The saga of Vision Vancouver’s CUPE Campaign Cash Caper continues, almost a month after the civic election ended with Mayor Gregor Robertson’s party winning a third consecutive majority on city council.
This all stems from my Oct. 16-published story in the Vancouver Courier, based on a leaked recording of the Oct. 14 CUPE Local 1004 membership meeting. The exclusive story contributed to a healthy debate about the lack of limits on political campaign donations and spending in British Columbia.
Two defamation lawsuits are active against the NPA and its unsuccessful mayoral candidate Kirk LaPointe, who wrote in an Oct. 20 commentary in the Province: “No wonder Vancouverites don’t trust city hall under Vision. Corruption corrodes confidence and this commitment smacks of political backroom deals of yesteryear.”
The “Vision Vancouver’s jobs for cash deal with city union is suspect” headline originally ended with the word “corrupt.”
Almost a week later, in a debate at Christ Church Cathedral, on a Sunday no less, LaPointe challenged a clearly befuddled Robertson to justify Coun. Geoff Meggs’ speech to the CUPE meeting.
One of the lawsuits was filed by Vision Vancouver during the election. The other by CUPE B.C. after the election. Meggs, Roberson and the union all deny they are corrupt.
LaPointe said Vision defamed Vancouverites by accepting a $102,000 donation from the union that represents civic outside workers after pledging to not contract out work. His court response said the corruption allegations were fair comment and protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms’ free speech guarantee.
On Dec. 12, the latest salvo. I reported in the Vancouver Courier about how five voters filed a B.C. Supreme Court petition to ask a judge to remove Robertson and Meggs from public office for conflict of interest and replace them with runner-up LaPointe and Ian Robertson, the NPA city council candidate who finished only 512 votes behind Meggs for the last seat on city council.
If the judge decides not to interfere with the results of the election, then the petitioners want Robertson and Meggs to be banned from directly or indirectly negotiating with CUPE Local 1004 and from voting on the union’s next contract.
Meggs had no comment. The Mayor’s Office did not respond. A legal response is awaited from Vision, as is a hearing date for arguments and a judgment.
Below are links to and excerpts from the sworn statements filed in court by the five petitioners, which explain their motivations and their evidence.
The affidavit of Randy Helten describes him as an English-Japanese translator, active in civic politics as the unsuccessful mayoral candidate for Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver in 2011. He is also a former Vision Vancouver member. Helten’s affidavit includes as exhibits the agenda from the Oct. 14 CUPE Local 1004 meeting and the CUPE meeting recording on a USB drive, which was submitted to the court registry as an exhibit:
I was seriously concerned when I heard the secret recording. There appears to be a specific case in which one particular party, CUPE 1004, is offering a specific amount of money to candidates it supports in the 2014 civic election, in return for consideration, being favourable treatment in future contract negotiations and dealings. To me as a lay person it seems to be inappropriate for this type of relationship to exist, and to be against the public interest.
I also understand that our democratic system works based on citizen involvement. The systems of oversight and accountability are based on initiatives that start with citizens. It requires considerable time and personal commitment to initiate public review process in a case like this. I believe that, although thousands of Vancouver electors would be concerned about this situation if they were adequately informed of the facts, a very small number would take the initiative to bring a legal challenge. To be an active participant in our democratic system, I felt compelled to be involve (sic) in this initiative.
The optics of the meeting as reflected on the Secret Recording do not appear to me to be appropriate. A donor organization (CUPE), is offering money, and politicians and the party seeking to be re-elected (Mayor Robertson, Geoff Meggs and Vision) are receiving money. I expect that many people will wonder if, after being re-elected, the politicians and party will be able to truly put the public interest first then negotiating contracts with the donor.
The affidavit of Albert Chin said he is a 45-year Vancouver resident concerned with zoning issues who was a member of the Shannon Mews Neighbourhood Association in 2009-2010:
I was concerned about the conduct of the 2014 Vancouver civic election and the haphazard organization that was reported in the news, with a shortage of ballots, polling stations closing when they should be open, and then staying open late when they should be closed.
When I read the news about the CUPE 1004 donation to Vision in return for favours, I downloaded the tape and listened to it. I was concerned for the lack of ethical standards for city officials, in particular Geoff Meggs, Raymond Louie and Gregor Robertson, who is mentioned by Geoff Meggs.
