Calgary's mayor is rejecting the notion that members of the building industry have some aldermen in their pockets as they vie for a pro-development resurgence in this fall’s civic election.
In a video obtained by Global News, Cal Wenzel, founder of Shane Homes, outlines a plan to defeat members of council who are seen as anti-development.
"So unless we get somebody in there that's really going to be, you know, more on our side – rather than the dark side … we are talking another four years after next October," he said.
It was also reported that a group of home builders planned to donate more than $1 million to help developer-friendly candidates win. Roughly half of the money went to the Manning Centre, a non-profit corporation that focuses on conservative-oriented activities, and the other half went to the Manning Foundation, a research centre that is a registered charity.
The right-wing think-tank run by Preston Manning, the former head of the Reform Party of Canada, is offering a training program for Canadian municipal election candidates with "market-oriented ideas and principles."
But Naheed Nenshi rejects the idea that any aldermen could be tucked into the housing industry's pocket.
"It seems that on this video we had someone saying that they have certain members of council ready to go, who are going to vote the way they do," he said.
"I don't believe it for a second. I've worked with these people every single day and I don't think a single one of them is bought and paid for by anybody."
Tough campaign finance rules needed, says mayor
Nenshi said the video illustrates the need for tougher campaign finance rules. Right now, single donations are limited to a maximum of $5,000.
"Certainly when you have a $5,000 spending limit, if you suddenly throw a million bucks into the pot, that has the opportunity to change things quite significantly," he said.
"And I would suggest the recipient of those funds needs to think very, very hard about whether they're fulfilling their own mandate or enriching a small group of wealthy donors."
Chris Turner, co-founder of a non-partisan citizen engagement group called Civic Camp, called for a closer look at the rules on donations.
"That someone could stand at the front of a room and say: 'Hey we've got a million bucks and we're going to try to change the outcome of this election' speaks to something that should be of concern and something that should be looked at a little more carefully."
Manning Centre offers training
Former MP Chuck Strahl, the incoming chairman for the Manning Centre, said the foundation has received more than $1 million in donations for the Canada-wide municipal training program.
"They give it with no strings attached. This is what they want to see: accomplished, well-trained, well-equipped candidates for public office," he said. "Again, they give thousands of dollars to the mayor and other candidates for the same reason."
Candidates are instructed to report the value of any training they receive from the Manning Centre as part of their campaign financial reporting.
Charron Ungar, Calgary region president of the Canadian Home Builders' Association, said the association advocates on behalf of members but is not a lobby group.
"A member of our industry has strong political leaning and he's trying to get something done," said Ungar.
"It's important to note we are apolitical, we support growth in this city, we support that the home building industry needs to have a voice at the table."
The City of Calgary's online campaign disclosure statements for its 2010 election does shows the Calgary region of the Canadian Home Builders' Association gave money to both aldermen Gord Lowe and Jim Stevenson.
Kathy McCormick, a spokesperson for the home builders' association, stressed in an e-mail to CBC News that her organization does not and has "not ever given donations in cash or cheque to any politician."
She concedes her group does, however, buy tickets "to any fundraiser the politicians have no matter who they are."
Aldermen react to video
Some council members reacted with concern to the video.
Ald. Gord Lowe, who has received plenty of developer donations in his fast-growing ward, said no aldermen can be bought with a campaign donation.
"Have I voted for everything? Absolutely not. Have I made some of them happy? Yes. Have I made some of them very unhappy? Yes," he said. "I don't think there's anybody in this place [that] is in anybody's pocket. If I thought that were true, I would find that extremely disturbing. That is not Canadian municipal politics."
Ald. Gian-Carlo Carra is identified in the video as not being on the home builders' side.
"I don't think that this shadowy group that is represented in the video represents the industry," he said.
Calgarians will have to decide next election whether voters — or developers — will determine who is on city council, he said.
An earlier version of this story said the Calgary region of the Canadian Home Builders' Association has made cash donations to city alderman. An association spokesperson says the group did not give a donation, but do "buy tickets to any fundraiser the politicians have no matter who they are and if we are asked."Apr 23, 2013 8:02 AM MT