Spot quiz time.
Don’t worry, I’ve only got one question and I’m going to assume the answer from all of you will be unanimous.
The question: How many of you want to easily access all sources of incomes for Mayor Gregor Robertson and his 10 city councillors?
Answer: Me, me and me.
You're so predictable, Vancouver.
But the fact is, you can already find out what the mayor and his councillors earn by doing some basic sleuth work on the city’s website. You can find out their salaries, how much they racked up in expenses and what they receive for a transportation allowance.
You can complete the same exercise on Metro Vancouver’s website, where you can view how much each Vancouver politician earned and spent as a director. Some of them also declare incomes from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.
But that’s for their work as an elected official.
What about the incomes they pull in from outside city hall?
Sorry, that was another question. But it’s one I ask after my conversation with Vision Vancouver Coun. Andrea Reimer, who wants the public to know exactly where she and her colleagues on council make their money when not on the job at city hall.
That’s important, she said, when conducting city business and having the public know whether a politician has any pecuniary interest in a matter before council. She’ll be introducing a motion on this today at council.
My initial reaction to Reimer’s quest was that the public can already find out that information. It’s actually the law, which comes in the form of the B.C. Financial Disclosure Act.
You can go to each politician’s profile on the city’s website and scroll down to read their financial disclosure statements. That’s where you’ll find out the number of shares they have in corporations, whether they have any liabilities, any interest in a property (other than their personal residence) and, yes, where their non-council cash comes from.
For example, Reimer’s declaration of income lists her work as a councillor, as a Metro Vancouver director and some work with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. She declares no other income, whereas many of her colleagues do.
Oil and gas lobbyist
NPA Coun. George Affleck lists himself as owner of public relations company Curve Communications Group Ltd. NPA Coun. Melissa De Genova says she owns consulting company Eventure Holdings Ltd. That’s just a few examples.
What concerns Reimer is that the public has no immediate way of knowing, say, who Affleck’s company does business with. Same goes for De Genova. The recently sworn-in NPA councillor, Hector Bremner, has yet to have his financial disclosure posted on the website, yet it is well known that he is vice-president of public affairs for the Pace Group. He’s also worked as an oil and gas lobbyist.
So is Reimer going after the NPA?
“Not in a specific or personal way,” she replied. “Two of them have declared conflicts that aren’t listed on their financial disclosure and another one [Bremner] coming on could be in the same position. And given the intent of the Financial Disclosure Act, it seems reasonable to have something in place that allows the public to see where potential conflicts might lie.”
Which conflicts are you referring to?
“On several occasions, councillor De Genova has declared herself in conflict. The only source of income listed on her disclosure, other than council, is a holding company, and none of the conflicts have related specifically to that holding company, although apparently to things or clients of that holding company relates to.”
Added Reimer: “The same councillor has said on quite a few occasions that she works with a non-profit housing agency, which is definitely laudable. But if one looks at her financial disclosure, none is listed. It’s not that there’s something illegal going on here – that’s well within the rules – but I think the rules didn’t anticipate this kind of situation.”
She also pointed out Affleck has declared a conflict with the B.C. and Yukon Community Newspapers Association when recycling of newspapers is discussed at council. His company organizes the association’s annual awards banquet at the River Rock Casino. Reimer said that connection is not listed on his financial disclosure statement.
One more quote from Reimer, this one regarding Bremner: “We have another councillor coming on board who, based on the clients of the Pace Group, could have quite a significant number of conflicts with city business. But the public wouldn’t necessarily know that.”
Now to the expected outrage from those three NPA councillors…
“It’s ridiculous,” said Affleck, noting he and his NPA colleagues are diligent about declaring a conflict and give reasons why. “I’m not sure what she’s getting at? You talk about PR, this is a total PR [stunt] on her part. This is absolutely 100 per cent meant to be provocative. You shouldn’t even do a story on this because she’s being effective with her PR scam here.”
Affleck said most of his company’s clients are listed on Curve’s website. Also, he added, councillors are guided by the city clerk and legal department on what constitutes a conflict. De Genova, whose council bio includes her role with the non-profit Vancouver Resource Society, pointed out the same thing when I spoke to her.
“I’ve always stated what my conflict is,” said De Genova, noting she did that at a recent council meeting. “For instance, there was a developer last week – and although I’m not working on that specific project – I’m working with them to build non-profit housing in a different municipality. And I stated that quite clearly.”
De Genova suggested Reimer’s request is “not quite as simple as she makes it out to be,” noting Vision Vancouver Coun. Tim Stevenson declared a conflict over council’s decision to allow a housing development on property owned by Dunbar Ryerson United Church. Stevenson’s partner, Gary Paterson, is a United Church of Canada minister. Did Stevenson have a direct pecuniary interest? Don't think so.
Vision Coun. Kerry Jang also recently received $4,000 for consultant work he did for the provincial NDP, but that's not declared in his disclosure form. As I understand the law, I don't think councillors are required to update their disclosure forms for contract work and declare any non-council income they may earn during a given year.
“I think she’s doing this to try and make a smokescreen story out of something that unfortunately Vision Vancouver is most guilty of,” said De Genova, pointing to the millions of dollars Vision has collected from developers over the years for election campaigns. “If she’s going to point fingers at other people, I think she needs to look within. Don’t throw rocks if you live in a glass house.”
Bremner, who won the Oct. 14 byelection and reduced Vision Vancouver’s majority to six of the 11 seats, described Reimer’s motion as “bizarre.”
“I don’t get what it does,” he said. “This is the kind of mudslinging you see with people that are desperate. It is what it is, but I’m not quite clear from reading it what it functionally does, outside of the existing conflict of interest requirements and laws, which are quite involved.”
Added Bremner: “To make the insinuation that a disclosure has not or would not be made is just absolutely out of touch. [Vision Vancouver] is just trying to malign me. I took a seat from you, I get it.”
Donations from developers
During my conversation with Reimer, I couldn’t help but remind her that Vision Vancouver has taken millions of dollars from developers, unions and others since the party formed in 2005. Many of those donors conduct or have conducted business with the city, including requests to have large developments built that require council approval.
Yes, a ban on union and corporation donations will be in place for the 2018 civic election campaign.
But let's stick to the present...
In my time covering council, I can’t recall a mayor or councillor recuse herself or himself from a vote because they received money from a donor. As Reimer said, the courts have ruled that “there’s neither an implied or explicit conflict.”
I’ve read a judgment out of Nanaimo on this. I won’t go into detail because I have many times over the years. She’s right about the courts. The public perception? Not so much.
Then I brought up this other requirement of councillors to disclose “gifts” received that are worth more than $50. It used to be $200 and Reimer acknowledged it was changed partly because of a story I wrote way back in 2008 identifying councillors who received a pile of expensive freebies. Some declared the gifts, some didn’t.
Vancouver Canucks games and Bruce Springsteen concerts in a developer’s private box. Free tickets to Cirque du Soleil. Dinner and a fireworks show aboard a developer’s yacht. Those were some of the “gifts” declared. Others attended the same events, but didn’t declare because they didn’t think they had to.
Anyway, I could write more about this, but I’ve written enough for now.
Tune in to council today for the live version.
It will only cost you your valuable time.
Update: Apparently, there is one person who wants to speak to Reimer's motion. That will occur at Wednesday's meeting. It begins at 9:30 a.m., but could take a while before council gets to the item.