Real estate companies top list of Vision Vancouver donors in 2017

New data shows nine of the top 10 donations to Vancouver's ruling municipal party were from the real estate industry, prompting some critics to raise conflict of interest concerns.

Opposition NPA also raised money from major developers leading up to byelection

Dermod Travis with political watchdog Integrity B.C., says this will be the last time Vancouverites will see this scale of corporate donations in a municipal election. (Peter Scobie/CBC)

New data shows nine of the top 10 donations to Vancouver's ruling municipal party were from the real estate industry, prompting some critics to raise conflict of interest concerns.

Last year, Vision Vancouver collected $278,125 in donations with 65 per cent of the money or $180,000 coming from real estate companies like Onni, Westbank, and Rize.

Dermod Travis, the executive director of non-partisan non-profit political watchdog Integrity B.C., pointed out developers rely on support from council to rezone contentious developments.

"Here, what you see is a political party that has a majority on city council with a day-to-day rule in approving building permits, zoning issues, the whole gamut, taking five-figure cheques from the very people who are going to be knocking on their door the next day as part of their business operations."

Vision's financial disclosure statement shows it spent $257,838.66 on last October's byelection. The party's candidate for council, Diego Cardona, finished in fifth place with 11 per cent of the vote

The party's main rival, the NPA, collected $53,700 in donations in 2017 and spent $78,965.23 on the byelection, placing Hector Bremner on council. 

Travis doesn't focus all his criticism on Vision. He says ruling parties are usually the ones who fundraise the most simply, because they're the ones in power. 

In 2008, when the NPA was the ruling party going into the election with then-mayor Sam Sullivan, the party raised $1,004,937 — although it only raised $167,430 from corporate donors who gave $100 or more.

That same year, Vision raised $433,560.83.

"I think it's simply a campaign finance problem," Travis said.  "I think Vision Vancouver inherited what the NPA was doing before." 

More recently, the NPA also relied on corporate real estate donors last year. Some of its top contributors included Polygon Homes ($5,000) and Concord Pacific ($3,000), which also donated to Vision ($8,500).

But NPA Coun. George Affleck said his party has "never come close to the kind of money that Vision has raised in their time."

"They have taken donations from corporations and unions to a level that I have never seen," Affleck said.

CBC News reached out to Vision Vancouver, but no one from the party responded by deadline.

New campaign financing rules that went into effect on Oct. 31 place a ban on corporate and union donations and limit individual donations to $1,200. 

"Vancouver residents should be very happy," Travis said. "It's the last time they're ever going to have to see these types of numbers, in particular from these types of donors." 

At Vision Vancouver's annual general meeting on Monday, the party's co-chair Maria Dobrinskaya said she wasn't concerned about how the new rules would impact the party. 

Dobrinskaya said Vision has long been in support of the reforms, and the party has a large base of individual donors. 

About the Author

Maryse Zeidler

@MaryseZeidler

Maryse Zeidler is a reporter for CBC News in Vancouver, covering news from across British Columbia. You can reach her at maryse.zeidler@cbc.ca.

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