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Bob Mackin

More allegations of illegal campaigning during the Oct. 20 election.

Video clips obtained by theBreaker show promotion of NPA candidates near the polling station on the grounds of the Ross Street Sikh Temple in South Vancouver.

Local election laws prohibit attempts to influence, induce or impede voters within 100 metres of a polling station. The maximum penalty is a $5,000 fine and/or a year in jail.

In the video clips below, a pickup truck plastered with signs for NPA mayoral candidate Ken Sim, city council candidate David Grewal and park board candidate Pall Beesla is seen driving slowly in the parking lot as people come and go from the nearby polling station.

Beesla, a Coast Mountain bus driver, is the senior assistant treasurer for the Khalsa Diwan Society, which is based at the temple.

In the second clip, according to two Punjabi speakers contacted by theBreaker, a woman is asked by a man if she knows who she wants to vote for. She is then offered a piece of paper and advised to vote for Grewal and Beesla — “Punjabi boys” — and “a Chinese guy.” The latter is an apparent reference to Sim. The man also advised the woman not to show the paper to anyone inside the voting station. 

Sim lost to Kennedy Stewart by less than 1,000 votes. He conceded on Oct. 22.

Beesla finished 11th, 10,000 votes shy of winning a seat on the seven-member park board. Grewal, was also 11th, but nearly 1,700 votes below fellow NPA candidate Sarah Kirby-Yung, who won the last available seat on city council.

City hall’s election office is already investigating a complaint about an Oct. 16 news conference by Stewart that was held at city hall’s Helena Gutteridge Plaza. Stewart’s campaign manager, Neil Monckton, said the event was held 108.74 metres from the entrance of city hall, according to a Google Map.

Update (Oct. 25): City hall spokeswoman Jhenifer Pabilano said that both the Ross Street and Gutteridge Plaza incidents remain under investigation.

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Bob Mackin More allegations of illegal campaigning during

Bob Mackin

What next for Vision?

Or should the question be: is there a next for Vision?

Allan Wong is the last man standing. He won the last school board seat available on Oct. 20 with 47,378 votes — just 663 more than COPE’s Diana Day.

Heather Deal, the only incumbent Vision councillor, lost with 39,606 votes; she was re-elected in 2014 with 62,698. The Vision brand was too much to overcome. The task was that much harder after she drew a low position in the randomized ballot that fellow Visionista Andrea Reimer lobbied for.

A stayed domestic violence charge from 2010 forced mayoral candidate Ian Campbell out before he could register. On the eve of e-day, council hopeful Wei Qiao Zhang lost his endorsement over an unexplained misconduct.

Runner-up Ken Sim’s post-election speech Oct. 21 (Mackin)

The party that dominated Vancouver politics for almost a decade is now a tarnished brand. It proved the third-term is the hardest. The party did not regenerate after losing organizers and advisers to the Trudeau Liberals in 2015 and Horgan NDP in 2017. It also took about nine years for even Vision supporters to discover Robertson was an empty suit beholden to big money donors intent on transforming the city to an urban resort for China’s wealthiest.

The NPA losing streak is at four; could the solution to its mayoral defeats be among its newly elected five councillors?

NPA was the Non-Partisan Association, the grand old party that Gregor Robertson slammed in 2014 as a bunch of old, white guys. On Oct. 20, it elected five women, who are now the largest party bloc on city council: incumbent Coun. Melissa De Genova, ex-Park Board chair Sarah Kirby-Yung, ex-school board trustee Lisa Dominato, and newcomers Rebecca Bligh and Colleen Hardwick.

This is not your grandfather’s Non-Partisan Association. Welcome to the No-Phallus Alliance.

Hardwick, the daughter of late alderman and professor Walter Hardwick, mulled a run for the party’s mayoral nomination early this year. Will she do so again in three years, when October 2022 comes into focus? 

The mercurial De Genova is bound to butt heads with councillors on the far left, COPE’s Jean Swanson and OneCity’s Christine Boyle. Expect Green Coun. Adriane Carr to play a moderating role. Her 69,885 votes were the most on the entire ballot in 2018 and she could make a viable run for mayor in 2022. She won’t be a one-woman band this time around, with support from newcomers Pete Fry and ex-park board chair Michael Wiebe.

Vancouver city hall (Mackin)

Does Sadhu Johnston stay as city manager?

Gregor Robertson brought Penny Ballem into city hall in 2008 and cast her aside in 2015. Her ex-deputy, Sadhu Johnston, has been city manager for the last three years. It wouldn’t be cheap to dispatch Johnston, who is the top-paid official at $338,000-a-year.

Why did Coalition Vancouver, Vancouver 1st and Yes Vancouver run?

Three parties who were confused about their mission. They seemed to be aiming to defeat the NPA, rather than seeking to win city hall.

Kennedy Stewart had 14,000 more votes than his only viable left-wing challenger, Shauna Sylvester. On the right, Coalition Vancouver’s Wai Young (11,886), Yes Vancouver’s Hector Bremner (9,940) and Vancouver 1st’s Fred Harding (5,645) tallied votes that Sim needed. None of the candidates for Coalition, Yes or 1st were threats for other offices. Bremner was the big loser. He was elected to city council in the 2017 by-election with 13,372 votes. Bremner’s BC Liberal and lobbying baggage, the controversy around the Peter Wall-financed billboards and Facebook group and his car salesman approach to campaigning were the reasons why he failed to win more than 10,000 votes.

The NPA itself can’t escape culpability. If it had a big tent with a solid board and proper marshalling of those inside, it wouldn’t have turned into a circus big top. The 2018 election was its to lose. The first mistake was becoming a place of refuge for out-of-work BC Liberals, like the under-qualified Bremner and his mentor, Mark Marissen, in 2017.

Why was Fred Harding in the race?

The sleeper candidate seemed to be asleep.

Because of his background, ex-senior West Vancouver police officer Fred Harding was best-positioned to make law and order an issue in a city grappling with transnational money laundering and drug gangs that have killed innocents. By way of his position as the face and voice of the force, Harding had the most media training and experience of them all. He has a singer/model wife beloved in the Chinese community and he even vaguely looked like Barack Obama.

Fred Harding (Vancouver 1st)

But he was running for a party that purposely ran candidates in every slot, automatically creating a fundraising nightmare that it tried to solve by spending much of its time marketing to Chinese donors and voters. The party’s signs looked more like a personal injury law firm than a political party.

Without a viable plan or budget, Vancouver 1st only gained mainstream attention by pledging to bring the NBA back to Vancouver and to lure a Major League Baseball franchise. They even suggested building a stadium in South Vancouver. The party that was the voice of community sports and recreation in 2014 jumped the shark in 2018 with a vague plan to house professional sports franchises.

Harding’s biggest mistake was the anti-SOGI video that led to a school board candidate quitting the party.

Will big money be gone next time?

