Peek behind CUPE curtain a rare glimpse at a campaign finance scheme

Was Vision Vancouver's quest to ban union, corporate donations just for show?

On Oct. 16, I broke an exclusive story in the Vancouver Courier, “Vision Vancouver wins union campaign funding.”

It’s no surprise that left-wing parties are the preferred target of political donations from organized labour. But the party that rules City of Vancouver was, just 10 short months ago, very public and aggressive in its push for the prohibition of both union and corporate donations.

At the Jan. 21 city council meeting, Vision Vancouver Coun. Andrea Reimer proposed a motion to lobby the provincial government to enact limits, including a ban on corporate and union donations, in time for the Nov. 15 election. The province didn’t budge, so Vision Vancouver continued to fundraise, most notably when Mayor Gregor Robertson was the beneficiary of an infamous $25,000-a-plate lunch on March 7 for fewer than 50 people that was hosted by real estate marketer Bob Rennie. (Rennie is also a supporter of Premier Christy Clark and now chair of the BC Liberals’ fundraising committee.)

At the April 15 city council meeting, Green Party Coun. Adriane Carr proposed a motion that said should the province fail to enact limits, then Vancouver city council should adopt its own guidelines. Carr’s motion was rejected when members of the Vision Vancouver majority and NPA minority voted for the status quo.

In 2011, Vision Vancouver won the mayoralty and eight seats on council with a $2.25 million war chest. NPA elected two councillors after a $2.6 million campaign. They disagree on policy, but they seem to agree that the path to power in Vancouver is paved with big bucks advertising campaigns, complete with sophisticated market research. This political oligopoly makes it exceedingly difficult for smaller parties with limited resources or even independents to get elected. It also means big money-addicted parties are beholden to special interests. Some folks call this quid quo pro.

A citizen leaked audio to me from the Oct. 14 CUPE Local 1004 membership meeting, where members of Vision Vancouver made their case for the union’s support in this audio clip. Late in the meeting, members of the union’s political action committee had their say and revealed the strategy in this audio clip: to block the NPA from a return to power, displace Carr from city council, re-elect a Vision majority, and offer token assistance to COPE and upstart OneCity (whose organizing committee includes CUPE Local 1004 political action committee member Kyla Epstein)images images-1

The meeting agenda is below. The donation to Vision Vancouver will wind up being $102,000 (after national and provincial matching). If the party stays in power after Nov. 15, it will be the party that will decide the union’s next collective bargaining agreement. Just like in 2013, when CUPE Local 1004 got a pay hike.

This raises important questions. Is Vision Vancouver buying votes? Is CUPE Local 1004 buying influence? Is it legal?

In a Province commentary about the meeting, NPA candidate for mayor Kirk LaPointe called Vision Vancouver “corrupt.” CityHallWatch analyzed the ho-hum media response to the story.

The story offers a rare glimpse behind closed doors of a politically motivated organization with an intenese interest in the outcome of the Nov. 15 election. It’s a story not dissimilar to the leaked video showing Calgary developer Cal Wenzel outlining his attempt to unseat that city’s mayor, Naheed Nenshi, and take control of city council.

Citizens can’t afford to ignore it when big money seeks to influence politics. Regardless of whether it’s Calgary or Vancouver, or the right or left of the political spectrum.

UPDATE (Monday, Oct. 27): At the Oct. 26 debate, LaPointe challenged Robertson on the CUPE Local 1004 donation and the mayor offered a feeble answer. The clip on this page, from Randy Chatterjee’s YouTube channel, is evidence why Vision Vancouver wants to limit Robertson’s exposure to debates. Here is a link to the NPA video of the exchange (with better sound and better video, but that’s what big bucks campaigns buy).

Meanwhile, in Toronto, mayoral candidates in today’s election to replace Rob Ford have released the lists of their donors’ names, but not individual amounts. Favoured John Tory claimed to have raised $2.48 million, Olivia Chow $1.76 million and Doug Ford $300,000. In Vancouver, we have to wait until the new year to find out the names and numbers, unless Robertson and LaPointe suddenly follow suit. Vancouverites deserve to see who is donating to Robertson and LaPointe’s campaigns, before voting day. I’m not holding my breath.

UPDATE (Thursday, Oct. 30): Well, maybe I will hold my breath after all. Just before 2 p.m. today, NPA announced it would reveal its list of campaign donors by Friday, Nov. 7 and challenged Vision Vancouver and all other parties to do the same. Will the list be names only or will it include dollar amounts? Will Vision accept the challenge? Wait and see. Vision tried to set the tone early in the campaign on transit expansion and a ban on tankers; the first requires funding from senior governments, the second is federal jurisdiction. NPA is trying to change the channel, to donations and disclosure.

Click here ->CUPE 1004 meeting agenda

3 thoughts on “Peek behind CUPE curtain a rare glimpse at a campaign finance scheme

  1. e.a. foster

    these days a unions gotta do, what a union’s gotta do. CUPE might want to remember what we used to say back in the day. Sooner or later that political party will become your employer . On the other hand, that may work out well for them.

    Certainly don’t think its a wise method of buying a new collective agreement, on the other hand a majority NPA council could see a lot of union members laid off and the jobs all contracted out. so what would you do? I’d take care of myself, just like the others are doing. In this day and age, given the nature of politics in Canada you do what you have to do to hang onto your jobs. Corporations have made all sorts of inroads into how workers are treated. hello trade agreements, etc.

    If I were a member of the local, I’d do whatever was necessary to ensure the party which “looked after me” got elected. To do otherwise might be principled, but stupid. No one wants to be unemployed these days.

  2. e.a. foster

    another thought, why would anyone any one expect to hold a union to a higher standard than developers and big business. The premier got an m.l.a. to step down and he got a nice new job. Once the game rules have been set by the politicians, the rest of us just have to play the best hand we are dealt.

  3. Fred McNeill

    Basically the same thing happened in the Township of Langley. After 4 years with no contract suddenly the Firefighters union got a settlement in Oct and a big fat raise. And lo and behold in this election you see signs put up by the Firefighters union urging you to vote for their slate of 8 alderman and the mayor. Are those the ones who voted them a raise. Coincidence. Yea right!!!


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