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Investigation focuses on West Van mayor's election spending

Elections BC has asked police to look into spending 'irregularities' for West Vancouver Mayor Mark Sager
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Alleged election spending "irregularities" by West Vancouver Mayor Mark Sager are under investigation. | Paul McGrath, North Shore News files

West Vancouver Mayor Mark Sager says he’s shocked to learn that alleged “irregularities” in his election campaign finance reporting are under investigation by police. 

Sager said he first learned of the investigation Thursday night through media reports. 

Sager said he’s “a little beyond shocked. It’s about as grossly unfair as anything I’ve ever seen.” 

On Friday, Elections BC confirmed that it had “identified potential spending irregularities” during a review of Sager’s campaign financing disclosure report for the 2022 civic election and had referred the case to the RCMP. The matter was later turned over to the Port Moody Police for investigation. 

Elections BC spokesperson Melanie Hull said in a statement that when potential contraventions of election laws are identified, staff can investigate in-house or forward the file to another law enforcement agency. 

In an emailed statement, Hull said Elections BC typically forwards a number of investigations to police following every civic election period. This is the first case forwarded to police following the 2022 civic election, she said. 

Both Elections BC and the Port Moody Police Department refused to provide further details of what they’re investigating. 

Sager said the only inkling he’s had about what could be involved is a phone call from Elections BC asking for details about the purchase of office furniture for the mayor’s office after the election from money leftover in his campaign account. Sager said he checked with Elections BC before using the money to do that and was told it was no problem. 

“I wouldn’t have spent a dime without Elections BC’s prior approval,” he said. “I can’t think of anything else.” 

Since the investigation was made public, Sager said he and his law partner, who acted as his financial agent during the campaign, have been trying to find out what’s under investigation – as well as who leaked that information. 

“We’ve been trying to get answers out of them,” he said. “We want a response.” 

Sager added he’s received many messages of support from the public. 

“I’m not concerned about it because I didn’t do anything wrong,” he said. 

Campaign finance reports made public in February showed Sager spent more than $93,000 on his successful bid to get elected. Sager also raised just shy of $87,000 in campaign donations. 

Sager outspent former mayor Mary-Ann Booth – who dished out just over $50,880 in an effort to hold on to her seat – almost two-to-one. 

Elections BC capped expenses for West Vancouver mayoral candidates for the campaign period between Sept. 17 and Oct. 15 at a little more than $34,000. 

Sager recorded expenses of $33,000 during the campaign period. 

Sager’s biggest expenses, however, were recorded in the run-up prior to the official start of the campaign, which limits don’t apply to. 

According to Elections BC, expenses used in both time periods (like lawn signs) must be officially counted in both periods. Donated property or services, including in-kind contributions, must also be counted at full market value. 

In September, Sager filed an amendment to his campaign report with Elections BC, flagging a “prohibited contribution” of just over $1,087 in discounted professional services from consultant John Moonen and Associates, spent prior to the official campaign. 

Sager said he paid that money back, as required by Elections B.C.

Sager’s expenses included his $4,900 share of $26,000 in election expenses split with members of his slate, including Scott Snider, Sharon Thompson, Linda Watt and Peter Lambur. 

Sager’s forms also recorded spending on items officially defined as election expenses paid for after the election was over. That included $2,150 paid to three people for office furniture. 

It also included $3,800 on “post-election communications services” paid to Samantha Falk Communications at the beginning of November, and a further almost $8,000 paid to the same company in the middle of January. 

Last year, Sager and four councillors who ran as a slate supporting him were each slapped with minor administrative fines of between $100 and $200 for not strictly following rules about election advertising. 

All the fines were related to 20,000 flyers, 600 brochures and 100 “door hangers” distributed without a statement identifying the candidates’ financial agent and a phone number or email contact, as required under the act. 

Sager also still faces a disciplinary hearing before the Law Society of B.C. into allegations he committed professional misconduct while handling a friend’s estate between 2010 and 2020. The Law Society has alleged Sager took money from the estate when he didn’t have authorization, and didn’t act in the best interests of the estate’s beneficiaries. 

Sager has previously described those allegations in statement to the North Shore News as “inaccurate and unfair.” 

A Law Society disciplinary hearing is currently scheduled for March 2024. 

Sager was previously fined $20,000 and forced to pay legal fees of $20,000 after being found guilty of professional misconduct in 2019 over preparation of another will that named him as one of the beneficiaries.

jseyd@nsnews.com
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