A covert recording of a meeting shows the head of one of Calgary’s biggest home building companies admitting to engaging in illegal activities, says Mayor Naheed Nenshi.
The video — made public by Global News Monday — shows Shane Homes founder Cal Wenzel speaking at a municipal election strategy session.
In the video he outlines a plan to defeat members of council who are seen as being against the interests of home builders.
"There are three instances in that video where it appears to me that the speaker is condoning illegal activity," Nenshi said Wednesday morning.
"And then there’s one incident in which he admits to illegal activity in the 2010 election."
In the video, Wenzel told the assembled group of home builder industry insiders that after giving the maximum donation to Ward 7 candidate Kevin Taylor he also provided the use of 13 trucks and helped assemble signs.
"That’s a 'donation in kind' — that means he was donating more than the allowed limit," said Nenshi.
"That is a clear violation of even our weak regulations."
That Wenzel went on to suggest his fellow home builders employ similar tactics in the upcoming vote is also a problem, said Nenshi.
Allegations 'ridiculous,' says Wenzel
Wenzel addressed media Wednesday morning, saying he’s not sorry for the remarks.
He called Nenshi's allegation that he tried to buy council "ridiculous."
The home builder said council members need to understand development issues.
'That is a clear violation of even our weak regulations.' — Naheed Nenshi, Calgary mayor
Working with city hall used to be a partnership, but now home builders are made out to be the enemy, he said.
He went on to warn that poor relations between council and home builders will have implications for Calgarians looking for a new house.
"The supply is tightening and by the latter part of 2014, it will be extremely tight," he said.
"The implications of shorting of supply is that the prices increase and that, in the end result, makes housing totally unaffordable for anyone moving to the city. So, obviously we're very concerned about that."
Manning Centre involvement
The mayor said the third potential illegal activity exposed in the video concerns the home builders’ involvement with the Manning Centre, a conservative think-tank founded by former head of the Reform Party of Canada Preston Manning.
The Calgary-based centre is offering a training program for municipal election candidates with "market-oriented ideas and principles."
'The only thing that was unusual about the event in Calgary was that they were caught.' — Jim Lightbody, University of Alberta
In the video, Wenzel talks about how his company, and 11 others, are each giving the Manning Centre a $100,000 donation.
According to Nenshi, the Manning Centre’s dual status as a charity and a tax exempt non-profit prevents it from accepting such donations.
"Neither of those two parts can be tax exempt if they are directly enriching their donors," he said, explaining there is a clear implication that the Manning Centre will work to get pro-development candidates elected.
"I will point out that [a] staff member from the Manning Centre was in the room. He’s referred to on the video several times," Nenshi said.
"So it’s very hard for [Manning Centre director] Chuck Strahl to say, ‘We had no idea the donors thought that’s what they were doing with the money they gave us.'"
Nenshi said the Manning Centre should return the donations.
"I’m sure that the Canada Revenue Agency is going to have a lot to say about this," he said.
Hunt for the videographer
Recording the private meeting and releasing the footage to media is "cowardly," said Wenzel.
He told the media he's close to finding out who did it.
When asked what he intends to do once he finds that person, Wenzel answered, "I can't say."
Wrongdoing nothing new
An expert in municipal policy said civic election rules are routinely broken in Alberta.
"The only thing that was unusual about the event in Calgary was that they were caught," said Jim Lightbody, who chairs the political science department at the University of Alberta.
Rules governing municipal elections are much stricter elsewhere in the country, he said.
"Because the province does not take any municipality very seriously," he added.
Even if the mayor's allegations are true, there would only be repercussions if someone takes the matter to court, since Alberta Municipal Affairs does not investigate alleged violations of election rules.
"Anyone that has a concern that a rule has been violated can file a court application," said Municipal Affairs spokesman Cameron Traynor.
A judge can impose a fine of up to $10,000.