NPA Coun. Hector Bremner’s continued vice-presidency of a firm that lobbies for real estate, construction and retail companies has sparked a citizen’s complaint to city hall that the rookie politician is breaching the code of conduct.
“On a number of occasions Councillor Bremner sat in council while plans [were discussed] affecting various clients or organizations that are known to have been conducting business with the City of Vancouver and his other employer Pace Group,” wrote complainant Mirza Raza in an April 10 submission to City Manager Sadhu Johnston, Mayor Gregor Robertson and City Solicitor Francie Connell. “Councillor Bremner failed to declare the business relationships on these occasions. Because of Councillor Bremner’s great potential of past, current, or future perceived or real possible conflicts of interest, it is felt that he cannot act without bias for much of his time in council.”
Bremner is one of three declared candidates for the NPA mayoral nomination. NPA president Gregory Baker told theBreaker that he had received the complaint and is reviewing the matter.
“I’m not aware of any alleged breach of conduct and that the city should obviously investigate any alleged breach, if there is one, but I don’t have any other information to share,” Baker said. “I am going to look into it.”
Raza’s complaint cites Bremner’s involvement in the Dec. 12, 2017 city council meeting about West Point Grey density, and alleges that Pace Group client Aquilini Investment Group could stand to benefit from development plans in and around Point Grey. He also cites a Jan. 31, 2018 city council meeting where the Northeast False Creek Plan and demolition of the Dunsmuir and Georgia Viaducts, which surround Rogers Arena, were discussed.
“It is believed that Councillor Bremner’s client Aquilini Investment Group would stand to benefit due to their large land holdings in and around Northeast False Creek,” Raza wrote. “At no time while considering these two items did the NPA Councillor Bremner disclose to the public or council the relationship between his primary employer Pace Group and Aquilini Investment Group. It would appear that Mr. Bremner obtains income from his primary employer who is representing a party who was an affected party on these two occasions.”
Bremner did not respond for comment.
Bremner lost a run for the BC Liberals in New Westminster in the 2013 election and was an aide to BC Liberal cabinet ministers Rich Coleman and Teresa Wat before joining Pace Group in 2015. The firm’s clients also include developers Concert Properties and Intracorp, architecture and engineering firms Stantec and Omicron, and Save-On-Foods’ parent Overwaitea Food Group.
Bremner was registered to lobby the provincial government for Steelhead LNG. He has also appeared at city council meetings in North Vancouver and Maple Ridge on behalf of the B.C. Wine Institute and Save-On-Foods’ applications for liquor retail licences. In September 2016, he was a guest speaker at the Canadian Institute’s Canadian Cannabis Business Week conference on the future of government relations (aka lobbying) and cannabis. In his bio on the city hall website, Bremner promotes himself as Pace Group’s vice-president of public affairs, where he “puts his unique experience and special capabilities toward navigating the process of public policy making and ensuring his clients’ messages are heard.”
In an interview, Raza, a software engineer and NPA member, said he is hopeful that city officials handle his complaint thoroughly.
“When I looked at Hector and his past record, it is something that worries me,” Raza said. “He is not the right person to be on any council, he shouldn’t be there now and shouldn’t be there in the future.”
City hall spokeswoman Ellie Lambert confirmed to theBreaker that the complaint was received and it will be handled as per city policy. That means the Mayor shall, within 30 days, appoint an independent third party to conduct a preliminary assessment of the complaint and, potentially, a full investigation.
theBreaker reported last week that Bremner’s by-election campaign team included Raj Bhela, the former general secretary of the Ross Street Sikh temple who was Conservative leader Andrew Scheer’s South Asian liaison in B.C. until numerous lawsuits against Bhela came to light.
City hall policy states council officials, staff and advisory board members “are keepers of the public trust” who must “be free from undue influence and not act, or appear to act, in order to gain financial or other benefits for themselves, family, friends or business interests.” It states that a conflict of interest exists when an individual is or could be influenced, or appear to be influenced, by a personal interest, financial or otherwise, when carrying out public duties.
The Vancouver Charter states that a council member must not, directly or indirectly, accept a fee, gift or personal benefit that is connected with the member’s performance of the duties of office. The penalty is disqualification from office. A council member also must not use information obtained in the performance of duties for the purpose of “gaining or furthering a direct or indirect pecuniary interest.”
Said Baker: “We shouldn’t be electing politicians who are in conflict of interest, it’s a key thing. If you’re perpetually in conflict of interest at city council how could you be called upon to conduct the business you were elected to do? Conflict of interest is a serious thing with the NPA. I certainly would not want to have candidates that are running for us who are perpetually in that position.”
Baker said those hoping to run on the NPA ticket this fall will be vetted through the party’s candidate selection and green light committees. Members are scheduled to meet May 29 to elect a mayoral candidate and decide the fate of incumbents.
The civic election is Oct. 20.
UPDATE (April 19): Robertson formally received the complaint and acknowledged it, in-writing, on April 18. He has appointed lawyer Henry Wood as the investigator, pending the approval of both Raza and Bremner. See Robertson’s letter below.
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