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Bob Mackin

The Vision Vancouver cameraman who pretended to be a media worker during the 2014 election campaign received more than $50,000 in patronage contracts from Mayor Gregor Robertson’s office. 

The spending report for 2017, tabled at city council’s April 17 meeting, shows Mark Vonesch received two payments totalling $12,000 last year for video production. 

Mark Vonesch (left), Gregor Robertson and Justin Trudeau in 2015 (Twitter)

Vonesch was also paid $10,000 at the end of 2014, after Robertson’s re-election. He took in another $15,000 in 2015 and two more cheques totalling $14,400 in 2016.

In total, Vonesch has received $51,400 in payments from the city treasury. All of the lucre came after the 2014 civic election campaign, in which he collected footage for Vision attack ads at NPA mayoral candidate Kirk LaPointe’s news conferences.  

One of his 2015 assignments was to capture Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s jubilant post-election visit to Vancouver city hall, an event that was covered by all major media outlets in the city. 

Vonesch boasted to the Vision-friendly Vancouver Observer in 2011 that he signed-up 100 volunteers to campaign for Robertson, “and a lot of them were under 35.” He heavily promoted Vision and the successful re-election campaign on his social media channels in 2014.

Vonesch is the co-founder of the Tides Canada-funded non-profit Reel Youth. Reel Youth was recently featured on CBC’s The National for helping youths near Toronto produce short documentaries about homeless seniors.

Neither Vonesch nor Robertson nor his chief of staff, Kevin Quinlan, responded for comment. 

Robertson’s staff spent more than $9,500 on communications supplies in 2017, including $3,000 on Facebook ads. City of Vancouver also has a communications department of more than 40 people, headed by Rena Kendall-Craden. She was paid $168,609 in 2017. 

Payments to Vonesch were part of the $116,451.68 that Robertson spent on consultants in 2017, up from $106,314.67 in 2016.

Claudia Kelly Li was the highest-paid consulting contractor. She invoiced for almost $50,000 as “community engagement consultant,” plus $4,500 from her Art of People company. Catherine Chan invoiced $30,000 for Chinese translation and Chinese media monitoring.

The Mayor’s Office spent $935,223.35 last year. The biggest line item, $640,479.05, was for salaries for political staff. 

Two of Robertson communication aides, Katie Robb and Sarah Zaharia, left 12th and Cambie in 2017 to join the NDP government. Zaharia’s former partner, Adrian Crook, is seeking the NPA’s nomination to run for city council on mayoral hopeful Coun. Hector Bremner’s slate. Crook volunteered for Vision during the 2014 campaign. 

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Bob Mackin The Vision Vancouver cameraman who pretended

Bob Mackin

His nickname is Mayor Moonbeam. But it really ought to be Mayor Sunwing, like the travel agency. 

Since leading Vision Vancouver to power in 2008, the tuba-playing Gregor Robertson has toured the world like a rockstar on civic business for the equivalent of almost an entire calendar year. 

Expense reports analyzed by theBreaker from 2009 (his first full year in office) through 2017 (his last full year in office) show Robertson spent 331 days traveling and visiting other cities, for a cost to taxpayers of $126,534.23. 

Robertson (2nd from left) with environment minister Catherine McKenna at a Loblaw’s promotion in Toronto. (Twitter)

Last year was Robertson’s most-expensive: 14 trips totalling 59 days at a cost of $27,554.11. The total discretionary travel expense in 2017 for the Office of the Mayor, including travel for Robertson’s aides, was $41,819.88. 

Vancouverites paid Robertson $168,055 in 2017. He traveled on civic business for almost two months during a year that deaths from opioid overdoses and the affordable housing crisis dominated headlines and caused his own supporters to turn against him. 

Robertson also billed for 59 days of travel in 2015, when he spent $22,038.85.

Six of the trips in 2017 were to advance Vision Vancouver’s green agenda, including the European Forum Alpbach in Germany ($2,057.11, Aug. 27-30) and Environmental Grantmakers Association Conference in Seattle ($739.99, Sept. 27).

