Fumano: Real estate developers spread support between mayoral rivals

Analysis: Real estate developers sharing their largesse between political rivals are “hedging their bets,” says Research Co. President Mario Canseco

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ABC Vancouver has become the latest Vancouver political party to release its donor list before next month’s municipal election, revealing that they share some prominent backers in common with their top opponents.

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Several names associated with BC’s largest real estate development firms appear in the donor lists of both ABC Vancouver and Mayor Kennedy Stewart’s Forward Together, listed as having made maximum or near-maximum donations, in some cases year-after-year, including people connected with Westbank, Bosa Properties, Bonnis Properties, Onni Group, and Beedie Development.

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This isn’t unusual: real estate is one of Vancouver’s biggest industries, if not the biggest, and one of the municipal government’s primary responsibilities is regulating land use, which means developers have a lot of interactions with city hall.

It’s also not the first time big-name donors have supported rival parties at the same time.

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“In essence, it’s people hedging their bets,” said pollster Mario Canseco, the president of Research Co. “If you’re somebody who wants to build a relationship with the mayor… people want to figure out a way to be in good standing with either the administration that is there right now or whoever is coming in.”

Some big names in local real estate appear only on one list or the other: Chip Wilson, founder of Low Tide Properties and Lululemon, and his family made repeated maximum donations to ABC, just as several members of the Aquilini family did for Forward Together.

Chip Wilson talking to protesters in front of his house in 2019.
Chip Wilson talking to protesters in front of his house in 2019. Photo by Francis Georgian /PNG

Municipal parties are required to file annual reports with Elections BC detailing funds raised and spent, but those aren’t normally public until after the election. In recent Vancouver elections, though, parties have voluntarily released donation lists before election day — and then publicly challenged opponents to do the same.

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Stewart’s Forward Together went first this year, releasing their list in early August and calling on other parties to follow. That day, COPE provided its list upon request, and representatives of the NPA, Greens, OneCity, Vision, ABC and Progress Vancouver said theirs would be public soon. At that time, only TEAM for a Livable Vancouver did not commit to early disclosure before the election, instead saying they would follow the rules and “review the timing of the release of its donor list.”

Since then, TEAM and the NPA seem to have effectively swapped positions: the day after Forward Together’s release, TEAM issued a statement committing to disclosing its donor list before the election. And this week, when Postmedia News asked the NPA for an update on the release of its donors’ list, the party said it would review the matter.

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NPA co-campaign manager Mike Wilson said in an emailed statement Wednesday: “We’re looking forward to disclosing because we believe transparency is important. We will look at early disclosure and are currently planning to comply fully on the timelines required by Elections BC.

The Aug. 9 statement from TEAM also pledged to reject any personal donations from “big corporate developers.”

“Mayor Kennedy Stewart is clearly doing exactly the opposite by courting the rich and powerful in Vancouver to give his campaign funding through their personal donations — and that’s simply wrong,” TEAM’s mayoral candidate, Coun. Colleen Hardwick said in the statement.

Reached Wednesday, TEAM council candidate Bill Tieleman, who is also managing the party’s campaign, said ABC and Forward Together are the “two parties favored by major real estate developers” and “are more or less Tweedledum and Tweedledee when it comes to some of the biggest development issues facing the city.”

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Tieleman criticized Stewart and the three incumbent ABC councilors — Rebecca Bligh, Lisa Dominato and Sarah Kirby-Yung — for supporting the plan to develop and densify the area along the Broadway subway line, pledging that if TEAM wins a council majority, “we will withdraw and reconsider the Broadway plan.”

Tieleman said he was not aware of whether any real estate developers had tried to donate and were rejected by the party.

While TEAM casts their opponents as being overly pro-development, other parties say they’re overly anti-development and would, if elected, worsen Vancouver’s housing crisis by choking off new supply. In July, TEAM’s president quit the party, writing in a resignation letter he was “not confident that TEAM’s ongoing opposition to development (at least that is the perception) is sufficient to earn positive results on Oct. 15.”

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This year marks TEAM’s first election, but some local parties had previously implemented similar internal restrictions on donations. The Green Party of Vancouver has had a policy since 2011 of not accepting money from developers, CBC News reported in 2019, when the party returned a $1,200 donation from Reliance Properties CEO Jon Stovell, saying it was accepted in error. (Stovell told CBC he made equal personal donations to all major parties in the election, and would donate the refunded money to charity.)

Jon Stovell of Reliance Properties in April 2021.
Jon Stovell of Reliance Properties in April 2021. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

Before corporate and union donations were banned in 2017, OneCity already had a policy of not accepting donations from developers, said OneCity Coun. Christine Boyle. Now that only individuals can donate, she said, “we don’t specifically ask the occupation of donors. If someone shares our values ​​and principles, they are welcome to join the fight. And those values ​​and principles always come first.”

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The donations in this year’s elections are a far cry from the last few elections before the end of corporate donations, when big real estate players cut six-figure checks to support Vancouver’s two biggest parties of the day, the NPA and Vision Vancouver. Now, contributions are limited; The annual limit has increased a little bit each year since its introduction, and currently sits at $1,250.

But those smaller donations can still add up: Forward Together says they raised more than $1.13 million since 2018, and ABC said they and their candidates have raised $1.66 million since 2019.

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