The ruling political party at city hall spent $3.4 million in the 2014 civic election campaign to secure its majority on city council and ensure it would have representation on the school and park boards.
It’s the most money Vision Vancouver has spent on a campaign since it formed more than a decade ago when it first elected four candidates to council in 2005.
In fact, Vision has spent more than $7 million over the past four elections, with the 2014 campaign seeing the party outspend chief rival, the NPA, by $1.4 million.
The unprecedented spending of cash in the 2014 campaign left Vision with a $485,518 debt. That’s because total contributions to the party amounted to $2.9 million, according to documents posted Monday on the Elections B.C. website.
“We obviously didn’t want to spend what we spent, but we spent what we thought was necessary to make sure that we were responding to the negative attacks that were coming at us, and that we were connecting with voters in every neighbourhood in the city,” said Maria Dobrinskaya, Vision’s co-chairperson, whose party accused the NPA of negative-style campaigning and saw Mayor Gregor Robertson and Vision Coun. Geoff Meggs launch a defamation suit against NPA mayoral candidate Kirk LaPointe and his party. “We had to push back, and that’s what it costs us.”
The millions of dollars spent by Vision and the NPA was expected and acknowledged by both parties when they released financial documents a few weeks before the 2014 civic election.
Those disclosures were sparked by LaPointe announcing that his party would reveal its donor list and contributions before the election. Vision, the Greens, COPE and One City soon released how much money they raised and who supplied the money.
At the time, Vision said it collected $2.2 million and the NPA, $2.1 million. The documents released Monday show Vision raised another $700,000 and the NPA another $300,000 since the original release of the documents. Although COPE candidates filed individual disclosure statements with Elections B.C., the party failed to disclose its documents for Monday’s release and is now subject to a $500 late fee, if it files by March 16.
Vision received most of its money — $1.9 million — from corporations and more than $360,000 from unions. Individual donations totaled $554,000 while non-profits, including two medicinal marijuana societies, gave more than $12,000.
The NPA received the bulk of its donations from corporations, with party president Peter Armstrong, owner of Great Canadian Railtour Company Ltd., giving $470,000. Robert Macdonald, former vice-president of the NPA and owner of Macdonald Development Corp., donated $165,000.
The Courier left a message for Armstrong Monday but didn’t receive a reply before deadline. In an interview during the campaign, he said he gave almost a half-million dollars because “I believe in this city and I think there’s a lot of things that need to go right in this city.”
Vision’s biggest corporate donor — at $130,000 — was David Aisenstat, the former chairperson of the Vancouver Art Gallery’s board of trustees who campaigned for a new art gallery downtown. Aisenstat’s donations came via Keg Restaurants, Joe Fortes Seafood and Chop House and The Charles White Corporation.
Joo Kim Tiah of Holborn Holdings, whose company is redeveloping the Little Mountain public housing site and working with billionaire Donald Trump on a downtown tower, gave $105,000 to Vision.
Other large corporate donors to Vision included:
- Amacon Management Service Corp: $75,000.
- George Wong and Magnum Projects: $75,000
- Concord Pacific and its subsidiaries: $61,250
- Aquilini Development and Construction: $60,000
- Peter Wesik and Wesgroup Properties: $55,000
- MCL Motors 2010: $50,000
- Reliance Properties: $47,650
- Lululemon founder Chip Wilson of Low Tide Properties: $37,500
CUPE B.C. and two of its city workers’ locals, 1004 and 15, led all unions with its contributions to Vision, giving a total of $230,900. The International Union of Operating Engineers, local 963, gave $22,700 and Canadian Office and Professional Employees’ Union, local 378, donated $19,250.
The Courier left a message Monday for CUPE spokesman Paul Faoro but did not receive a response before deadline. Faoro, who is CUPE B.C.'s secretary treasurer, told the Courier in a story prior to the election that CUPE's relationship with city hall was much better under Vision than the NPA. But Faoro emphasized the union's donations did not influence that stronger bond.
"It's not, 'We'll give you this money and you've got to do this.' It doesn't work like that, it's never worked like that," Faoro said. "It's about investing in someone who we think is going to do the right things for the city and for public services in Vancouver."
The Green Party raised $117,845 and spent $112,215, according to documents filed with Elections B.C. The Greens' Adriane Carr was re-elected to council while Janet Fraser won a seat on the school board and Stuart Mackinnon and Michael Wiebe on park board..
Vision, the NPA, the Greens and COPE are all on record of wanting new rules that limit spending and contributions to political parties, including bans on corporate and union donations.
The provincial government has said it will implement spending limits for the 2018 election but has not committed to contribution limits or bans on union and corporate donations.
Note: The initial posting of this story said Vision spent $3.3 million and its debt was $388,000. The correct numbers, as seen in this story, are $3.4 million in spending and a debt of $485,518. The Courier apologizes for the confusion.