Robertson has not shied away from flying to conventions around the world on polluting airliners, despite being one of Canada’s most-prominent climate change alarmists.  

theBreaker emailed Robertson, his chief of staff Kevin Quinlan and spokesman Tony Chen to ask for comment about the costs and reasons for all the non-essential travel. No one replied. 

The travel expenses report for city council was tabled at the April 17 meeting without discussion or debate. It indicates that Robertson visited Ottawa three times in the first half of the year — once to attend the Juno Awards and twice for the Big City Mayors’ Caucus.

The most-expensive trip charged to taxpayers for 2017 was $6,524.02 for Robertson’s May 3-7 junket to the New York Smart Cities Conference with Quinlan. Robertson was accompanied to Brussels by his operations director, Shea O’Neil, to the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy board meeting from June 22-28. That was more expensive at $6,690.77, but $5,918.80 was paid by a third-party that was not identified in the report to city council. 

Robertson also traveled to Beijing, Shanghai, Sydney and Chicago; he also made a second trip to New York in September.  

The China/Australia junket, which included aide Naveen Girn, cost $4,922.04. 

Vancouver’s mayor sandwiched by the ex-president and his ex-chief of staff.

Robertson’s staff did not issue a news release before he left for the September China trip, which was billed as a Vancouver Economic Commission trade mission. They only confirmed to media that he was in the Middle Kingdom on the day before his itinerary concluded in Shanghai.

The visit to China was his fourth as mayor. 

In Chicago, Robertson posed for a photograph with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and ex-President Barack Obama at a climate summit for mayors last December. In 2015, Robertson went all the way to the White House with ex-New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, but only met Secretary of State John Kerry. 

In August, Robertson charged taxpayers $518.01 to fly from Cortes Island, home of the Hollyhock new age retreat, to Vancouver for a speech outside city hall on Aug. 19. A fringe anti-Islam group from Alberta had planned to protest immigration policies, but the leader cancelled at the last minute. Images of Robertson speaking and glad-handing were among several thousand counter-protesters was captured for potential use in his 2018 re-election campaign. He flew back to Cortes to continue his vacation. 

In early January, Robertson revealed he would not seek a fourth term in office. Officially, Vision Vancouver is not planning to field a mayoral candidate for the Oct. 20 election. Shauna Sylvester, a former board member who is close to both Robertson and Vision bagman Joel Solomon, announced a run earlier this month as an independent. 

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Bob Mackin His nickname is Mayor Moonbeam. But

Bob Mackin

A proposal for federal funding obtained by theBreaker shows that the Victoria company at the centre of the Facebook data breach scandal contemplated “volume testing to 40 million voters” for the software it was developing. 

But AggregateIQ’s submission for National Research Council funding claimed no personal information would be compromised for its “Platform independent political campaign online reporting tool.” 

The $100,000 Industrial Research Assistance Program grant for the nine-month, 2017 project was intended to help AggregateIQ develop the system to predict voter turnout, candidate support and the outcome of a campaign communications strategy. AggregateIQ proposed to pay the remaining $150,000 from its 2015 profits and anticipated 2016 revenues. 

AggregateIQ co-founders Zack Massingham (left) and Jeff Silvester.

The Canadian Press was first to report on the NRC funding on April 6, the same day that Facebook announced it suspended AIQ for improper receipt of user data. theBreaker obtained copies of the partly censored proposal and agreement from the NRC’s access to information office on April 12. Those documents are published below.

AIQ claimed in the proposal that it had 10 employees, including eight technical staff under directors Zackary Massingham and Jeff Silvester. But the entire first paragraph under the heading “Ownership and Management” was censored. British Columbia does not yet have a law requiring the beneficial owners of a company be disclosed in public filings. 

“Our team is made up of engineers, computer scientists and software developers,” the proposal reads. “They are all experienced at programming for political related software solutions in the context of the changing political and technological landscape.”

Functions of the project included ad network and server data processing and data matching/normalizing algorithm and data analysis algorithms design and refining. 