As a real estate agent we have ethical standards and we are only dealing with client properties. Here we have elected officials dealing with hundreds of millions of dollars in value. It disturbs me that they have such a lack of ethical standards. It appeared to me that it was understood that there was an officer to exchange influence for a political donation, even if that was not actually said on the recording.
The affidavit of Terry Martin said he ran for NSV in 2011 and was an executive member of COPE in about 2006:
When I heard the tape I was quite surprised to hear the admission that CUPE and Vision were apparently exchanging promises. I have been concerned that this is normal. I believe it to be a terrible thing and have campaigned against it for decades.
I have made a presentation to a committee on campaign finance reform. I advocated for donations to be allowed only by qualified electors with a cap on the total. I have actively campaigned against the NPA and Vision because of their records on donations.”
I believe that what was said and done was wrong. It subverts our democracy and should be stopped.
The affidavit of Richard Nantel said he ran for city council in 1993 with CAIR (Civic Association of Independent Reformers):
In the past number of years I have become increasingly concerned that when people spoke at council meetings, Vision councillors and the mayor consistently ignored the concerns that were raised and voted in favour of their own initiatives without addressing the concerns raised. I characterize this as a series of ‘done deals’ in spit of the public hearing process.
I have a variety of concerns about the recent civil (sic) election in Vancouver. This includes concerns about what appeared to be irregularity in the voting process. What I am referring to is some voting stations being temporarily closed as they had run out of ballots and then voting stations kept open later than scheduled.
I am also very concerned about the statements reported in the media by Geoff Meggs at the CUPE 1004 meeting and the statement by a CUPE representative that its donation was to “curry (sic) favour” with the Vision council and that it was “not unconditional.”
I am also concerned at the law suit initiated by Gregor Robertson and Geoff Meggs because Kirk LaPointe commented on the issue of CUPE’s donation during the civic election campaign. The mayor filed a lawsuit in the midst of the campaign on something that seemed like a very fair comment by Mr. LaPointe. By Vision putting out a lawsuit to sue Mr. LaPointe and the NPA, Vision seemed to be attempting to dismiss the validity of the point he was making and to discourage others from commenting on the issue. I believe that this was unfair and helped taint the election results on this very valid issue.
The kind of money exchange to me seems contrary to what I understand to be a conflict of interest and violation of proper conduct under the Vancouver Charter.
The affidavit of Virginia Richards said she is an interior designer, was a board member of the NPA before 1987 and was a founding member and currently the treasurer of West End Neighbours Society:
I believe in fairness, transparency and equality for all citizens in the democratic process and this is what led me to become involved in civic politics. I am concerned that there has been a lack of transparency by the City of Vancouver during Mayor Robertson’s tenure.
When I heard this (secret recording), and knowing from reading Bob Mackin’s article in the Vancouver Courier about the story, I immediately believed that a deal had been made between Mr. Meggs and Mayor Robertson to vote in certain ways in return for a substantial campaign contribution. In my view, the information on the tape is the most outrageous example of misconduct that I have seen in Vancouver politics. I thought it was corrupt.
It didn’t include the name of the CUPE member who led the discussion that happened later in the meeting, after the presentations by Vision, COPE and Public Education Project. I can tell you that was Frank Lee, an EasyPark employee who is chair of the Political Action Committee. The female voice is believed to be Political Action Committee member Kyla Epstein, which I was unable to confirm prior to the Oct. 16 publication of the Courier story. Epstein, a Vision-appointed member of the Vancouver Public Library board, was also on the committee for rookie party OneCity, which received an $8,000 donation from Local 1004, compared to the $5,000 for the long-established COPE. OneCity had one candidate, R.J. Aquino. COPE had a slate of candidates.
Is that a conflict of interest? At the Nov. 26 CUPE news conference, where its defamation lawsuit was announced, all that Lee would say when I asked was: “Well, I mean the thing is that was the decision by the Political Action Committee of the Local on how we, how the donations were carried forward.”
I was unaware that Epstein was in the room until after the news conference, when she introduced herself to me. She refused to answer any of my questions about her role on the Political Action Committee.