Vision, NPA running multi-million dollar campaigns

Two major parties received $4.3 million in donations

The big money is again in play in Vancouver's civic election campaign.

Over the past two days, the ruling Vision Vancouver revealed it collected $2.2 million in donations this year and the NPA raised almost the same amount at $2.1 million.

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The move for both parties to release their finances prior to an election is unprecedented since they are not required to disclose such information until 90 days after the vote.

The decision to break with the tradition came after NPA mayoral candidate Kirk LaPointe announced last week that his party would release names of contributors and dollar amounts.

"To all of those [people] who made a donation, no matter how large or small, I wish to extend my appreciation," LaPointe said Friday in releasing the donor list in a room at the Seasons in the Park restaurant at Queen Elizabeth Park. "It shows that they believe in our campaign's desire for change at city hall, and they also know that I am not beholden to these funds — that my actions in city hall will be transparent and fair."

LaPointe's move sparked a wave of disclosures from the Greens, COPE and OneCity, all of which raised $60,000 or less — paltry sums when matched against the multi-million dollar campaigns of the NPA and Vision.

The bulk of donations for the city's two main parties came from corporations, although Vision received more than $300,000 from unions.

And like the 2011 campaign, the NPA received a substantial donation from one individual. In 2011, developer and former party vice-president Robert Macdonald donated a total of $960,000, which is believed to be the biggest single donation to a civic party in Canadian history.

In 2014, the NPA's big spender at $470,000 is Peter Armstrong, the party's president and owner of Great Canadian Railtour Company Ltd. Macdonald gave more than $80,000 in this campaign.

"I believe in this city and I think there's a lot of things that need to go right in this city," said Armstrong when asked by reporters about the $470,000 he gave the party. "I am proud to be able to live in a city that's giving me the opportunities that this city has, and I'm giving back as I have done to other charities and organizations."

For years, various city councils that included the NPA, Vision, COPE and, recently, the Greens have called for the provincial government to make the changes necessary to put limits on how much a party can raise and spend.

When asked to clarify the NPA's current position on electoral reform, Armstrong said it was "a very complex issue" and deferred to the provincial government to make the final decision on what rules should be in place for the 2018 election. (The provincial government has promised electoral reform for years and continues to study changes, including expense limits for 2018.)

"Whatever the senior government decides is appropriate, it'll be fine with us — we'll live with the rules," he said.

Two weeks ago, Mayor Gregor Robertson said at a debate at Christ Church Cathedral that his party was currently abiding by the campaign finance rules but wasn't prepared to release the party's list of contributors to the 2014 campaign.

Vision released the list to media Thursday but, unlike the NPA, did not hold a press conference to discuss details of the documents, which show David Aisenstat of Keg Restaurants gave $100,000, Holborn Holdings (currently building the Little Mountain redevelopment) donated $75,000, Vancouver Canucks owners Aquilini Development (involved in the Olympic Village deal) contributed $60,000 and Concord Pacific (the developer yet to build Creekside Park) pitched in $40,000.

"I'm proud of the support Vision Vancouver enjoys from an unprecedented array of Vancouver residents from all backgrounds, reflecting the full diversity of the city we love," Robertson said in a release, referring to more than 8,500 donations from more than 4,300 individuals. "Today's release is another important way we're demonstrating our commitment to a positive, transparent and open campaign, and shows the strong momentum we're building to keep Vancouver moving forward."

The election is Nov. 15.

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