It’s been a while since I made the trek to city hall to do some serious investigative journalism into what types of freebies the mayor and city councillors receive while on the job.
Regular readers will recall I’ve been diligently reaching into council’s gift bag since 2008.
That’s when I learned Concord Pacific was wining and dining politicians on fireworks cruises, handing over pairs of $440 tickets to Cirque du Soleil and opening up its private box at Rogers Arena for Canucks games and a Bruce Springsteen concert.
Telus and the B.C. Lottery Corporation also bucked up for some events.
I should make it clear that such questionable behaviour by your elected officials was done pre-Gregor Robertson, who told me after he and his Vision Vancouver crew won a majority in November 2008 that he wanted to put a stop to city politicians accepting gifts. In fact, it wasn’t long after my story was published that city council agreed to bring in more stringent rules related to accepting gifts.
You can find details by reading the city’s corporate policy, which gives a definition of a gift or personal benefit and instructs councillors and staff to disclose any gift or personal benefit valued at $50, or more.
Definition: “Gifts and personal benefits include, but are not limited to, cash, gift cards, tickets to events, items of clothing, jewelry, pens, food or beverages, discounts/rebates on personal purchases, free or subsidized drinks or meals, entertainment, and invitations to social functions organized by groups or community organizations.”
Before I go any further, you should know Robertson and his ruling Vision council still accept thousands of dollars from Concord and a whole bunch of companies, unions and individuals for their election campaigns, despite efforts to convince the provincial government to ban corporate and union donations and put a cap on how much a politician can raise and spend.
And, yes, many of those financial backers do regular business with the city.
Anyway, to the gifts…
Nothing was filed for 2016, which means council and staff didn’t receive anything, or they haven’t filed yet. The corporate policy says a gift must be reported “as soon as practicable.” Past experience suggests some councillors decide to disclose, others don’t.
So, for 2015, this is what I found…
Apparently, Yellow Cab's owners and developer Joo Kim Tiah of the Holborn Group, which is constructing the Trump tower downtown and the Little Mountain housing complex, appreciated the good work of councillors. Documents filed at city hall indicate that Kulwant Sahota and Carolyn Bauer of Yellow Cab sent “Grey Goose Gift Sets” to councillors Tim Stevenson, George Affleck, Geoff Meggs and Kerry Jang in December 2015. They also sent a “Baileys Gift Set” to councillors Heather Deal and Melissa De Genova. The vodka was valued at $52.99, the Baileys at $32.49.
Each councillor said they returned the gifts.
“Unfortunately, the gift is far too generous for me to accept, and I must kindly decline and return the gift set back to you,” Jang wrote in a letter filed with the documents. “Please know that I really appreciate the thoughtful gesture, and I hope you both have a wonderful Christmas holiday and a Happy New Year.”
Mr. Tiah and Holborn gave chocolates, valued at $50, to councillors Andrea Reimer, Adriane Carr, Raymond Louie, Meggs, Stevenson, Jang, Affleck and De Genova, who also received a “Saul Good Gift co. box” valued at $55.
Carr and Meggs donated their chocolates to the Atira Women’s Resource Society. Stevenson gave his to the West End Seniors Network. Jang sent his back. Louie donated his to “a local seniors group.” De Genova kept the chocolates, but donated the gift box to city staff. Affleck kept his chocolates.
For the record, Mr. Tiah and his development company gave $105,000 to Vision for the party's 2014 election campaign.
The mayor, by the way, didn’t file anything. In fact, I don’t ever recall him filling out a gift disclosure form. His staff tells me the typical procedure is to return gifts to sender. Anything given to him like a commemorative paddle or art piece becomes property of the city. He pays for his own breakfast/lunch/dinner meetings, too, according to his staff.
But as far as I can tell, there is no record of gifts that have come into the mayor’s office, what was sent back and what was kept. Kind of be nice to know. And, for the record, Robertson paid for the courtside seats that he and his lady friend enjoyed at the recent exhibition NBA game between the Toronto Raptors and Golden State Warriors at Rogers Arena.
No assumptions, then, should be made about the mayor being seen at the intermission talking and walking with Canucks owner and developer Francesco Aquilini, who has donated to Vision’s campaign, does regular business with the city and was seated a few seats to Robertson’s right.
Christmas, by the way, is only a couple of months away.
So I'll check council's gift bag in the new year to see whose good work got them a present, or two.