Maybe, maybe not. New parties stood no chance. The NPA had a war chest of at least $830,000 and a brand with history. The Greens, COPE and OneCity benefited from the Vancouver and District Labour endorsement and spending. Will we ever find out how much the unions really spent or just their advertising costs? The NDP left too many loopholes in the campaign finance law and Municipal Affairs Minister Selina Robinson acknowledged the playing field was not level. 

Former Vision park board commissioner Sarah Blyth was the top independent for city council, with 29,515. That was more than 14,000 votes below the NPA’s Sarah Kirby-Yung, who claimed the 10th and last seat.

Why so slow to get the results?

At 2:21 p.m. on the afternoon of Oct. 22, NPA leader Ken Sim conceded, congratulated mayor-elect Kennedy Stewart and apologized for the delay. But that’s not the delay we should be wondering about.

Within a half-hour of the polls closing in Toronto on Oct. 22, Mayor John Tory was declared re-elected. In Vancouver on Oct. 20, there was nothing for more than 75 minutes.

There are 1,800 polls in Toronto. The results flowed fast. In Vancouver, it was like molasses.

There were widespread problems with voting machines in Vancouver, chalked up to the length of the ballot. That caused long lineups. Vancouver voting station staff must pack-up and deliver the counting machines to city hall.

Can someone do something about the number of candidates?

Only if the NDP is brave enough to implement a two-step process, like the U.S. A springtime run-off election to cut the field in half would encourage earlier engagement in the process.

The 71 city council candidates and 21 mayoral candidates were too much. Counting school board and park board, there were 158 names on the lengthy ballot. It should also become harder to run, by doubling or even quadrupling the number of endorsement signatures to 100. Voters should be faced with a ballot containing the names of people who want to serve the public for four years, rather than folks who simply want attention during the four-week campaign.

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Bob Mackin What next for Vision? Or should

Research Co. pollster Mario Canseco predicted Kennedy Stewart, Ken Sim and Shauna Sylvester would battle to become the next Mayor of Vancouver on Oct. 20. But he didn’t predict it would take until early Oct. 21 before ex-NDP MP Stewart edged the NPA’s Sim by less than 1,000 votes to become the successor to Gregor Robertson. 

It was a night that Robertson’s party, Vision Vancouver, was wiped-off city council and a right-wing split cost the NPA a return to the mayor’s chair. It was also a night that the Vancouver Greens tripled their seats on city council.  

Stewart, said Simon Fraser University’s city program director Andy Yan, will have to act as a civic engineer to build bridges instead of build walls with a diverse city council that features five NPA members, three from the Greens and one each from COPE and OneCity.

It was also a night that saw retired fire chief Mike Hurley extinguish the dynasty of Mayor Derek Corrigan in Burnaby. The man who shelved his bid for the mayoralty and endorsed Hurley, DOA leader Joe Keithley, prevented another Burnaby Citizens Association sweep of city council. Keithley finally got elected to public office after campaigning in elections when he was not recording or touring with the hardcore punk pioneers. 

On this special edition of theBreaker.news Podcast, host Bob Mackin elicited immediate reaction to the historic night of change from the pollster, Canseco, the prof, Yan, and the punk, Keithley. 

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theBreaker.news Podcast: Election '18 Aftermath, with The Pollster, The Prof and The Punk
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Research Co. pollster Mario Canseco predicted Kennedy

Bob Mackin

British Columbia’s 2018 municipal elections will go down in history as the nastiest yet.

In Victoria, the fireworks weren’t between Mike “The Lobbyist” Geoghegan and Mayor Lisa “Statue Stasher” Helps. Instead, Geoghegan’s camp complained to the Law Society of B.C. about rival Stephen Hammond for allegedly paying a fraudster, who is wanted by Victoria Police, to defame Geoghegan on Facebook. Hammond denied the allegations.

New West Progressives’ leader Daniel Fontaine complained to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner about an apparent Personal Information Privacy Act breach by the band of incumbents.

Michael Geoghegan

Mayor Jonathan X. Cote waved a magic wand and declared members of his slate to be independents. That meant they were able to raise more money individually than as a member of a party, under the new campaign finance regime. Fontaine complained that “Team Cote” candidates showed up in pairs, often with an NDP MP or MLA, to knock on doors, and were sharing voter information.

“This should be no surprise as they have all been endorsed by the powerful New Westminster District Labour Council, big supporters of the NDP party,” Fontaine wrote on his blog.

OIPC told Fontaine: “If an independent candidate wishes to collect personal information and disclose it to another candidate, they must obtain consent from the individual.”

Late in the campaign, CUPE B.C. complained to Elections BC that B.C. Care Providers radio ads, starring CEO Fontaine, were election advertising in the broadest sense, because the ads helped boost Fontaine’s profile at the same time as the unrelated election. It will be up to the regulator to decide whether the complaint was, as Fontaine said, frivolous.

New Westminster city hall chose to buy newspaper ads rather than send cards to every address in the Royal City. Fontaine said that was a form of voter suppression. Campaigns in North Vancouver City and Richmond raised eyebrows for sending mail-outs that were designed to look like official communication from city hall.

North Vancouver City Hall referred the matter to Elections BC, which ruled the envelopes containing candidate flyers for mayoral hopeful Guy Heywood and others were not illegal. Registered third-parties like Vancouver and District Labour Council and CUPE B.C. sent postcards numbering in the six figures containing lists of endorsed candidates throughout the region.

Vancouver parties — except for Coalition Vancouver and Vancouver 1st — released their lists of donors. The NPA led them all with more than $830,000. It was a different story in Surrey, where the three main parties kept their lists under wraps. Meanwhile, two persons of interest could be charged under the Criminal Code or Local Government Act related to the Surrey RCMP’s investigation into voter fraud. The Wake Up Surrey anti-crime group alleged vote-buying.

The Surrey story was quickly eclipsed by the Richmond WeChat vote-buying scandal, which was run out of an expats society with links to the Communist Party of China and its United Front foreign influence program. On election eve, Richmond RCMP said it had insufficient evidence to lay charges, but its probe was ongoing.

Coun. Hector Bremner feigned ignorance about who was behind a billboard and Facebook campaign that ended before the Sept. 22 start to the election period. The Globe and Mail eventually revealed that Peter Wall, the prominent developer behind Vision Vancouver and BC Liberals, spent $85,000 and even hired a former BC Liberal caucus aide, Micah Haince, to run the campaign.

Graphics from the Peter Wall-financed Facebook campaign.

The pro-Bremner Vancouverites for Affordable Housing Facebook group was removed by the social media company, just as an anti-Ken Sim group that made baseless allegations against the leader of the NPA, which earlier rejected Bremner’s candidacy. Haince did not respond to theBreaker’s query. 

When Bremner released his list of donors for his new Yes Vancouver party, the names of Wall’s ex-wife, daughter, grandson and cousin were all there at the $1,200 maximum, each.

The Vancouver campaign was so dull. (How dull was it?) It was so dull, that campaign finance reform meant no TV attack ads and the only major fireworks occurred between Kennedy Stewart’s campaign manager and a Ken Sim campaign aide.

