Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart should repay taxpayers for his campaign-style video that cost nearly $8,000, says an independent watchdog.
Documents obtained under freedom of information by theBreaker.news show that Stewart’s “One Year In” video cost $7,875. Evan Crowe, who was a video producer and digital coordinator on the B.C. NDP’s 2017 campaign, sent an invoice Nov. 7 for production and post-production of the Nov. 5-published Facebook video.
The slick, 54-second ad emphasizes Stewart’s three goals of building the right supply of housing, tackling the opioid overdose crisis and extending SkyTrain to the University of B.C. Nov. 5 was the anniversary of labour-backed independent Stewart’s swearing-in after edging the NPA’s Ken Sim by 957 votes in the civic election.
Dermod Travis of IntegrityBC called it a “slap in the face to every ratepayer in Vancouver.”
“His office budget, city funds are not for his personal benefit, they are not to assist him in seeking re-election, they are there to provide services to citizens, not services to campaign organizers, campaign advisors and campaign strategists,” Travis said. “He has an obligation to take a look at that video, to take a look at how he has used that video and to return the money to the taxpayers of Vancouver.”
The video shows Stewart with Premier John Horgan and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and mainstreeting with his wife, political science professor Jeanette Ashe. It ends with City of Vancouver branding and was embedded in a Nov. 5 email to Stewart campaign supporters with a link to his fundraising website.
Spokesman Alvin Singh did not fulfil theBreaker.news request to interview Stewart. In an interview, Singh called the expenditure “extraordinarily small.”
“It represents fractions upon fractions upon fractions of budget. The city’s operating budget is $1.5 billion,” Singh said.
CTV’s St. John Alexander caught-up with Stewart at the TransLink Mayors’ Council meeting in New Westminster.
“I think people expect me to communicate with them and this is one way that we do it,” Stewart said.
He said it is a way of communicating to other levels of government what he is doing and to cut through the “tidal wave of information,” from Donald Trump to Brexit, consumed by the public.
“I think that communicating with the public is essential,” Stewart said. “There’s a lot of questions in the city and making sure that they know where we’re delivering is very important, so I’ll continue to communicate with the public in this way, because, I think if I didn’t, people would say ‘where is he’?”
Ex-NPA city councillor George Affleck, who runs a digital marketing company, said Stewart is following in the footsteps of his mayoral predecessor, Gregor Robertson. He questioned the timing, because city council is wrestling with a proposed 9.3% increase in property taxes and utility fees.
“We have this massive budget increase, and here we have the mayor of our city spending taxpayer dollars to do a promotional video,” Affleck told CTV. “This kind of approach where governments in power spend taxpayer dollars to promote themselves Is very frustrating for taxpayers, there’s a lot of cynicism about politics and when he talks about togetherness, he’s pushing people away in fact.”
The Mayor’s Office was allotted $1.345 million of the $3.144 million budgeted for mayor and council this year. That includes $80,000 for professional fees and $91,000 for miscellaneous, including $9,000 for public information.
In April 2018, theBreaker.news reported that Robertson gave more than $51,000 in patronage contracts to Mark Vonesch, a Vision Vancouver cameraman who pretended to be a media worker during the 2014 election campaign.
Travis said there are “loads of cost-effective means” for politicians who feel they must communicate by video to constituents.
“Simply using a webcam, Skype, hand-held video recorder,” he said. “Frankly, some of the best ads that come out of the U.S. proven to be some of the least costly because they are done in a very homegrown style by the candidate or the campaign.”
On Nov. 29, Stewart announced he was running for re-election in 2022 in a fundraising email.
“I think Vancouver ratepayers would rather have a mayor who cares about the here and now than 2022,” Travis said.
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