“With no personal data and no data that could be matched back to an individual, we believe that this project meets all ethical requirements and does not require further ethical review,” according to the proposal.

Massingham and NRC advisor Olga Kargina signed the funding deal for January through September 2017. Kargina, coincidentally, was an assistant professor of chemistry at Russia’s Kazan State University from 1986 to 1990. 

Neither Massingham nor Silvester responded to theBreaker for comment. In a short statement on its website, AIQ claims it did no wrong and followed applicable laws. 

Victoria’s Christopher Wylie, the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica whistleblower, testified at a U.K. House of Commons hearing last month that AIQ was a “franchise” of Cambridge Analytica, which habitually disregarded the law. AIQ is under investigation by privacy watchdogs in Canada and the U.K.

The proposal pointed to the shortcomings of traditional polling companies that failed to accurately predict the 2016 U.K. referendum on European Union membership and the 2017 U.S. presidential election. Political decision makers, it said, were turning to “internal data analytics to decide where to spend money, allocate resources and ultimately find out if they are going to win.”

AIQ said its customers include political parties, candidates, independent issue based organizations, campaigns and similar minded organizations, while all of its competitors are U.S.-based: Targeted Victory, Nation Builder, i360, NGP Van, and Campaign Solutions. AIQ stressed that it had customers ready to use the program, “so our sales cycle is essentially zero.” 

It was also recruiting co-op students and offering relocation costs to lure experienced talent from Vancouver to Victoria in search of lower housing costs, shorter commutes and a slightly lower key city. 

“This will make our consulting business able to handle more clients and open a new line of revenue in sales and support of a much needed tool in the campaign space.”

The proposal to the NRC lists the address of AIQ’s registered office, which is the Cox Taylor law firm. One of the law firm’s partners is Frank Carson, constitutional advisor to the BC Liberals and husband of ex-BC Liberal caucus executive director Primrose Carson. 

Silvester and Wylie both know each other through their work for the Liberal Party of Canada. In 2016, Wylie briefly worked on a project to set-up social media monitoring for the Liberal research bureau.

Christopher Wylie testifying to a U.K. Parliamentary committee on March 27.

Unlike NRC, B.C.’s Jobs, Trade and Technology and Advanced Education, Skills and Training ministries said they had not made any grants to AIQ. 

During the period of the NRC-funded project, AIQ also worked on three BC Liberal election campaigns, for Doug Clovechok (Columbia River-Revelstoke), Dave Calder (Saanich South) and Mike de Jong (Abbotsford West), The Tyee reported. Clovechok and de Jong won their ridings, but Calder, who worked in the BC Liberal government from 2006 to 2014, didn’t. 

AIQ also made a proposal to the BC Liberals early last summer, in anticipation of a snap election that didn’t happen. Earlier this year, AIQ worked on ex-transportation minister Todd Stone’s failed leadership campaign, but was caught creating email addresses for 1,400 members recruited in Surrey’s South Asian community and Richmond’s Chinese community. In 2016, AIQ was contracted by the BC Greens to build a voter database.

More than 620,000 Facebook users in Canada and 87 million worldwide were victims of the Cambridge Analytica data breach. 

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Copy of NRC A2017-0009 AIQ TheBreaker by BobMackin on Scribd

Bob Mackin A proposal for federal funding obtained

Bob Mackin

John Langdale isn’t a household name in British Columbia. 

But two words from the Sydney professor’s speech last autumn are famous. 

Langdale is an expert on transnational crime and financial crime at Macquarie University’s Department of Security Studies and Criminology. He gave a lecture to the New South Wales Police Force’s intelligence conference last Nov. 2, that was titled “Impact of Chinese Transnational Crime on Australia: Intelligence Perspectives.”

In his presentation, Langdale warned of various tactics employed by criminal gangs in Guangdong, China, to enable the export of money, drugs and counterfeit goods from China. 

The speech described what he called the “Vancouver model.” 

Macquarie University’s John Langdale.

