A document from Mayor Kennedy Stewart’s team that lists local businesspeople as significant fundraisers for his re-election campaign contains the names of three lobbyists who target Vancouver city hall.
Former NDP corporate fundraiser Rob Nagai, former NDP president Craig Keating and former Liquor Control and Licensing Branch general manager Bert Hick are among three dozen fundraising “captains” on the two pages, which were found by a Georgia Straight contributor.
The total fundraising goal is $783,500, of which Nagai and Keating’s goals are to each raise $12,500 and Hick $5,000. Last year, according to the document, Nagai brought in $3,100, Keating $950 and Hick $900. None responded for comment.
TEAM for a Livable Vancouver mayoral candidate Colleen Hardwick complained to Elections B.C. and the city’s integrity commissioner about the fundraising method and the involvement of Stewart’s taxpayer-funded chief of staff Neil Monckton and communications director Alvin Singh, who is also a Forward Together candidate for city council.
“We are reviewing a spreadsheet that was found by Stanley Woodvine and posted about on social media,” said Elections B.C. spokesman Andrew Watson. “At this point, the origins of the spreadsheet and the nature of the information contained in it are unclear and we have made no conclusions in this matter.”
After it came to power in 2017, the NDP government banned corporate and union donations. Individual donations to municipal parties and candidates are capped at $1,250 in 2022.
Nagai is president of federal government and regional affairs for Bluestone Government Relations. He spent 2011 to 2017 with the NDP where he boasted raising $7 million to fund the party’s election campaigns. He was also a member of Vision Vancouver and the Burnaby Citizens’ Association.
Last December, after eight years as party president, Keating joined the Vancouver office of Seattle-headquartered Strategies 360 as a vice-president and leader of the municipal lobbying practice, with a focus on zoning, permitting and regulatory matters.
On April 7, Keating registered provincially on behalf of client Tantalus Labs Ltd. to arrange meetings between the Maple Ridge greenhouse grower and officials in three ministries and the Liquor Distribution Branch’s non-medical cannabis arm.
Documents released under freedom of information show that, on April 14, Keating arranged for Stewart to meet marijuana industry executives from Tantalus Labs, Pure Sunfarms, Muse and the Donnelly Group.
Keating donated four times since 2019 to Stewart’s re-election campaign, totalling $1,350.
Hick founded the Rising Tide Consultants firm in 1988 after heading LCLB and working in Premier Bill Bennett’s office. Rising Tide specializes in advising clients on hospitality business development, liquor and cannabis licensing, compliance and enforcement, and municipal permitting. Last July, Hick successfully lobbied city council to expand the Fountainhead gay bar on Davie Street.
In 2014, he donated $5,000 to the NPA and $1,635.96 to Vision Vancouver.
When Stewart launched his successful campaign to become Mayor in 2018, he promised that, during his first 100 days in office, city council would enact a law to “require all lobbyists to declare details of their activities in an online registry, and make this information available for the public to view free of charge and levy fines for non-compliance.”
However, he did not follow through.
Instead, on Dec. 5, 2018, city council unanimously passed Stewart’s motion to ask the NDP government to amend the Lobbyist Registration Act to cover Vancouver city hall or to amend the
Vancouver Charter to allow the city to establish its own registry. Neither happened and municipal lobbying remains unregulated.
City council, however, could have moved immediately on its own. Section 203 of the Vancouver Charter enables city council to regulate businesses, trades and professions, by deciding “the terms and conditions under which any group or class may or may not carry on the business, trade, profession, or other occupation.”
When she was Mayor of Surrey, Dianne Watts used a similar clause in the Community Charter to launch B.C.’s first municipal lobbyist registry for developers.
Helping someone get elected can generate a real or apparent conflict of interest.
There is no provincial or municipal code of conduct for lobbyists in B.C., but the federal one states that a public office holder who benefits from political activities may have a sense of obligation to those who held a senior position in a party or had significant interaction with candidates.
“If you engage in higher-risk political activities, then you should not lobby any public office holder who benefited from them, nor their staff, for a period equivalent to a full election cycle,” said the federal code.
In an April interview, Daniel Gold, who studied the history and regulation of lobbying for a doctorate in constitutional law and public policy at the University of Ottawa, said lobbying and campaign financing work hand-in-hand.
“They’re both ways of influencing political figures and, in many ways, they work together,” Gold said. “So if you give a donation, then you get access to politicians. And once you have access to politicians, you can raise your concern. The politician [that] feels indebted to you is more likely to take your concerns seriously.”
Gold said lobbying is a core tenet of the democratic process. But it is also corrosive to democracy.
“If you think about the interactions, you know, we elect a government every four years, whereas the lobbyists might be into the same office once a month, sometimes once a week, raising their concerns and, I’d say, massaging the output of government,” he said.