What do two mining executives, an event planner and veteran restaurateur have in common?
They are behind an anonymous website opposing the NDP school surtax and the phoney tax notices mailed to thousands of Point Grey residents.
The B.C. Corporate Registry lists Jonathan Rubenstein, Brian Edgar, Lana Pulver and Bud Kanke as directors of STEP UP. But you won’t find their names on StepUpNow.ca, which anonymously solicits donations and personal information.
“I am not at liberty to put you in touch with them, because they’re reluctant,” Rubenstein told theBreaker in a phone interview. “I do not have personal authority over the website, so I’m not at liberty to answer your question about what thinking went into that.”
Rubenstein chairs MAG Silver and is a director with Detour Gold and Roxgold. The Detour website says he has had direct roles in mining transactions worth more than $9 billion. Edgar is the non-executive chairman of Silver Bull Resources and was the CEO of its predecessor, Dome Ventures Corp. He is also a director of four other oil, gas and mining companies. Pulver is the founder of Eventzz and president of Events on Point. Kanke formerly owned popular upscale eateries Joe Fortes, The Cannery and The Fish House in Stanley Park.
The quartet hired strategist Lauren Rowe of PlusMe Communications Services, who has worked on B.C. Lottery Corp. and Kinder Morgan campaigns.
“The policies of the NDP government are oppressive, and counterproductive and, most of all, divisive,” Rubenstein said. “So that’s what this is all about. It’s not so much about the people, as it is about the antithesis to the NDP policies.”
STEP UP is officially the Society to Encourage Political Understanding and Participation. Its stated purposes are: to provide information about public policies and public issues and analysis about how they may affect peoples’ lives, families, property, rights, obligations and financial well-being; to encourage constructive discussions about public policies and public issues; and to encourage people to make informed decisions in respect of public policies and public issues and to advocate for specific decisions based on understanding. It was incorporated June 13.
STEP UP’s website states that it was “founded by concerned B.C. citizens who, prior to, weren’t politically engaged.”
But Elections BC’s political contributions database shows $21,470 in donations from Edgar to the BC Liberals, $8,500 from Kanke to the BC Liberals and $500 from Rubenstein to the NPA’s 2014 Vancouver civic election campaign.
Before STEP UP formed, Rubenstein appeared on CBC Radio and CTV News to oppose the school surtax — a 0.2% levy on property worth more than $3 million and 0.4% on the value over $4 million — and to criticize David Eby, the Vancouver-Point Grey MLA and Attorney General threatened with a recall campaign. Rubenstein lives with his wife, Mary Ann Cummings — who he said is involved with the anonymous WakeUpVancouver group — in a 1934-built Shaughnessy house assessed at $6.27 million. He said it is now worth 12 times more than when they bought in 1988. The new school surtax will add another $20,000 burden on top of the $8,500 civic property tax bill.
“This is a tax which is being sold deceptively as a school tax,” Rubenstein said. “It is not a school tax, it goes to general revenue. It might as well be called the Site C dam overrun tax.”
One person who was not afraid to express his displeasure with the tax was former NDP premier Mike Harcourt. He told theBreaker in May that it was a “tax on a tax.”
Pay attention to that man behind the curtain
STEP UP is the latest in a trend of anonymous anti-NDP website and social media campaigns.
After the 2017 B.C. election, in which the BC Liberals lost their majority, the B.C. Proud Facebook group anonymously pushed for another election. Conservative operative Jeff Ballingall was later revealed to be the director.
The Hill + Knowlton lobbying firm registered the ScrapTheSpeculationTax.ca website and Facebook page. theBreaker found evidence that the Urban Development Institute was actually behind that campaign, which was allied with the anomymous Stop B.C. Speculation Tax Change.org petition and Twitter page.
theBreaker also revealed that the Shaughnessy Heights Property Owners’ Association (whose president is Cummings) was behind the anonymous Say No to New Provincial Surtax on Property petition on Change.org. Westside opponents of the school surtax, including SHPOA members, discussed strategies with BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson and were offered assistance from BC Liberal director of operations Kavi Bal.
Mayoral candidate Hector Bremner, who finished a distant fifth place in the Oct. 20 civic election, was supported by billboard and Facebook ads secretly paid by developer Peter Wall and arranged by BC Liberal operative Micah Haince. Facebook removed anonymous ads that attacked NPA candidate Ken Sim the same weekend it shut down the anonymous pro-Bremner page.
In a September speaking engagement at a Vancouver convention, Facebook whistleblower Christopher Wylie blasted anonymous digital political campaigns, because they hide from accountability and often trade in disinformation.
Facebook, he said, “has created the degradation of our public forum, because you can’t actually see what happens.”
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