Almost a month later, on Dec. 1, 2017 at the University of British Columbia law school, Attorney General David Eby told a Transparency International conference that he was advised “at least one international intelligence community” had called the particular style of money laundering unique to B.C. casinos the “Vancouver model.” 

Eby did not identify the source, but a copy of Langdale’s presentation was emailed to him on Nov. 27 by Eby’s aide, George Smith. It was released last week to theBreaker under the freedom of information law. 

In his 38-slide presentation, Langdale delivered four case studies to outline the threat to Australia, focusing on historic alliances between Chinese criminal gangs and Latin American and European criminals and a possible alliance between North Korea and Chinese criminal gangs. 

The final case study was what Langdale called the Vancouver model, which is comprised of “complex networks of criminal alliances.” 

“Chinese underground banks are at the heart of Chinese criminal activity. Money [is] laundered from Vancouver into/out of China and to other locations (Mexico, Colombia),” reads a slide from Langdale’s presentation.

He further described how North American illegal drug networks are supplied by Chinese and Latin American gangs; the Chinese specialize in methamphetamines and precursor chemicals, while the Latin Americans are in the cocaine trade. 

Capital flight from China, he wrote, is facilitated by high rollers using Canadian casinos, with help from junket operators, resulting in investment in Canadian real estate. 

In an interview with theBreaker, Langdale said there is a lucrative industry for gambling tour operator companies to Macau, Philippines and Vancouver. Some of the companies are even listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange. 

“I think of [junket operators] as a finance company, essentially, that will provide transport, services and accommodation, but ultimately they provide the money,” Langdale said. “So when the high roller shows up at the casino, the money is there to gamble. The junket operators use underground banks.”

If a gambler loses $1 million on the trip, he said, the only recourse for the operator is to send a criminal gang to collect the debt when the gambler returns home to China. 

The July 2016 report to the BC Liberal government by MNP, which was finally released by the NDP government last September, described how high rollers visiting from China were using underground banks to access cash in bulk for gambling at River Rock Casino Resort in Richmond. 

Langdale’s research focused on Guangdong, which is in a state of flux. The province of 100 million grew rapidly using low-wage migrant labour, but the region has shifted into high tech products and services, resulting in a rise in cybercrime. 

British Columbia’s sister province in China is an epicentre of Pacific Rim crime, rife with trafficking in illegal drugs and counterfeit goods. It has a deep pool of both skilled labour and unskilled migrants and benefits from world class logistics networks, strong links to global Chinese diaspora, and proximity to the key centres of Hong Kong and Macau. 

Hong Kong is a global banking and business hub where shell companies help wealthy and politically connected Chinese shield their fortunes. Macau boasts the world’s largest casino turnover, with a history of facilitating crime, money laundering and capital flight. 

Langdale said the Vancouver model of 2017 is guaranteed to evolve, as authorities play catch-up with improved intelligence, and stronger laws and enforcement. 

“What I talk about in the Vancouver model today might not be the same in a couple years time, they’ll move on to a different way of doing things,” he said. “By being flexible, they’re opportunistic, they’ll respond to opportunities like new markets, obviously illegal drugs are a key way. If regulations tighten up, as I’m sure they will in Vancouver, they’ll have to use other means to launder the money.”

UBC law professor and anti-money laundering expert Peter German tendered his review of money laundering in Metro Vancouver casinos to Eby on March 31. Its public release is imminent.

Some of German’s preliminary recommendations for better compliance and enforcement may have had an impact already. Eby told a House of Commons committee last month that there was only $200,000 in suspicious transactions in B.C. casinos in February, compared to $20 million in July 2015. German’s next task is to review money laundering in the Metro Vancouver real estate market. He has already recommended luxury auto dealers be required to file reports to authorities when customers make large cash payments for supercars. 

One unknown is the impact on B.C., and the rest of the Pacific Rim, of Chinese president Xi Jinping’s indefinite rule, after the Chinese Communist Party recently scrapped term limits. 

