Facing heat, Nenshi cancels fundraiser promising time with mayor for thousands of dollars

A get-together for Naheed Nenshi's campaign that suggested guests cough up $5,000 to attend — the legal annual donation limit for municipal candidates — has been cancelled after the event met with harsh criticism.

Architecture firm Kasian was to host the event, open to only 20 individuals

Mayor Naheed Nenshi lashed out at critics accusing him of selling access for campaign donations at an upcoming event, but later cancelled the fundraiser. (Scott Dippel/CBC)

Calgary's mayor, under fire for a campaign fundraiser critics said gave, at best, the illusion of selling access, has cancelled the event. 

Kasian, an architecture firm based in Calgary, was supposed to host the get-together for Naheed Nenshi's campaign and suggested guests cough up $5,000 to attend — the legal annual donation limit for municipal candidates.

Coun. Andre Chabot, who's running to unseat Nenshi in October's municipal election, had criticized the mayor for attending an event seeking so much money after being vocal in his opposition to the lofty contribution limit. 

"To advocate against it and then actively promote it is kind of disingenuous," he said prior to the event being called down.

'Almost looks like buying influence'

The fundraiser was only open to 20 guests, leading some to question the optics, or the ethics, of the event.

"It almost looks like buying influence," said Coun. Sean Chu prior to the cancellation. "That's how I see it."

So-called cash-for-access events, where wealthy donors have the chance to hobnob with politicians in private settings, drew widespread criticism at the federal level, where the ruling Liberal Party was forced to end the practice.

Kasian, which designed the South Health Campus and the Taylor Family Digital Library, includes senior partner Bill Chomik who also chairs the city's subdivision and development appeal board. 

"I don't think somebody who's receiving funding from the city of Calgary should be involved in fundraising activities for a member of council," said Chabot earlier in the day.

Kasian is the same firm that raised eyebrows in 2011 when it paid for a round trip flight to Toronto for Nenshi to speak at a symposium it was hosting, something a University of Calgary ethics professor said at the time was standard practice.


Ealier in the day, Nenshi lashed out at critics and defended his record of pushing for more accountability in campaign financing, but later sent out a notice saying the event would not go forward.

"Due to the mischaracterization about this event and our host, the Nenshi Campaign and Kasian have jointly decided to cancel this event," reads the email. 

"The campaign very much appreciated the willingness of Kasian to support the Nenshi campaign and is disappointed about the treatment Kasian has received in its efforts to support the democratic process. The Nenshi campaign will continue to participate in fundraising and free public events in the run up to the election."

Earlier in the day, Nenshi was defiant in the face of criticism. 

"That's an absolutely baseless and ridiculous statement. Let's be honest here. That's so dumb, I can't even imagine people wanting to go there," he said of the suggestion that this was a cash-for-access event. 

"I don't know who's on that guest list, it's a privately hosted function but I'd be pretty surprised if anyone is coming who has not already had lots of time to interact with me on many different files on many different occasions."

Campaign finance reform

Nenshi said he applies more stringent rules to his campaign than the law requires, including disclosing all donors on nomination day and updating that list, not holding on to any surpluses after the campaign is over and not fundraising throughout the years between elections. 

"As you know, I have been calling for changes to campaign finance reform since long before I was the mayor, even though members of council, even those who were critical today, have voted against more transparency in campaign financing," said Nenshi. 

With files from Scott Dippel