A one-hour debate ended with a call for further discussion Monday as a motion regarding campaign cash failed to gain purchase at District of North Vancouver council.
In order to avoid both conflict of interest and the appearance of conflict of interest, Coun. Jim Hanson put forward a motion that, if formally drafted by district staff, would encourage councillors to either refuse campaign donations from the development community or recuse themselves from votes regarding those same developers.
“I believe we can hold ourselves to a higher standard,” Hanson said, noting suspect donors could include company development owners, directors, employees and their family members.
Hanson singled out the urbanist-oriented Building Bridges Electors Society for receiving money from people associated with eight different developers.
Coun. Mathew Bond, the lone Building Bridges representative to win a seat on council, characterized Hanson’s motion as an effort to: “silence and disenfranchise members of council – and the citizens who legally elected them – who happen to disagree with [Hanson’s] view on housing.”
The motion suggests all campaign donations create a conflict, according to Bond.
“If my colleagues do believe this: I would ask Couns. [Lisa] Muri, [Betty] Forbes, [Megan] Curren and Mayor [Mike] Little – all of whom took money from Coun. Hanson in their 2018 election campaigns – whether or not they will recuse themselves from this vote.”
Hanson donated $200 to Mike Little’s campaign and made $100 donations to Muri, Forbes and Curren.
Hanson explained that, with one exception, he’d never received a dime from the real estate industry.
“I’m in the awkward position where my spouse works in the real estate industry,” he clarified.
Council’s efforts toward transparency shouldn’t involve vilifying anyone, Coun. Lisa Muri said, noting that during the previous council term many residents questioned the motives of her colleagues.
“They would come up with allegations and insinuations of why some councillors were making the decisions they were making. I would always say: ‘I have no idea, and you should phone them and ask them,’” Muri said.
Hanson’s motion unfairly singles out Building Bridges, according to Coun. Jordan Back.
“I do not sit here at this table in judgment of any one of you,” he said. “I trust you.”
Because each councillor has roots in the community, councillors will invariably run across an issue in which they have a personal connection, Back said.
“It’s up to all us to decide whether this personal connection creates a conflict.”
Back also pointed out that he was “not part of any slate,” a term that rankled Coun. Betty Forbes.
While Forbes, Muri, Little and Curren appeared on a flyer together they were not a slate, Forbes said.
“We shared some costs . . . because we were of the same mind on transparency and accountability and slowing down development.”
While accepting donations from developers is lawful there can still be a conflict, Little said. “Far too often, we’ve seen patterns where people who have proposals coming before council are donating to campaigns. They’re not doing it because of the kindness of their heart,” he said.
Coun. Megan Curren agreed. “All we’re saying is that information is public, let’s bring it forward,” she said. “We’re talking about rezoning, which is a financial benefit to that developer.”
Financial benefits aren’t the only matters to be considered, according to Bond, who suggested Hanson’s motion be broadened to apply to all proposals.
“If a community association is strongly opposed to a non-profit housing project, then a councillor who received donations from executive members of that community association should recuse themselves from that vote,” he said.
Resident Linda Williams blasted Hanson’s motion as “preposterous.”
“If any constituent has an issue about someone’s donor list, take it to the proper source. This is not a council issue, this is an Elections BC issue,” she said. “As a council, you should focus on more pressing issues: daycare spots, transportation, housing, our displaced elderly. This is a waste of time on my dime.”
Former council candidates Linda Findlay and Peter Teevan offered differing views on the motion.
The issue is trust in the process, Teevan said, noting Hanson offered $100 to his last campaign.
“Where there is the question; confidence in democracy has been harmed,” Teevan said.
Findlay disagreed, suggesting Hanson’s motion could discourage candidates by “prejudging their integrity.”
“This motion smacks of being politically motivated that will favour only those that pander to the NIMBYs and the parochial.”
Council appeared on the verge of a definitive vote when Curren requested further clarification on the difference between a proposal and a development proposal.
“Council, there’s no other discussion on this,” Little said. “I’m going to call the question.”
Following a subsequent request for an amendment, Little suggested the item shouldn’t be rewritten at 9:30 p.m.
“If we can’t get a consensus of the council on one solution here or another then I’d have to recommend that we take it away from the council table,” he said.
Council voted 5-2 to refer the matter to a workshop, with Hanson and Forbes opposed.