“He will try to keep the corruption crackdown going,” Langdale said. “He’s got huge problems, there is a lot of corruption in China. At the local government areas, some provinces are more corrupt than others, Guangdong would be among the more corrupt, it’s where the money is. There is an old Chinese adage, the mountains are high and the emperor is far away. It still applies. 

“If you’re far away from Beijing, you can get away with quite a bit.”

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Bob Mackin John Langdale isn’t a household name

Bob Mackin

Salaries for civic employees cost Vancouver taxpayers almost half-a-billion dollars last year, a jump of $130 million since 2009.  

That is according to Vancouver city hall’s 2017 statement of financial information, which goes to city council this week. 

In 2009, the first full year of Gregor Robertson’s mayoralty and Vision Vancouver’s majority, the cost of labour was $367.9 million. If adjusted for inflation, that would be $423.6 million, which is almost $75 million less than the actual 2017 figure of $498.45 million. 

From 2013 to 2017, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents unionized civic staff, donated $247,100 to Vision Vancouver. The NDP provincial government banned union and corporate donations to candidates and parties last fall. 

City manager Sadhu Johnston has more than 337,000 reasons to smile (UBC)

In the same period, expense claims grew from nearly $612,000 to $1.51 million.  

Nineteen senior bureaucrats were paid more than $200,000 last year, up from 16 in 2016. 

Topping the list was city manager Sadhu Johnston at $337,914, plus $2,403 in expenses. Johnston’s salary increased from $328,583.08 in 2016. His predecessor, Penny Ballem, was paid $334,617 in 2014, her final full-year of employment, according to CityHallWatch. She was fired in September 2015. 

Real estate general manager Bill Aujla ($296,039), city solicitor Francie Connell ($292,695), chief financial officer Patrice Impey ($290,790), and city engineer Jerry Dobrovolny ($286,473) rounded-out the top five of 2017. 

Park board general manager Malcolm Bromley was the highest-paid at city hall’s Stanley Park subsidiary, at $284,563. 

The number of city white collar and blue collar workers in the $100,000-plus club reached 1,309 — up from 914 in 2016. 

Another 253 were paid between $95,019 and $99,986, five more than the 248 paid above $95,000 and under $100,000 in 2016. 

In the expenses column, streets director Taryn Scollard led with $22,149 in claims, up by more than $10,000 from 2016. She was followed by cultural services managing director Branislav Henselmann ($17,808) and assistant emergency management chief Scott Morrison ($13,974). 

In 2016, Robertson’s then-chief of staff, Mike Magee, was the biggest spender at $20,265.56. 

Forty-six bureaucrats charged $5,000 or more in expense claims, com pared with 22 in 2016. Planning general manager Gil Kelley ($10,812) and Impey ($9,458) were the highest claimers among senior management. 

Nobody at city hall’s 40-person communications department was able to answer questions from theBreaker on April 15.

On April 16, spokeswoman Ellie Lambert said in an email to theBreaker that Scollard represents the city on “a number of councils that require her to travel nationally to attend meetings.” Lambert did not name the councils. She said the city is also partially reimbursing Scollard for her MBA studies, but did not name the institution offering the degree.

As for the cost of salaries, Lambert said variables include the number of employed staff, amount of straight time and premium pay, and the outcomes of collective bargaining agreements.

“In particular, those agreements relating to public safety (some of which were determined through arbitration) have exceeded inflation over most of the time period in question,” she said, “while inflation itself has been relatively low over the same time frame.”


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Bob Mackin Salaries for civic employees cost Vancouver

In six months, Vancouverites will choose a new mayor. That is because Gregor Robertson won’t seek a fourth term. 

Will it be Shauna Silvester, the Robertson-blessed, Vision Vancouver insider who calls herself “independent”? 

Will it be former Park Board chair John Coupar, lobbyist and Coun. Hector Bremner or accountability activist Glen Chernen for the NPA? 

Pollster Mario Canseco’s research says many Vancouverites like Green Party Coun. Adriane Carr. But will she throw her hat in the ring? 