“When you say that there are organizers paid by unions, working on his campaign, you are libelling him,” Stewart manager Neil Monckton said, on a phone call recorded and released by the NPA’s Mike Jagger.

“Because you’re saying that’s untrue?” said Jagger, who drew attention to Stewart’s in-kind union support on social media.

“Mike, I’m not going to fuck around anymore here,” Monckton shot back. “Just take it down, or I’m going to have to follow up with a stronger, you know, kind of approach.”

The Stewart campaign went into election day under investigation by the city’s election office for holding a news conference in the city hall precinct on Oct. 16, during the advance voting station’s hours at city hall. Any campaign activity with 100 metres of a voting station is punishable by a maximum $5,000 fine and/or a year in jail. Monckton said the event was 108.74 metres from the door.  

An NPA supporter was seen circling the parking lot of the Ross Street Sikh Temple voting station, in late afternoon of election day, with a pickup truck plastered with signs promoting Sim, city council candidate David Grewal and Park Board candidate Pall Beesla. theBreaker obtained a video clip shot by a concerned citizen, who is heard saying that NPA supporters were also distributing leaflets with the candidates’ names. 

theBreaker reported that CUPE Local 15, the union representing city hall workers, offered to reimburse workers that took time-off to join one of the Vancouver and District Labour Council-endorsed campaigns — including that of mayoral candidate Kennedy Stewart.

“Everyone — unions and business groups and property developers — knows very well what the spirit of the law was meant to be and they should be rising to the spirit of the law, not plummeting to the letter of the law,” said IntegrityBC’s Dermod Travis.

BC Liberal Todd Stone reminded NDP Municipal Affairs Minister Selina Robinson in Question Period on Oct. 18 that the BC Liberals warned her about “the gaping loophole that she left in local campaign financing legislation last fall.”

Specifically, Stone said, no limits on third-party contributions, which made a mockery of local elections across the province.

“Now we learn that the NDP’s friends and insiders are exploiting this loophole, just as the minister most likely intended — in Vancouver, Burnaby, New Westminster, the Tri-Cities and the North Shore — all over the Lower Mainland, on behalf of 26 union-endorsed candidates.”

Robinson predictably reminded the Liberals that, when they were in office, there were no rules about the size or source of campaign donations.

“I want to remind the members that, under their watch, there was a $943,000 contribution — this was in local elections — and they absolutely refused to do anything about it,” Robinson said, referring to Rob Macdonald’s big donation to the NPA in 2011.

“I think it’s important to also recognize that the third-party rules were introduced by the previous government back in 2015. This is their legislation.”

Stone spoke of internal VDLC email that reveals four full-time staff, 100,000 voter cards, $10,000 reimbursements per union staff campaign volunteer, direct mail, door-to-door canvassing, phone bank calls, data collection and sharing, and even voter identification and get-out-the-vote activities, “all of which doesn’t have to be disclosed as third-party contributions.”

Former Finance Minister Mike de Jong got up and asked whether the NDP itself was giving support to certain candidates.

“Well, long-time NDP supporter Derek Corrigan, the baron of Burnaby, is in trouble,” de Jong said. “He’s facing a genuine challenge from a professional firefighter, Michael Hurley. Again I ask the minister: will she assure this House and British Columbians today that her party isn’t using her loophole to help her friend Derek Corrigan?”

That sounds a bit like an accusation,” Robinson said. “That’s a very serious accusation. So I’m a little bit offended, actually, I have to say, by that intended accusation, which is completely inappropriate. Elections B.C. will certainly be taking a look to make sure that everyone has followed the rules.”

Coincidentally, Stone and de Jong are two BC Liberals who have used the services of Aggregate IQ, the Victoria social media political consultancy that is under investigation related to digital dirty tricks in Canada, the U.K. and U.S. 

Wei Qiao Zhang was photoshopped out of the Vision team photo (Twitter)

The Toronto company that blew the Calgary election prediction in 2017 did an early September poll that omitted several candidates and parties. But Mainstreet Research included the name of a Vision Vancouver supporter’s baby. Its shorter, early October poll also included errors by omission. It wasn’t released publicly. 

OneCity’s Brandon Yan convinced civic election officials to place a name in Chinese characters beside his name on the ballot, despite his filings indicating his full name was Brandon Oliver Yan. Coalition Vancouver school board candidates Ken Denike and Sophia Woo filed their court challenge in the B.C. Supreme Court, rather than the Provincial Court.

Early in the final week of candidate registration, Vision Vancouver’s Ian Campbell dropped out when it was revealed that he had not told the party of a stayed charge of domestic assault from 2010. So ended a candidacy that was questioned from the start. The Squamish Nation development dealmaker had been perceived as too close to the Aquilinis and too aggressive on plans to build towers on band land in Point Grey.

On the last day of the campaign, city council candidate Wei Qiao Zhang’s Vision endorsement was withdrawn by the party for an unexplained misconduct that allegedly occurred recently. The party, whose only city council incumbent is Heather Deal, photoshopped Zhang from its team photo, duplicated school board candidate Aaron Leung’s right arm and stuck it onto city council candidate Diego Cardona. Vision trickery, right to the bitter end! 

Documents emerged about Sim’s April 1989 Pender Street Mustang car crash. Sim had been cited for dangerous driving, but pleaded guilty to failing to stop for a police officer. He was out for a night with his buddies, including his rival for the NPA leadership, Glen Chernen. Sim cleverly said that his 18-year-old self was not prepared to be mayor. Less attention was paid to Cardona’s unimpressive driving record than Coalition Vancouver mayoral candidate Wai Young and her distracted driving ticket. Her make-up equipment apparently resembled a mobile phone. 

Derek Palaschuk, a lawyer for Coalition Vancouver city council candidate Chernen, unsuccessfully applied to force deputy election official Janice Lowe’s removal from duty. Palaschuk had earlier registered as a third-party election sponsor with Elections BC.

Lowe’s husband is former city hall real estate director Mike Flanigan. Chernen had complained to the RCMP about alleged sweetheart land deals with Vision Vancouver-friendly developers during Flanigan’s time in the department, such as the controversial Brenhill land swap near Yaletown.

Chief Election Officer Rosemary Hagiwara said in reply that Lowe swore a declaration to faithfully and impartially perform the duties of her office. She would not be stepping down.

Meanwhile, back in Richmond, the city’s top election official, city clerk David Weber, issued a memo to candidates and slates during the middle of election day after reports of misbehaviour by scrutineers.

Some scrutineers had taken photographs and recorded personal information in voting stations. “The usual processing of voters by election staff must not be impeded in any way by scrutineers wishing to examine the voting books,” Weber wrote.

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Bob Mackin British Columbia's 2018 municipal elections will

Bob Mackin

A former candidate for Mayor of Vancouver says local governments and Elections BC need to do a better job of educating the region’s Chinese community about elections and enforcing laws around voting to avoid allegations of vote-buying in the next election.

