ELECTION 2018

Developer influence a major focus of Alta Vista debate

The influence of developers at city hall was front and centre as Alta Vista candidates sparred over campaign donations at a debate Wednesday night.

Incumbent, challenger both took heat for ties to builders

From left to right: John Redins, incumbent Jean Cloutier, Clinton Cowan, Kevin Kit and Raylene Lang-Dion take their places for the Alta Vista all-candidates debate. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

The influence of developers at city hall was front and centre as Alta Vista ward candidates sparred over campaign donations at a debate Wednesday night.

The ward is home to Heron Gate, which is seeing the mass exodus of more than 100 households in a planned mass eviction.

Candidate Raylene Lang-Dion criticised incumbent Jean Cloutier for accepting the maximum amount of donations from the Heron Gate landlord, Timbercreek, in the previous municipal election.

"The fact that the developer Timbercreek was proceeding as they did, the current councillor was facilitating a process led by Timbercreek — who happened to give the maximum donation to his last campaign — is quite questionable," Lang-Dion said.

Raylene Lang-Dion, at right, speaks at the Alta Vista all-candidates debate. Clinton Cowan, left, and Kevin Kitt, centre, also attended the debate. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

Cloutier said his record shows he's voted both for and against development projects and he said he was not "facilitating" the eviction of Heron Gate tenants.

Lang-Dion's husband is a lobbyist who represents several development companies at city hall.

She approached the city's integrity commissioner about the best way to deal with that if she's elected and promised not to accept any donations from people associated with developers.

Cloutier hit back, accusing Lang-Dion of knowingly accepting a donation from the owner of a west-end mall.

However, Cloutier did not specify who he was talking about when asked by CBC.

He declined an interview.

Lang-Dion said she wasn't aware of the donation and would pay it back. 

He said if elected, Lang-Dion would have to recuse herself from several environmental and planning files because of her husband.

Jean Cloutier, at left, speaks at the Alta Vista all-candidates debate held at Hillcrest High School on Sept. 26, 2018. Clinton Cowan, centre, and Kevin Kit, left, also attended the debate. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

"The fact is that your spouse is a lobbyist for Tomlinson, for Mattamy Homes and the fact is that on many environment files and planning files you would have to recuse yourself," Cloutier said.

"The question has to be how would you represent the interests of Alta Vista as you are recusing yourself on these files? And there is no agreement that could put that aside."

Last week, CBC News revealed developers were planning a fundraising event for incumbent Jean Cloutier's campaign.

He is not alone. 

The majority of city planning committee members also accept legal donations from people with ties to the industry.

Cloutier's fundraiser has since been cancelled. 

Other challengers John Redins, Clinton Cowan and Kevin Kit all vowed not to accept donations from developers.

Cowan even went so far as closing the debate by singing a familiar tune from Pinocchio: "There aren't no strings on me."

Road issues

Most of the candidates identified infrastructure and road repairs as their top priority and ensuring Alta Vista received its share of municipal expenditures.

Kit attacked Cloutier for failing to secure any of last year's $10 million surplus for roads in the ward.

"It is the role of the city councillor to be the ward's champion. It is the role of the city councillor to be your voice and we didn't get a penny." he said.

Cloutier called Kit's approach a "failed strategy" and said instead of chasing hundreds of thousands of dollars, he secured $50 million for the storm sewage system on Valley Drive.

The CBC's Laura Osman was at the debate. Follow along below.