Developer campaign funding is a major issue
Despite election finance reforms banning union and corporate donations, big money especially from developers continues to flow into this civic election.
By Elizabeth Murphy, October 12, 2022
Two sides of the same coin: Both Kennedy Stewart (Forward) and Ken Sim (ABC) continue to raise substantial funding from those in the development industry, counter to the intent of election finance reform. Cartoon by Geoff Olson
Vancouver has been known as the wild west of developer, union and big money contributions to political parties. In the last election in 2018 there was a clear vote for change as the then dominant party Vision Vancouver was completely wiped out. However, the public never got the change they voted for since the Vision-appointed staff led the rookie council under mayor Kennedy Stewart to implement all of the Vision policies and plans, influenced in large part by the same big money that backed Vision.
That was all supposed to change after the province brought in the campaign finance reforms before the 2018 election that banned corporate and union donations, with limits for individuals. But in 2022 that has not stopped big money from influencing the election, with last reports of Kennedy Stewart (Forward Vancouver) at $1.2 million and Ken Sim (ABC) at $1.6 million, that buy up major advertising.
Voluntary donation disclosures have shown that many major developers are donating to both parties of Kennedy Stewart and Ken Sim. The Stewart / Sim developer alliances represent two sides of the same coin.
However, further revelations widely reported in the media from a leaked document attributed to Kennedy Stewart’s fundraising tactics, raises the issue of developer election contributions to a new focus that is now affecting the election in unforeseen ways.
The leaked document, alleged to be from Kennedy Stewart’s party Forward Vancouver, was a spreadsheet found by a homeless blogger that names major developers as fundraising captains with goals totalling hundreds of thousands of dollars, far in excess of what is allowed under campaign financing rules. Further, the document included alleged involvement of Kennedy Stewart’s City-paid staff, including his Chief of Staff Neil Moncton and Communications Director Alvin Singh. These allegations are under investigation, with some having been cleared as technically within the rules. However, it raises issues from the public perspective that cannot just be dismissed that easily.
Regulating land use and zoning for development is one of the main roles of civic government. So developers have a major incentive to donate to political parties that reflect their interests. The results of this are that land use policies also reflect their interests, such as the recently approved Broadway Plan and Vancouver Plan, both supported by Stewart and Sim. These plans would ensure Vancouver becomes a city of random concrete towers, creating massive loss of existing rentals, displacement, demoviction and land inflation, while ignoring decades of community and neighbourhood plans.
There has been major public opposition to this approach to planning that this current council ignored. This opposition includes former directors of planning Ray Spaxman and Larry Beasley, as well as many former senior city planners such as Ralph Segal, Christina DeMarco, Cameron Grey, Scot Hein, Trish French and Ronda Howard. Also senior UBC academics such as Patrick Condon, David Ley and Penny Gurstein.
Forum Research polling shows that 83% of voters are concerned about the amount of influence major corporate developers and other big financial interests have in City Hall decisions. This no doubt is having an effect on Kennedy Stewart’s significantly dropping support in another recent poll by Forum Research on October 4. Previously reported panel polls, that are notoriously unreliable, are being used to frame the election as a two horse race, but that is not the case.
Stewart is now at 24.4% in a tight neck and neck race with Colleen Hardwick (TEAM for a Livable Vancouver), who doesn’t take funds from major developers and is trending higher at 21.2%. Ken Sim (ABC) support has grown in large part due to his massive advertising, to 34.3%, but that support is shifting.
With 41% undecided voters, developer funding of parties is becoming a deciding factor. Vancouver voters are overwhelmingly concerned about major corporate developer donations solicited by Sim and Stewart, with 70.3% saying they disagree with candidates taking money from big developers. The poll also showed that 69.4% of respondents were concerned about Sim’s lack of knowledge about how Vancouver is governed.
Today, the Vancouver Sun also released their own poll by Leger that also reflects similar findings of 40% undecided and Ken Sim (ABC) in the lead at 36%, with Kennedy Stewart (Forward) and Colleen Hardwick (TEAM) tied at 13%.
Also of interest is the very strong desire for change at 69% with an extremely low approval rate for Kennedy Stewart at only 36% and even lower for the current council at 32%.
Change is what people still want, and that they unfortunately did not get in the last election.
TEAM benefits from this trend given they are the only party with a mayoralty candidate not accepting funding from major developers. This allows for policy that is independently representing the public interests. TEAM will withdraw both of the Broadway Plan and Vancouver Plan, and instead use neighbourhood-based planning to allow for growth and future needs that is in the scale and context of each unique neighbourhood.
The 2021 census confirms that Vancouver continues to grow at one percent per year, yet there were twenty percent more dwelling units built than population growth would justify. There are 23,000 empty dwellings unoccupied by usual residents. There are decades of supply in the pipeline already approved. The problem is a lack of affordability, not a lack of housing supply.
Exacerbating the affordability problem is the impact of the current development pressures. Speculation and land inflation are leading to displacement, the older more affordable housing demolished, and replacement by units that are too small and expensive.
So Vancouver needs a different approach that the developer funded parties will not provide. It is time to get big money out of civic politics. That will only happen with elected individuals who are not beholden to it.
The choice is:
- No change – Kennedy Stewart (Forward Vancouver) & Ken Sim (ABC) – continuing the Vision-staff’s plans for a city of random unaffordable and unsustainable towers everywhere that primarily benefits the developers who fund these parties; or
- Change of direction – Colleen Hardwick (TEAM for a Livable Vancouver) – withdrawing current plans and instead planning in the public interest collaboratively with communities for a city of livable, sustainable and affordable neighbourhoods for the growth we actually need based on data.
This is the only chance for meaningful change in the next four years. Vote wisely.
Elizabeth Murphy is a private sector project manager and was formerly a Property Development Officer for the City of Vancouver’s Housing & Properties Department and for BC Housing. firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright Elizabeth Murphy 2022 all rights reserved.
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