They also need to beef-up social studies curriculum in order to increase voter turnout.

Chinese community activist Meena Wong outside Vancouver city hall (Mackin)

“We need to rise up and say to our provincial government, hey you need to do more in civic education,” said Meena Wong, who finished third in 2014 with COPE. “Not just among newcomers, but local born and grown, they need to learn about the importance of civic participation. My biggest worry is that the community at-large sees the Chinese community in one stroke and paints all the candidates and everybody in the Chinese community as crooks. A few bad apples happens in every community.”

The Civic Engagement Network’s Wong said she was distressed by the Canada Wenzhou Friendship Society offering on WeChat to pay a $20 “transportation subsidy” and recommending certain candidates to vote for in Vancouver, Richmond and Burnaby. Most of the same candidates attended a donation ceremony at the society’s clubhouse in late August. The WeChat message prompted an RCMP investigation. On Oct. 19, the Richmond detachment said it had insufficient evidence to pursue criminal or election act charges, but its investigation into potential voter manipulation continues.

The 2016 Census found one in five people in Metro Vancouver is ethnic Chinese. Wong said there are 63 ethnic Chinese candidates running in the Oct. 20 municipal elections, which could lead to more Chinese voters and campaign donors.

The Canadian Alliance of Chinese Associations did its part to mobilize the community when it published a Chinese and English guide to the region’s municipal elections. But CACA is known for being friendly with the People’s Republic of China government. It was behind a controversial Chinese national day flag-raising ceremony outside Vancouver city hall in 2016 that divided the local Chinese community.

In the Rise Weekly special edition, CACA executive chair Yongtao Chen urged more Chinese to run for public office, so they could have an influence on local government decisions. Chen boasted of one example of the impact of political action in Richmond, where city council tried to enact new limits on the size of farmland mansions. Agriculture advocates worry that the real estate boom will harm Richmond’s food supply.

Municipal election guide financed by a pro-Beijing group. (Rise Weekly)

“In a poll regarding house size restrictions on farmland this year in Richmond, the Chinese and Indians cooperated, and this led to a 6-3 vote which resulted in denying the restriction proposal,” Chen wrote. “This was the first time these two minority groups have cooperated and it was a shining example of how it could affect government decisions. Afterwards, the Chinese suggested that Chinese, Indians, and other minority farmers together should form the Richmond from land owners association. Not only did this help minority groups affirm their rights, But it also pushed multiculturalism in Canada into the forefront.”

Chen could not be reached for comment.

The Canada Wenzhou Friendship Society is one of dozens of organizations under Richmond-based CACA’s umbrella. The society’s website said it raised $26,000 for political donations to Richmond mayoral candidate Hong Guo and Chinese-Canadian politicians from Coalition Vancouver, Vision Vancouver, Burnaby Citizens Association, Richmond First and Richmond Community Coalition. Only RCC incumbent councillor Chak Au and Richmond First candidate Peter Liu have responded to theBreaker. They both denied that their campaigns have received money from the society or its directors. Only individuals can make donations under new laws. Official returns are due to Elections BC 90 days after the election.

Wong worries that the activities of Beijing-friendly organizations like CACA mean that B.C. is experiencing meddling from the Chinese government’s United Front program.

“There’s already Australia and New Zealand talking about foreign influence in the electoral process and in government. I hope that the RCMP serious crime unit is going to really look into this, find out and follow the money about what is happening in Canada.”

Wong said she was shocked by comments from Richmond mayoral hopeful Guo. In an Oct. 2 interview with theBreaker, the real estate and immigration lawyer aiming to beat Malcolm Brodie denied that China has a human rights problem.

Richmond candidates Hong Guo, Chak Au and Peter Liu in the front row with Vision Vancouver’s Wei Qiao Zhang at the Aug. 26 fundraiser. (Wenzhouren.ca)

“I’m a bit taken aback when I hear candidates deny human rights abuse, and deny facts that are being recognized by many, from the United Nations to Amnesty International to Human Rights Watch. These are all credible organizations.”

She is also concerned by politicians who divert attention from China’s human rights record by criticizing Canada’s imperfections.

Liu said Richmond has to “respect everybody, we respect the difference,” even China. Pressed further about concerns with China, he said: “Right now I cannot comment on international relationships with other countries because I’m running for city council and focussing on the city only.” 

Asked if he would acknowledge China’s human rights problems, Au said that “every society has their own problems; Canada is not perfect.”

“Look at our record on the First Nations. Working towards common understanding and reconciliation is important,” he said.

Said Wong: “It’s different, we are democratic, we can criticize our government. Canadians need to stand up and say these are values we hold. Trade is important, but with principle.”

Wong, 57, was born in China and moved to Hong Kong at age 11 to escape the Cultural Revolution. She came to Canada as a 19-year-old student and said it is vital to get out and vote on Oct. 20, if you are: a Canadian citizen, 18 and over, who has lived in B.C. for at least six months and lived in or owned property in a municipality for at least 30 days. 

“People complain so much but they don’t engage. They say it’s dirty. I say it’s dirty because you don’t get involved,” she said. “Whatever the government we get, we are responsible as voters.”

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Bob Mackin A former candidate for Mayor of

Bob Mackin

In Vancouver, will a left-wing split or right-wing split determine the successor to Mayor Gregor Robertson?

Former Burnaby NDP MP Kennedy Stewart leads opinion polls and he boasts a big labour-endorsed slate of candidates handpicked from COPE, OneCity, Vision Vancouver and the Vancouver Greens.

Ex-Vision Vancouver board member Shauna Sylvester could be Stewart’s biggest obstacle and NPA leader Ken Sim’s best ally. Newcomer David Chen of ProVancouver, with his thoughtful policy platform, could also be a spoiler, grabbing votes from both right and left.

NPA mayoral hopeful Ken Sim and fellow candidates (Mackin)

The historic-first, random-order ballot features 21 candidates vying for mayor and a whopping 71 seeking the 10 city council seats.

The NPA should have simply waltzed-in to victory, after Robertson decided in January to retire at term-end. Vision’s third term was its most-difficult, as it lost talent and donors to the Trudeau Liberals and Horgan NDP. When it finally decided to pick a leader, Squamish Nation chief Ian Campbell eventually dropped-out during the last week of candidate registration after a stayed domestic violence charge from 2010 was revealed.

Sim is the mild-mannered seniors care and bagel franchising specialist backed by Lululemon founder Chip Wilson. Four women are the party’s best hope for city council: incumbent Melissa De Genova, School Board trustee Lisa Dominato, Park Board commissioner Sarah Kirby-Yung and Colleen Hardwick, a tech entrepreneur and ex-film producer. Hardwick’s late father was professor and alderman Walter Hardwick. Her grandmother Iris was the first woman elected to the Park Board. Colleen Hardwick has been a rare voice to question the wisdom of spending $3 billion on a SkyTrain subway to Arbutus instead of a light rail tram all the way to University of B.C. for the same price or less.

