ELECTION 2018

Majority on planning committee taking developer donations

Most councillors on the city's planning committee are accepting campaign donations from developers during this campaign, and at least a couple — including committee chair Coun. Jan Harder — have been the beneficiaries of developer-organized fundraisers.

Developers held fundraisers for 2 members, including chair Jan Harder

Barrhaven incumbent Jan Harder, chair of the powerful planning committee, attended a fundraiser for her campaign held by development executives. (CBC)

Most councillors on the city's planning committee are accepting campaign donations from developers during this campaign, and at least a couple — including committee chair Coun. Jan Harder — have been the beneficiaries of developer-organized fundraisers.

That's a huge conflict of interest.- Clive Doucet , mayoral candidate

Planning is City Hall's most powerful committee, approving billions of dollars in development applications in a single council term.

Its members may accept donations from executives of the very companies that need the planning committee's approval.

Municipal election rules absolutely allow these sorts of donations, but the practice raises eyebrows in some circles.

"If I'm mayor, no one is going to sit on that planning committee who receives money from developers — not a person," said mayoral candidate Clive Doucet. "That's a huge conflict of interest."

Whether accepting these sorts of donations is a conflict — or even a perception of conflict — is up for debate, but some residents feel strongly about the issue.

Leiper, Nussbaum refuse developer money

Following this week's revelation that former planning chair Peter Hume invited almost 70 people in the development world to a fundraiser next week for Alta Vista incumbent Jean Cloutier, CBC asked the other nine members of the planning committee whether they're open to accepting donations from people in the development industry.

Only two members — Kitchissippi's Jeff Leiper and Rideau-Rockcliffe's Tobi Nussbaum — said they are making efforts not to knowingly accept them.

Jeff Leiper said that in Kitchissippi, where he is the incumbent, accepting donations from developer executives would be seen by residents as a conflict. (CBC)

"This ward is being transformed by development and it's often in a direction that residents are not pleased with, and I want residents to have confidence that I am not tied to that development industry," Leiper said.

The remaining members — Stephen Blais, Riley Brockington, Rick Chiarelli, Harder, Allan Hubley, Shad Qadri, and Tim Tierney — are accepting donations from anyone legally allowed to contribute, including those in the development field. They also add the $1,200 maximum donation cannot influence their vote on the planning committee.

The names of donors and the amount they contributed become public next March, five months after the Oct. 22 election.

Fundraiser for chair

Development industry executives also organized and attended fundraisers for Harder, the longtime councillor for Barrhaven, and Cumberland incumbent Blais in May, according to emails obtained by CBC.

The one for Harder was organized by Jack Stirling — who was the Minto VP of development for years but has been working on his own since 2015 — and Taggart Group's Ted Phillips.

"We would appreciate you bringing a cheque (or as many as you like) in the amount of $1,200 made out to Jan Harder 2018 Campaign," said an email sent to about 30 executives in Ottawa development circles.  

Harder told CBC she "did not ask anyone to do anything for me," but that Stirling, an old friend, offered to host it. She attended the event at the Barrhaven Heart and Crown but said she didn't handle any contributions and doesn't know how much was raised.

Asked whether it might appear inappropriate for the chair of the planning committee to be attending fundraisers with development executives, Harder said that "if I have friends from any walk of life, I am proud to take their contribution … I'm an ethical person, that's how I was raised."

Cumberland incumbent Stephen Blais pointed out that developers aren't the only ones with an interest in what happens at City Hall. (CBC)

Blais solicits campaign cash

Also in May, Blais asked Phillips to have a fundraiser for him. Taggart wrote to about a dozen development folks that "Steve" would like to have a small lunch "to get some cash in the bank."

Blais told CBC he attended and paid for the lunch, which would be an allowable campaign expense. He said fewer than 12 people attended and he wasn't sure how much money was raised, but likely in the range of $7,000 to $8,000.

All political systems rely on donations and generally those donations come from people who have an interest in what goes on in the city.- Ted Phillips, Taggart Group

He points out that all sorts of organizations and businesses work with the city, but no one ever suggests that candidates refuse donations from people connected to social agencies, advocacy groups, charities and not-for-profits — many of whom receive city funding.

"I've voted against projects from people who have in the past contributed to me, and I'm sure that I'll vote against projects in the future [of those] who have contributed to me recently," said Blais.

"I can't speak for anyone else, but on a fairly regular basis I reject outright or constrain developers' requests."

Brockington lobbied developer

Riley Brockington, who was first elected to River ward in 2014, said his goal is not to take money from the development community, but he would if he incurs a large debt in his campaign.

"I'm very concerned about optics and perceived conflict of interest, and I don't want to be part of that," he said of developer contributions.

Brockington told CBC earlier this week that he had a single conversation with a development industry executive about a number of things, including the possibility of a fundraiser, but that he didn't push for an event because his fundraising is going well.

River ward incumbent Riley Brockington told CBC he had not asked anyone to proceed with a fundraiser, but emails obtained by CBC show his staffer asking a developer for possible fundraiser dates. (Provided.)

"I have not got to the point where I have asked anyone to proceed with a fundraiser," said Brockington, who added there were no subsequent discussions with the developer after that one conversation.

But emails obtained by CBC show Brockington's staffer, who is also volunteering on his campaign, asking the developer about possible dates for the fundrasier.

"Riley asked me to get in touch with you to help coordinate the fundraising gathering in his honour that you discussed," said one email to the development executive on Sept. 13.

"If you give me a few dates, I can let you know what works best for Riley's schedule."

The developer has not responded to Brockington's request.

Politics relies on donations

Ted Phillips of Taggart is open about the fact that he often raises money for incumbents and first-time candidates. Sometimes he offers, other times he's asked.

"All political systems rely on donations and generally those donations come from people who have an interest in what goes on in the city, the province, or the country," he said.

Phillips also pointed out that while some want to paint developers as somehow conniving, many groups come to those same developers to ask for money. Indeed, developers do give millions to art galleries, recreation centres, hockey arenas and hospitals.

"What's ironic to me is how some people want to vilify developers and make it sound like they're bad people."

About the Author

Joanne Chianello

City affairs analyst

Joanne Chianello is an award-winning journalist and CBC Ottawa's city affairs analyst. You can email her at joanne.chianello@cbc.ca or tweet her at @jchianello.