British Columbia

District debates whether councillors should disclose developers' donations

The policy, if enacted, would go further than any other Metro Vancouver municipality for disclosure rules.

Policy, if enacted, would go further than any other Metro Vancouver municipality; motion was deferred Monday

The District of North Vancouver's last municipal election centred around the pace of growth in the predominantly suburban community. (Justin McElroy/CBC)

A precedent-setting motion by a District of North Vancouver councillor on disclosing donations from developers was deferred on Monday night. 

Coun. Jim Hanson's motion argued it would "foster greater transparency and accountability" if staff put together a policy that would do the following:

  • If a development proposal comes forward to a vote, make councillors disclose prior to the vote what donations they got from people associated with the applicant company. 
  • Put an online link on each councillor's biography linking to campaign disclosure statements.
  • Encourage councillors to recuse themselves from votes involving development companies that had owners, directors, employees who gave them money, or family members of those groups.

The policy, if enacted, would go further than any other Metro Vancouver municipality for disclosure rules. 

However, it was sent back to a future workshop meeting following a 90-minute debate.

'Justice … must be seen to be done'

Corporate and union donations to municipal politicians were banned prior to last election, but owners, employees and family members of development companies can still donate the maximum $1,200 to councillors.

Hanson said that could create the perception of a conflict of interest on contentious land-use debates.

"Justice must not only be done, but must be seen to be done," he said. 

"The feedback that has come to me is for people to receive money from a development company, directly or indirectly, and then to sit in a quasi-judicial role ... as judges of rezoning, puts forward an appearance of conflict. And I believe we can set ourselves to a higher standard."

'It's all about politics' 

Hanson's report to council specifically cited the Building Bridges party, which includes Coun. Mathew Bond, as a recepient of donations "from persons associated with corporations engaged in real estate development."

Last year's election campaign in the District of North Vancouver centred around the pace of development, and Bond accused the motion of being politically motivated. 

"The most transparent thing about this motion is it has nothing to do with transparency: It's all about politics," he said. 

Bond argued that the district already had appropriate code of conduct rules that guided councillors, and argued that if council was concerned about disclosing conflict of interests, it should extend the legislation to include ties to businesses or unions that could benefit from council votes. 

"This motion doesn't address those perceptions of interest," he said. 

District of North Vancouver Mayor Mike Little says he approved the spirit of the motion, and supported some of the clauses, but said it was too broad as written. (Christian Amundson/CBC)

Division, confusion, referral

Hanson's motion, as presented, failed to receive full support for all its parts.

Councillors were divided on whether the motion should explicitly mention the development community, or extend more broadly to other businesses that could have vested interests in decision by council. 

In addition, Mayor Mike Little said the parts involving councillors having to proactively disclose connections before any vote — and connections including employees and employee family members — were too vague to be implemented effectively.

However, he applauded the overall spirit of the motion. 

"Far too often we've seen patterns where people who have proposals coming to council are donating to campaigns. They're not donating out of the kindness of their heart," he said. 

"There's no confusion on the part of the donor over why they're campaigning ... in some cases, they have a vested interest."