British Columbia

Private companies spent $47K to send Surrey's mayor to real estate conference

A handful of private companies picked up most of the $58,000 cost to send Surrey’s mayor and three city staff members to a real estate conference in the south of France earlier this month.

Linda Hepner was a speaker at Les Marche International des Professionnels de l’immobilier in Cannes

Linda Hepner delivers a victory speech after being elected mayor of Surrey in 2014. (Nicolas Amaya/CBC)

A handful of private companies picked up most of the $58,000 cost to send Surrey's mayor and three city staff members to a real estate conference in the south of France earlier this month.

Linda Hepner was invited to speak at Les Marche International des Professionnels de l'immobilier (MIPIM) 2018 in Cannes, which ran from March 13-16, according to a staff report that went to Surrey council earlier this year. 

Hepner's accommodation and registration were covered by the conference and the city spent about $11,000 on the event.

Contributions from Blackwood Partners, Concord Pacific, Century Group, Surrey Fraser Docks and Surrey City Development Corporation paid for the rest of the trip.

"We are always looking at ways to be creative and fiscally prudent," said Surrey's general manager of investment and government relations, Donna Jones.

"If there's an opportunity to have partners help offset costs, we will always consider it."

The staff report breaks down the total cost of the event as follows:

  • Registration and booth rental $19,000
  • Furnishings for booth $12,000
  • Flights, hotels and per diems $27,000
  • Offset by sponsorship $47,000
  • Cost to City of Surrey $ 11,000
Longtime community advocate Douglas Elford is now president of the Surrey Community Alliance. (CBC)

Conflict of Interest?

Douglas Elford — whose newly formed Surrey Community Alliance party hopes to challenge Hepner's Surrey First team in the upcoming election — says the city shouldn't depend on developers to pay for trips.

"We're concerned about the perceived conflict of interest," he said.

"We have developers donate to a fund that pays for a mayor's travel and, potentially, the politician could be voting on the same developer's proposal down the road."

Jones says the sole purpose of the event was to promote Surrey to 24,000 real estate investors and retailers from across 100 countries in attendance.

"It's the economic development division of the project that I manage that has managed this project completely," she said.

"For that reason, I do not see a conflict at all."

Jones says the city has already fielded a few calls from companies that are interested in investing in Surrey, including one large business that is considering opening a data centre.

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