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HomeBusinessNPA’s Sim takes aim at anonymous ads, secret money and mass-deleting

NPA’s Sim takes aim at anonymous ads, secret money and mass-deleting

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Bob Mackin

If he is elected Mayor of Vancouver on Oct. 20, the target of an anonymous Facebook smear campaign says that he would strike a privacy task force to protect personal information and try to end anonymous campaigning.

NPA leader Ken Sim made the announcement Sept. 25 when he unveiled the party’s transparency and accountability platform.

“I’m extremely concerned, as I know you are, about the influence of anonymous advertising and secret money on our political process,” Sim said. “That’s why I will commission an independent, third party review of the current election financing and advertising rules, including the role of anonymous groups, with the goal of taking anonymous advertising out of Vancouver politics.”

NPA mayoral candidate Ken Sim

A Facebook page called “Vancouver Deserves Better than Ken Sim” appeared Sept. 14 and made allegations against Sim, without providing any proof. The anonymous operator of the page did not respond to theBreaker. Facebook removed the page within two days, citing a breach of its spam policy. While the page was up, a former NPA board member suggested Yes Vancouver mayoral candidate Hector Bremner was responsible. Bremner, a city councillor whose NPA bid for the party’s mayoral nomination was rejected, did not respond to theBreaker. Among the questions for Bremner was whether he would condemn the approach taken by that particular Facebook page.

“I was warned about this before I decided to run for office,” Sim said. “I have a clean record and I’m not ashamed of anything I’ve done. There’s probably going to be more mudslinging but it’s not going to be coming from us. We’re going to run our campaign based on facts, if people sling mud and they make stuff up, we can’t stop them. Were going to focus on winning a campaign.”

The Globe and Mail reported that developer Peter Wall, who has previously backed  the BC Liberals and Vision Vancouver with big donations, spent $85,000 through the Bennett Jones law firm on a secret billboard campaign promoting Bremner and his Yes Vancouver party. StarMetro reported that MNH Strategies was contracted to execute the campaign. The company’s principal is Micah Haince, who worked in the BC Liberal government caucus office under Bremner supporter Lorne Mayencourt. The B.C. phone number on the MNH website was no longer in service and a call to the Ottawa number and an email to the company was not returned. theBreaker wanted to know whether MNH was also involved in the anti-Sim Facebook page.

The controversy prompted rival Coalition Vancouver mayoral candidate Wai Young to call for a police investigation. Elections BC regulates paid advertising during the Sept. 22-Oct. 20 election period, and the Wall-funded campaign was gone before the official campaign period.

Sim said he is also concerned about complaints by NPA members who have received fundraising email from Bremner’s Yes Vancouver party without their consent. Several members have contacted theBreaker, believing there may be a breach of the B.C. Personal Information Privacy Act.

NPA campaign manager Wendy Hartley had previously told theBreaker that the party believes the only list Bremner may have accessed was the one for the 2017 by-election campaign. She said the party asked Bremner’s campaign manager in late May to cease and desist from using any NPA membership list information. Hartley said anyone who has concerns has been encouraged to complain to anti-spam authorities, such as the CRTC.

“They are not authorized to use any of this personal information,” Hartley said. “They advised us that they were only contacting people with whom they had a prior existing relationship.”

Nobody from Yes Vancouver has responded for comment.

Bremner at the Sept. 17 BIV/Courier debate.

“It’s very clear that there are other organizations breaching a bunch of rules and I don’t think that’s right,” Sim said. “People have a right to have their privacy protected. We can only carry ourselves accordingly, we can’t stop people from behaving badly. But we can point it out.”

Sim also said a majority NPA city council would establish a civic lobbyist registry and whistleblower protection, though details were not released. The announcement was timed for Right to Know Week. Sim said the NPA would also “end the process of an overly secretive city hall where reporters are unwelcome… by making transparency and disclosure the default response to all inquiries; exceptions will be made only when necessary, rather than at every possible turn.”

The NDP government has not enacted the promised Duty to Document law, which would ban the unauthorized deletion or destruction of government records. That means city hall records created under the outgoing Vision Vancouver regime since 2008 are in jeopardy of disappearing before a new mayor and council are elected. 

“They have a duty to all Vancouverites not to do that, so stop destroying stuff if you are and follow the law,” said Sim, who has promised a full audit of city hall finances.

In a 2016 compliance audit, Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham found Vancouver city hall, under Vision Vancouver’s watch, routinely violated basic duties of the province’s freedom of information law and tended to discriminate against media requesters.

Mayor Gregor Robertson’s former chief of staff, Mike Magee, mass-deleted his email and used his consulting company’s email account to conduct civic business. Robertson was recently found by theBreaker to be using a Gmail account to conduct civic business, despite Denham’s warning to stop using private email accounts for public business.

When Robertson led Vision Vancouver to its first victory in 2008, he promised to restore transparency and accountability to city hall. “I will not let you down,” he said, in his first swearing-in speech. 

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