Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner is performing an impression of French mime Marcel Marceau, after theBreaker learned that four real estate developers and a freight terminal sponsored her junket to a Cannes real estate convention.
At its Feb. 5 meeting, Surrey city council voted to send Hepner to Les Marché International des Professionels de l’immoblier, aka MIPIM, the March 13-16 convention for 24,000 commercial real estate investors and retailers from 100 countries.
Hepner was invited as a panel speaker, so organizers paid for her conference registration and three nights accommodation. Her entourage included Surrey investment and intergovernmental relations general manager Donna Jones, economic development manager Stephen Wu and economic investment strategist Khushboo Wanchoo.
The budget for the trip was $58,000 for registration, exhibit booth, flights, hotels and per diems. A staff report to council said the net cost would be $11,000 after $47,000 in sponsorship. The names of the sponsors, however, were omitted from the report.
Jones told theBreaker that $50,000 was collected from sponsors Blackwood Partners, Century Group, Concord Pacific, Fraser Surrey Docks and Surrey City Development Corp. through last November’s inaugural Invest Surrey launchpad event. Jones declined to disclose how much each of the sponsors contributed. Instead, she told theBreaker to file a freedom of information request.
“It’s entirely inappropriate for any politician at any level to be sponsored by real estate investors, companies or interests, at any point in time, let alone during a housing crisis,” said IntegrityBC’s Dermod Travis. “Was she there representing Surrey or the people that were paying the bulk of the tab?”
Concord is developing Park Boulevard near the King George SkyTrain station. The company’s CEO, Terry Hui, gave $4,000 to Hepner’s Surrey First election campaign in 2014. Century Group and the city-owned Surrey City Development Corp. are collaborating on the 3 Civic Plaza residential and hotel tower in Surrey City Centre. Blackwood owns the Central City complex and it had a presence at MIPIM.
“Thank you for the opportunity, but Mayor Hepner is declining comment,” read an email from Hepner’s spokesman, Oliver Lum.
Said Travis: “Local politicians and some provincial politicians in the province have to get used to the new rules about transparency and accountability that came in for the rest of Canada in the 1970s and 1980s. If you don’t want to answer questions from the public, don’t run for public office.”
SCDC CEO Michael Heeney was the only sponsor that responded to theBreaker. He said his agency made a single contribution of $7,500 and called MIPIM an excellent opportunity for Surrey to gain exposure at the world’s largest commercial property conference.
“It was also an opportunity for the city to learn and look at what other cities are doing to promote themselves on the world stage,” Heeney said.
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