Sim, however, has three competitors for the mayor’s chair on the right side of the political spectrum. All formerly of the NPA, all with an axe to grind with the city’s oldest political party. Which begs the question: Are Yes Vancouver, Coalition Vancouver and Vancouver 1st running to gain power at city hall or are they running to defeat the NPA? 

Lobbyist-cum-politician Hector Bremner took advantage of a left-wing split and low turnout to win a by-election council seat in fall 2017 for the NPA. The NPA board gave thumbs down to his mayoral bid after he opted to remain a full-time vice-president at the Pace Group lobbying and PR firm while acting as a part-time councillor. Bremner quit to form his own party, which copped its Yes Vancouver brand from a businesswomen’s charity.

Coalition Vancouver is ex-Conservative MP Wai Young’s populist vehicle that skews toward the Chinese community. She, too, was rebuffed by the NPA board, but earlier than Bremner. Her brash team markets an “anti-bike lanes, free parking, save the viaducts and clean-up parks” message to voters on the Westside and South Vancouver. Ex-NPA members Ken Charko and Glen Chernen are on the council ticket.

Jesse Johl’s Vancouver 1st found ex-West Vancouver Police spokesman Fred Harding in August to run for mayor. Ex-NPA member Johl resurrected Vancouver 1st just in time for the 2018 campaign. Harding, like Young, has focused on Chinese voters. He only got positive mainstream attention with a trial balloon promise to pursue franchises in the NBA and Major League Baseball. A video in which he criticized the province’s sexual orientation/gender identity guidelines, which are aimed at stopping bullying in schools, prompted school board candidate Tony Dong to quit the party.

Rob McDowell, a 2014 NPA council candidate rejected by Sim, and Erin Shum, a Park Board commissioner who quit the NPA caucus, are running as independents.

The NPA, however, has an $830,000-plus war chest. More than all of its competitors, combined. Will that translate into a winning get-out-the-vote operation and a return to power after a decade in the wilderness? Or sour grapes for the party with the logo that resembles a monogrammed grape?

Surrey at a turning point

In British Columbia’s second-biggest municipality, Surrey First’s reign is in jeopardy.

The slate founded by Dianne Watts was rocked when Linda Hepner changed her mind earlier this year and decided to call it quits after one term as mayor.

Councillors Bruce Hayne, Barb Steele and Dave Woods split to form their own party, Integrity Now, with Hayne as the mayoral candidate.

Surrey First’s Tom Gill

Doug McCallum, the mayor from 1996 to 2005, is trying again for a comeback with his Safe Surrey Coalition. He was runner-up in 2014.

Hepner passed the Surrey First leadership torch to Coun. Tom Gill, who is aiming to become the first South Asian mayor in a municipality where South Asians are one-third of the 518,000 population.

The election has been brimming with controversy. RCMP investigated voter fraud after a complaint from the anti-crime group Wake Up Surrey. Detectives found 67 of 73 mail-in ballot applications were fraudulent. Two persons of interest are under investigation. Police have yet to find evidence of vote-buying, but the probe is ongoing.

McCallum has set the tone, by framing the campaign as a SkyTrain vs. LRT race. He wants the more-expensive form of rapid transit, to connect with Langley; Gill favours building Surrey around trams. McCallum also wants to dump the RCMP and start a municipal force.

Gill opponents noticed when Ripudaman Singh Malik, the businessman acquitted of planning the Air India bombing in 1985, showed up at a Surrey First campaign event. Gill also faced criticism for passing on a question about crime reduction when it was his turn at a debate. He claimed afterward that he was suffering from low blood sugar, though he did remain on stage and answer questions after that round of the debate.

Surrey First’s secrecy rivals Vision Vancouver’s. In one instance, theBreaker attempted to access 10 internal audit reports from 2017. Instead of releasing the full reports, as the law says it must, Surrey city hall released mild, two-sentence summaries. Topics included reviews of accounts payable, cash handling, RCMP fleet management, and utilities billing.

Corrigan’s last stand?

In Burnaby, history could repeat on Oct. 20 if Mayor Derek Corrigan does not.

The Burnaby Citizens Association came to power in 1987 under fire chief Bill Copeland and it could be extinguished by a retired fire chief.

Five-term Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan (Facebook)

Challenger Mike Hurley came to Vancouver in 1983 from a town near Derry in Northern Ireland as a 25-year-old and became a firefighter five years later. Corrigan, who was elected to city council in 1987, has been mayor since 2002, one year less than Richmond’s Malcolm Brodie.

NDP stalwart Corrigan, who is also the head of the TransLink Mayors’ Council, has been roundly criticized for leading a one-party council that rubber-stamped luxury towers in Brentwood and Metrotown, many sold offshore, at the expense of older apartment buildings populated by working class renters.

Hurley said the city needs to slow down development and review its community planning.

“The average salary of people living in [Metrotown] is $47,500, 53% of the people in that area earn less than $47000,” Hurley said in an interview. “With just a singular focus on luxury condominiums that forced a lot of those people to move further out and, in turn, we’re losing a lot of our workforce. Now we’re starting to hear a lot of complaints from the business community that they’re having a hard time finding workers.”

Burnaby mayoral challenger Mike Hurley

DOA’s Joe Keithley of the Green Party had originally intended to challenge Corrigan, but chose to endorse Hurley and run for a city council seat.

Hurley, who is endorsed by the New Westminster District Labour Council, said he has raised $200,000 since beginning his campaign five months ago. By comparison, theBreaker exclusively reported that BCA had $500,000 in its election account and $77,000 in a general account last November, just in time for the NDP’s campaign finance law that bans donations from companies and unions and caps individual donations at $1,200. In 2014, BCA spent almost $474,000 after it raised just over half-a-million dollars. A majority came from companies.

The battle of Burnaby is unique for another reason. Hurley hails from Magherafelt in Northern Ireland, where he grew up playing Gaelic football. Corrigan is the great-grandson of County Laois, Ireland, native James Corrigan.

“The Irish are always prepared to stand up for what they believe, I’m sure that’s what Mr. Corrigan is doing, that’s what I’m doing as well,” Hurley said. “We’ll see on Saturday which person of Irish descent will come out on top.”

“I believe I’ve lived through some very difficult times [in Northern Ireland]. We need to bring people together, all people together, to make sure we’re working in the interests of all the citizens in Burnaby. Unfortunately we seem to have lost the way a bit there as far as listening to the needs of all people in Burnaby, I hope to bring that back after the election.”

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Bob Mackin In Vancouver, will a left-wing split

Bob Mackin

Richmond could have a new, longest-serving mayor if Malcolm Brodie fends-off a challenge on Oct. 20.

Brodie was elected in a 2001 by-election after Greg Halsey-Brandt was elected to the BC Liberals under Gordon Campbell.

The New York native won re-election four times. A win on Saturday would position him to beat Rudy Grauer’s 1930 to 1949 dynasty.

