Calgary housing developer Jay Westman has made his horses in the municipal election race known to his employees, sending out an endorsement list this week in an all-staff email, which came weeks after he'd asked his staff to financially back one mayoral candidate. 

Westman's pick for mayor is Bill Smith, and he's chosen candidates in every ward for both council and public school board, many of whom are seen to have conservative ties, such as all five members of the Students Count trustee candidates slate.

Jason Kenney, candidate for the leadership of the United Conservative Party, published a tweet that indicated support of the slate of five candidates.

Westman and his company Jayman Built construct detached and semi-detached homes as well as entire neighbourhoods, including Evanston in the northwest and Currie Barracks in the southwest, as well as many others. Westman was named by the Calgary Real Estate Board in 2015 to be one of the top five real estate influencers in the city. 

'Passionate' supporter of conservatives

"As you all know, I am very passionate about supporting conservative-minded candidates," read Westman's email, which was sent out Thursday. 

"We need business and government to work together to come to solutions. I believe each of the candidates that we have supported have that belief as well. Regardless of how you vote, I ask you to please get involved in the democratic process." 

In an interview with CBC News, Westman stood by his decision to send out the email, saying he's taken similar actions during election campaigns for the past 20 years. 

"It's about the sort of business environment that we're in," he said.

"If we have a good business environment, our business thrives. If we don't have a good business environment, the business doesn't thrive. So I'm trying to look out for the best interests of our company and our employees."

Smith is challenging incumbent Naheed Nenshi as well as former councillor Andre Chabot, and a host of other candidates for the mayor's seat in the Oct. 16 election.

Plea for Smith campaign funding

In an earlier email to his staff sent on Sept. 13, Westman also asked them to consider donating money to the Smith mayoral campaign. 

"The one criticism that I hear [of Smith] is that, 'well we don't know much about Bill and he's been very quiet.' That's exactly why I'm writing this email today — Bill needs exposure. He has billboards, signs and a radio campaign planned but urgently needs funding," the email read.

"He has a good start but he's only about 60 per cent of the way there to fully fund his campaign."

Westman said his motivation for voting for Smith was that he is running on a business-minded platform that he discussed with him personally. 

"I am asking for your support of Bill in the upcoming municipal election on October 16th," the email read. 

It's about urban sprawl, political scientist says

Calgary political scientist Duane Bratt said he's not surprised to hear about this tactic being used in Calgary, although he hasn't heard of it elsewhere. 

"What Nenshi wants is less sprawl, or more density, which doesn't mean large, single-detached homes in the suburbs," Bratt said.

"The criticism of city council prior to Nenshi's election is that they were too closely tied to the developer community."

Municipal politics matter the most to developers and home-building businesses, Bratt said. 

"Whereas in a provincial race, you don't have that very direct connection, and it would have to be a much larger company doing this and I think there'd be a much larger political backlash," he added.

"This is why we have secret-ballot voting, for this very reason."

Not illegal, says HR expert, but not advisable

Employers are well within their right to express their political leanings, said Melanie Peacock, an associate professor of human resources at Mount Royal University's Bisset School of Business.

However, she said she would certainly advise any employer not to send such emails to their staff. While freedom of speech is a right, harassment is illegal and the difference can come down to perception, she said. 

"If it is seen in any way as being bullying, which is a form of harassment, because the undertones can be very threatening. It could cause problems," Peacock said.

Clarifications

  • The original version of this story stated that UCP leadership candidate Jason Kenney backed the Students Count slate of candidates in the Calgary municipal election. This has been changed to more accurately reflect his Twitter message.
    Oct 09, 2017 12:51 PM MT