mass-email from Vision co-chair Paul Nixey sought donations of $5 to $75 for, among other things, “campaigning to win the transit referendum.” Vision spent a B.C. record $3.4 million in 2014 and reported a $486,000 deficit. The B.C. Liberal cabinet placed no fundraising disclosure rules on the plebiscite campaign.
The mail-in vote runs March 16 to May 29. Metro Vancouverites are being asked whether to increase the seven per cent Provincial Sales Tax to 7.5 per cent to raise $2.5 billion toward the Broadway subway, light rail in Surrey and a new Pattullo Bridge. The Mayors’ Council hopes the B.C. and federal governments will fund another $5 billion.