Richmond incumbent Mayor Malcolm Brodie (Instagram)

Brodie faces the most-aggressive challenge yet, in the form of real estate and immigration lawyer Hong Guo. For Guo, her biggest opponent could be herself.

She is facing a $13 million lawsuit related to a collapsed real estate deal, a professional misconduct hearing with the Law Society of B.C. and an RCMP investigation over vote-buying allegations related to a Beijing-friendly expats society. She says she has done no wrong.

Richmond RCMP said Oct. 19 that it had not found evidence to justify criminal code or election act charges, but it continues to investigate potential voter manipulation. 

After the Oct. 2 mayoral debate, Guo told theBreaker that she does not believe China has any human rights problem and that journalists in her native land enjoy freedom of speech. Both statements contradict reams of evidence gathered over decades by foreign governments, international human rights and media advocates, and global media outlets.

Guo wants to forge closer ties between Richmond and China, which she has incorrectly called the world’s biggest economy (the International Monetary Fund says the U.S. still reigns). After the RCMP investigation was launched, the Richmond Community Coalition said it would not endorse Guo for mayor. Incumbent Coun. Ken Johnston of RCC told the Richmond News that Guo’s bid is “against harmony, against inclusion.”

Guo was not clear what she would do with her law firm, corporate and real estate holdings if she beats the odds and wins. One of Guo’s companies has the same name as a huge, Chinese state-owned enterprise. She incorporated CITIC Investments Corp. in B.C. on Aug. 15, 2008 with partners Golden Mountain Capital, Wu Ze Yong and Maple Union Industry Inc. The Beijing-based China International Trust Investment Corporation is a finance, energy, resources, manufacturing, engineering and real estate conglomerate.

We work with them, but there is no share involvement,” Guo said in an interview. “They are looking for projects and we would assist where they want to do something, investment for projects.”

Mayoral candidate Hong Guo

Said Brodie: “I can tell you the city the size and complexity of Richmond, not to mention other work you get involved in at the regional and even provincial level, it is more than full time, and I don’t see how anybody can be involved in active business outside of being a mayor. Your time is too thin to do anything else.”

Brodie said Richmond already has close ties to China with sister city Xiamen and friendship city with Qingdao. He said the city needs to look at Asia as a whole, from the Philippines to South Korea. The city is, after all, home of Vancouver International Airport.

Brodie is opposing a planned Gateway casino on the Delta side of the Fraser River and sidestepped questions about money laundering at River Rock casino; it’s a provincial responsibility, he said. He continues to advocate for a new tunnel rather than a bridge over Deas Island to Delta. Guo is a bridge proponent.

“The previous provincial government, they said it’s a bridge or nothing, there wasn’t any other solution,” he said. “We have said the solution is, in-part, upgrade the existing tunnel and twin it. We believe it can be done without exceeding the cost of the bridge and, probably, it will be cheaper.”

The casino location dispute is in mediation and the crossing question is waiting to be answered in a report that the NDP cabinet has been sitting on for months.

Richmond city council candidate Kerry Starchuk (Twitter)

Late in her campaign, Guo hired Vancouver public relations firm Peak Communicators for crisis communications. Then more controversy.

The Richmond News complained to Richmond city hall, Richmond RCMP and Facebook on Oct. 12 about an exchange from the WeChat Richmond Resident 7300 Focus Group II. The News said comments from that WeChat group were falsely attributed to reporter Daisy Xiong and a screen grab was briefly published on Guo’s Facebook page. Neither Guo nor Peak responded to theBreaker’s request for comment.

Earlier in the campaign, the Harold Steves-led Richmond Citizens Association and the Carol Day-led RITE Richmond slates formed an alliance aimed at defeating the Richmond First and Richmond Community Coalition slates that have held power on council. The left-right alliance has clashed with the BC Liberal-allied Richmond Farmland Owners Association, which has resisted efforts by incumbents Steves and Day to limit the size of mansions on farmland. 

The campaign also features star independent city council candidate Kerry Starchuk, the leader of a grassroots campaign to increase English language signage in the majority ethnic Chinese suburb, which has been called North America’s most-Asian city. Starchuk’s “Community Matters” themed campaign coincides with the House of Commons tabling of her petition aimed at stopping birth tourism. The mothers are lured by the instant Canadian citizenship for their offspring. Starchuk wants the Trudeau Liberal government to commit public resources to determine the full extent across Canada and move to reduce and eliminate the practice that sees cash-paying foreigners displacing local patients at Richmond Hospital.

Last year, 474 births to foreign mothers, mainly from China, were recorded at Richmond Hospital, almost 59% more than the previous year.

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Bob Mackin Richmond could have a new, longest-serving

Bob Mackin

Vancouver mayoral candidate Hector Bremner was working on a client file for the Aquilini Investment Group as recently as March of this year, while he was an NPA city councillor.

But that was not enough for a city hall-hired investigator to find that he broke city hall conflict of interest rules.

In his Oct. 15-dated report, lawyer Henry Wood found “no tangible evidence of a tainting connection” between Bremner and any clients of the Pace Group, the BC Liberal-aligned Gastown public relations and lobbying firm where Bremner was vice-president from early-2015 to mid-2018.

Hector Bremner (Pace Group)

“There is no evidence to suggest that the councillor faced interest that conflicted with his primary duty to act in the public’s best interest when he participated in council’s consideration of the issues that are the subject of complaint,” Wood wrote.

Wood’s report said the two complaints, from ProVancouver city council candidate Mirza Raza and Justin Fung of Housing Action for Local Taxpayers, raised three issues: A provocative proposal to densify so-called “billionaires’ row,” Northwest Point Grey Road, at the Dec. 12, 2017 city council meeting; redevelopment of Northeast False Creek, at meetings of Jan. 31, 2018 and Feb. 13, 2018; and liquor sales in grocery stores, at meetings of March 13, 2018 and April 17, 2018. Bremner recused himself from the latter meeting when he learned an Overwaitea Food Group representative would be speaking. That meeting was five days after theBreaker reported on the conflict of interest complaints submitted to Mayor Gregor Robertson.

Pace clients include the Aquilini Investment Group, Concert Properties, Intracorp, Stantec, Omicron and the B.C. Pavilion Corp. Bremner had also acted for Overwaitea and B.C. Wine Institute two years before he won a city council seat for the NPA in the October 2017 by-election.

“The essence of the complaints is that the business interests of at least those entities created resulting conflicts of interest for Coun. Bremner through his affiliation with the Pace Group,” Wood wrote.

Bremner acknowledged that he has been involved in assisting Overwaitea, B.C. Wine Institute and an Aquilini-owned entity that was not named in the report. The report said that the Aquilini matter, like the other two, was unrelated to City of Vancouver.

“He has assisted in designing communication materials and a public consultation process regarding an Agricultural Land Reserve issue,” Wood wrote. “He continued to have some involvement in that matter until March 2018.”

The Aquilini work was primarily from May 2017 to July 2017. After it was designed, the Aquilinis took over implementation of the plan, “except for updates to the communications materials which Coun. Bremner provided on request until March 2018.”

Bremner’s work with Pace and the investigation were factors in the NPA board’s rejection of Bremner’s application to run for its mayoral nomination. Ken Sim won the nomination in June. Bremner launched his own party, Yes Vancouver, in July. The report was originally expected in mid-September.

In a CKNW interview on Oct. 18, two days before the civic election, Bremner dismissed the complaints as being “written in crayon.” But Wood stated that there was enough merit to investigate. Fung and Raza, he wrote, “raised understandable speculation over the potential for conflicting interests.”

Wood wrote that at the Pace Group, Bremner supported clients including municipalities, first nations, industry and professional associations by developing strategic communications programs. He resigned June 2018, it said. The report said Bremner provided a “comprehensive statutory declaration” sworn by Bremner. That document, however, was not included with Wood’s findings. Wood indicated that he encountered some resistance from the company.

“I had also sought conformation from the Pace Group of certain information provided by Coun. Bremner. The Pace Group responded with a supportive statement that Coun. Bremner had avoided conflicts of interest following his election to Vancouver city council, but they expressed an unwillingness to discus client affairs as a matter of policy. It was in response to this development that Coun. Bremner agreed to provide the statutory declaration referred above.”

The Vancouver Charter says a conflict of interest results from a direct or indirect pecuniary interest in a matter before council or another interest in the matter. Ultimately, Wood applied a “reasonable elector test,” deciding that a “reasonable and well-informed person, once apprised of all the circumstances, would be unlikely to find that Coun. Bremner had a conflicting interest in these matters.”

Bremner (right) during a Pace Group charity event for men’s health (@PaceGroupVan)

Wood conceded that his investigation was limited. For instance, it was beyond his scope to perform extensive property searches of Northeast False Creek, though it is well-known that the Aquilinis own Aquilini Centre and Rogers Arena. Their holdings at the Olympic Village are outside the Northeast False Creek plan. The same goes for Concert’s recently-finished Navio, to the east of the Village.

“Among other obstacles,” Wood wrote, “it is virtually impossible to determine whether the properties are being held in trust by other businesses or individuals.”

Fung said it appears the burden of proof is high, but said the laws to keep public officials accountable need to be tightened. “I’m still troubled that someone who effectively worked at a company that specializes in lobbying governments, works in government,” he said.

In August, Bremner was cleared on a technicality of failure to disclose his past as a ministerial aide in the BC Liberal government to the lobbyist registrar. He had been fined $2,000 in February, a fact that he kept secret while he sought a reconsideration related to his February 2015 undertaking for Steelhead LNG.

Registrar Michael McEvoy made a public plea for Attorney General David Eby to solve a loophole because the Bremner case was among several that “represent the very mischief the legislation was designed to eliminate; i.e. the potential for undue influence and the use of insider knowledge in lobbying.”

Bremner got the job in the BC Liberal government in June 2013, after he lost in the New Westminster riding during the May 2013 election. theBreaker exclusively reported that Bremner worked on Christy Clark’s 2011 leadership campaign in which he was copied on emails that contained 99 personal identification numbers for use in the phone and Internet vote to replace Gordon Campbell. The block voting in a proxy process was not prohibited by the party, but it was believed to have played a major role in Clark’s narrow victory over Kevin Falcon in the regionally-weighted, preferential ballot election.

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Bob Mackin Vancouver mayoral candidate Hector Bremner was

Bob Mackin

Relatives of the Vancouver developer behind a billboard and Facebook campaign that promoted Hector Bremner for mayor are on the list of donors for the Yes Vancouver Party.

The new party reported Oct. 8 that it raised $176,581.60 from 529 donors.

Three of those donors are Peter Wall’s ex-wife Charlotte, daughter Sonya and grandson Colin Wall. They donated $1,200 each.

Charlotte Wall was a director of Wall Financial Corp. from 1989 to 2017 and Sonya Wall is on the board of trustees for the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies at the University of B.C.

Graphics from the Peter Wall-financed Facebook campaign.

Peter Wall secretly spent $85,000 on the “Vancouverites for Affordable Housing” pro-Bremner campaign, which ran before local election disclosure requirements and third-party spending limits applied Sept. 22.

The list of donors also includes Michael Redekop and Randy Redekop at $1,200 each. Michael Redekop is president of Quadra Homes and a director of Wall Financial, the company Peter Wall co-founded with cousin Peter Redekop in 1960.

One of Wall’s flagship projects is at Shannon Estate and Mews, where the company built high-end apartment blocks on the grounds of the 1925 heritage mansion originally built by sugar tycoon B.T. Rogers and later owned by horse racing aficionado Austin Taylor. Bremner has been an advocate of replacing mansions with apartments. 

Wall was a major corporate donor of Vision Vancouver and the BC Liberals until the NDP enacted campaign finance reform last year.

David Gruber, a Wall Financial director and lawyer with Bennett Jones, said he “did not have instructions to communicate on Peter’s behalf on this.”

Nobody at Wall Financial replied for comment.

Dermod Travis of IntegrityBC said it will be up to Elections BC to confirm whether political donations from multiple family members were really from their individual assets.

“If somebody asks you to make a political donation and that they will reimburse you for it, bad things can happen to you. SNC-Lavalin [which was caught reimbursing employees for political donations] can speak to the issue quite well,” Travis said. “I suspect there will be some interest after Oct. 20 in examining some of the disclosures of candidates in Metro Vancouver and the Capital Regional District.”

Other notable $1,200 donors to Bremner’s party include developer Ryan Beedie, New Coast Realty agent Tariqul Malik, Wesgroup executive vice-president Beau Jarvis, members of the Wesgroup ownership family, Peeter, David, Michael and Elizabeth Wesik, Granville Entertainment’s Blaine Culling and One Hospitality’s Vance Campbell, and Coromandel Properties’ Jerry Zhong.

Coromandel is marketing its eight-storey, Winston at South Oak luxury condo tower in Hong Kong. Part of the land was previously zoned for a single-family house. 

The list also shows a $1,200 donation from Tarsem Gill. A man named Tarsem Singh Gill, who is an associate of Bremner friend and ex-Ross Street Temple president Raj Bhela, is accused in a long-running, $40 million real estate fraud case.

Brothers Paul and Sergio Zen donated $1,200 each. According to 2011 B.C. Supreme Court filings, their family owns companies that supplied the aluminum rail on 80 to 90% of the high-rise buildings in the Lower Mainland, including the Shangri-La Hotel and the Olympic Athletes Village.

Another $1,200 donor is Shelley Prpich of Shelley Prpich Autobrokers. Until March 2013, when he unsuccessfully ran for the BC Liberals in New Westminster, Bremner held an auto dealer’s licence.

Brian and Marlene Fehr hosted an Aug. 1 fundraiser for Bremner at a West End penthouse worth more than $9 million. They donated $1,200 each, in-kind, to the both the party’s city hall and school board campaigns. Brian Fehr is a billionaire named recently to the Order of B.C.

Other donors included: Yes campaign svengali Mark Marissen, ex-BC Liberal caucus communications head Lorne Mayencourt, Progressive Group lobbyist Cynthia Shore ($1,200 each); lobbyist Mark Jiles, ex-BC Liberal Youth president Sebastian Zein, and Tina Oliver, the real estate agent who sold the Dunbar house where ex-premier Christy Clark lives ($600 each). BC Liberal MLA Sam Sullivan gave $600 for the Yes school board candidate.

New provincial laws cap individual donations at $1,200 from B.C. residents who are Canadian citizens or permanent residents. Corporations and unions are no longer allowed to donate.

Robertson (left) and Bremner (CoV)

Ex-Burnaby NDP MP Kennedy Stewart, the perceived frontrunner for the mayoralty, has reported $192,253.39 in donations to his mayoral campaign from 1,459 donors.

Former Vision Vancouver board member Shauna Sylvester’s mayoral campaign claimed it raised $101,737. The Ken Sim-led NPA reported $837,207 in donations from 4,460 individuals.

Official disclosure reports must be submitted to Elections BC within 90 days of the election.

The Fred Harding-led Vancouver 1st and Wai Young-led Coalition Vancouver are not releasing their donors’ lists. Both parties have been linked to the Canada Wenzhou Friendship Society. The Communist Party of China-friendly society is under RCMP investigation for a WeChat message that offered a $20 “transportation subsidy” to vote for recommended candidates in Vancouver, Burnaby and Richmond.

Meanwhile, the conflict of interest investigation of Bremner under the city’s code of conduct was dismissed Oct. 16.

Lawyer Henry Wood, who was retained by city hall in May, had originally planned to tender his findings by mid-September, before the election period. Bremner was alleged to have mixed his civic duties with his job as the vice-president of the Pace Group lobbying and public relations firm.

Wood’s report is officially confidential under the city’s code of conduct.

“Hector has said he has no secrets, he should be more than willing to provide the necessary release so it can be released,” Travis said. “Here’s an opportunity for him to give the city his okay for the report to be released.”

Bremner rival Glen Chernen, who is running for city council with Coalition Vancouver, complained in 2017 about Bremner’s failure to disclose to the lobbyist registry that he had worked as an aide to BC Liberal cabinet ministers, including Deputy Premier Rich Coleman.

Bremner’s $2,000 February fine was overturned in August on a technicality. Registrar Michael McEvoy publicly urged Attorney General David Eby to close a loophole to ensure ex-public office holders do not evade detection.

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Bob Mackin Relatives of the Vancouver developer behind

Bob Mackin

Richmond Coun. Harold Steves is disputing claims from a group that is aiming to defeat him in the Oct. 20 civic election.

The Richmond Farmland Owners Association, which opposes limits on farmland mansions, issued an Oct. 10 news release that called the outspoken farming advocate a hypocrite for being a “co-developer with a mega-home developer for a piece of land carved out of the Steves farm property.”

Steves, who has served continuously on council since 1977, said the association is wrong, because he couldn’t stop his relatives from selling a piece of land north of his farm in 2010 to Elegant Properties developer Jay Minhas.

Richmond Coun. Harold Steves at his Richmond farm (Mackin)

Steves was first an alderman from 1968 until 1973 when he was elected to the NDP government under Premier Dave Barrett and helped found the Agricultural Land Reserve. He sells eggs and grass-fed beef raised on his family farm at the west end of Steveston Highway, that he bought in 1981.

“It was zoned residential in 1969, it was subdivided into lots, I got an appraisal that it was $90,000 an acre residential value, farmland at that time was $5,000 an acre,” Steves said. “The land was owned by my father and four aunts and uncles. I bought it off them for $90,000 an acre, except I couldn’t afford the whole property, it was a lot of money back in 1981.”

He applied to cancel the subdivision and move the property line further north, but left 1.7 acres in family ownership. After his mother Maude died in 2002, he was among nine relatives who inherited the land.

In 2010, the Richmond Review reported under the headline “Change coming to Steves family farm,” that Minhas’s company had applied to subdivide a fallow 1.5-acre parcel owned by the Steves family at 10531 Springwood Crescent. Steves said it was not his choice, but his brother Robert Joseph Steves and the rest of his relatives who wanted to settle his mother’s estate.

“There’s not much I can do about it,” Steves said at the time. “I wouldn’t have done it, but I have no choice.”

Elegant Properties’ Jay Minhas (right) and Christy Clark.

The March 31, 2010 contract for the $442,500 sale lists Sean Lawson of Remax Westcoast in Richmond acting for the buyer, Elegant, and sellers, Harold, Bonita, Judith, Alice, Jeremy, Robin, Robert, Traci and Gregory Steves. An amended June 22, 2010 purchase contract was between four of the Steves — Judith, Robert, Traci and Gregory Steves — and Elegant. When the matter came to city council, Harold Steves declared a conflict of interest and recused himself. In early 2011, Elegant paid between $442,500 and $657,500 to the group of four named in the June 2010 contract, for each of the four lots after the subdivision was approved.

Said Steves: “I didn’t want my brother to sell it in the first place and definitely didn’t want him to sell it to Jay.

“They’re trying to make out that I’ve sold my property. It’s something I couldn’t afford to buy in the first place. Now nine people have inherited it and they want me to go take their inheritance away? I can’t do that.”

Steves said Minhas took advantage of a loophole to build three-storey houses instead of two-and-a-half. Minhas said he did everything within the bylaw.

Two of the houses built on land sold by Harold Steves’ relatives to Elegant Properties. (Mackin)

The main farm inside the dyke is zoned residential because it is less than the two-acre threshold to be included in the ALR. The other nine acres on the mudflats, where Steves’s belted Galloway cattle often graze, is a federally protected ecological reserve within Sturgeon Banks. The land qualifies for farm class under the Assessment Act.

“If it was in the ALR, I could build a barn out there, but in an ecological reserve I can’t.”

Steves still owns a one-fifth share of the empty lot at 10591 Springwood Cres, worth $1,691. His 10.5-acre property that includes a two-storey, 1932-built farmhouse, was assessed at $84,827.

Steves is running for re-election with the Richmond Citizens’ Association slate that joined in a coalition with RITE Richmond.

East Richmond-based RFOA is not registered with Elections BC as a third-party sponsor organization. The communications strategist behind the association is Aurora Advisory Group’s Gunraj Gill, who was the election day chair for Richmond-Queensborough BC Liberal MLA Jas Johal.

The RFOA news release included quotes from Ben Dhiman of the association and Parm Bains, a city council candidate with Richmond Community Coalition, who said he was a former elementary school student of Steves. Bains spent 14 years working in communications for the BC Liberal government, and was stationed at Premier Christy Clark’s Vancouver office.

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Bob Mackin Richmond Coun. Harold Steves is disputing