Host Bob Mackin interviews ResearchCo’s Canseco and Justason Market Intelligence’s Barb Justason about the contenders and pretenders on this edition of Podcast. 

Also hear an interview with Calgary Coun. Sean Chu, as the bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics has divided Mayor Naheed Nenshi’s city council ahead of a pivotal vote on whether to continue the quest, which could cost $4.6 billion or more.

Vancouver hosted the Games in 2010. It put a smile on the face of the real estate, construction and tourism industries. But the public that paid for the Games was left in the dark about the costs.

B.C.’s auditor general never did a final report. The organizing committee’s board minutes, payroll and procurement files are hidden from the public at the City of Vancouver archives until at least 2025.  

All that, plus regular commentaries and a look at news headlines in Cascadia and around the Pacific Rim. 

Listen by clicking below or go to iTunes and subscribe

Have you missed an edition of Podcast? Go to the archive.

Support for as low as $2 a month on Patreon. Find out how. Click here. Podcast Podcast Podcast: Looking ahead to Vancouver's mayoral election and whither Calgary's Olympic bid?

In six months, Vancouverites will choose a

Bob Mackin

Richmond city councillor Chak Kwong Au didn’t win the Richmond South Centre seat for the NDP in last spring’s provincial election. But he hosted Premier John Horgan for a fundraiser last summer and kicked-in $5,000.

A document released under the freedom of information law shows Horgan attended “lunch with Chak Au and guests” on Aug. 25, 2017 at a private dining room. The location was censored by the government for security reasons, but is believed to be in Burnaby. The schedule document includes a list of 22 confirmed guests, including management from Richway New Media Technology, Global Direct Trading Inc. and Global Fibreglass Solutions Canada. 

Richmond Coun. Chak Au lost for the NDP in spring 2017, but hosted a fundraiser in summer 2017. (Facebook)

According to Elections BC returns for 2017, those three companies, and Au himself, each donated $5,000 to the NDP, but the date listed in the Elections BC database is Sept. 13, 2017. The NDP returns do not include an Elections BC Fundraising Function report for either Aug. 25 or Sept. 13. 

Also on Sept. 13, 2017, the NDP reported $5,000 donations from Hui Zhang, Saltwater City Holdings and Yan Wang; $4,000 from Lai Fong Hui, $2,500 each from Xiao Jun Hao and Xue Wei Gong; and $2,000 from Top Western. All of the above donations total $46,000. 

At the Aug. 25 event, Horgan spent 15 minutes posing for photographs with guests and speaking for 15 minutes before lunch. He then participated in what was billed as an “open dialogue.” 

Horgan’s press secretary, Sheena McConnell, is listed on the document. Instead of commenting, she referred theBreaker to party communications manager Heather Libby. Libby did not respond.

One of the Aug. 25 guests was Guo Ding, a commentator and producer with Rogers-owned Omni TV. The NDP government appointed Ding at the end of December to the board of the Professional College of Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners and Acupuncturists. 

Au did not respond to theBreaker’s request for comment. His $5,000 NDP donation is worth just under one month’s salary at Richmond city council, where he is paid $61,353-a-year. Au is also a professional family therapist with Vancouver Coastal Health in Richmond. 

Meanwhile, the NDP appears to have raised as much as $52,500 from a controversial event at the home of a Surrey trucking company owner last Sept. 6. 

The host of the event was Kulwant Dhesi, owner of the Dhesi Enterprises trucking and logistics firm. Dhesi made a $10,000 donation to the BC Liberals, but it appears in the Elections BC database as Oct. 17, 2017. 

Sims, Horgan, Hepner and Meggs in Surrey Sept. 6.

There were also $5,000 donations from Padda Enterprises, Jasjeet Bhullar, Baltej Samra, Dhillon Designs Ltd., R.S. Gill Express Ltd., Raja Trailers and Equipment Sales, Shergill Transport and Super Fast Trucking and $2,500 from Raj Khela Real Estate. There is no Fundraising Function form for either Sept. 6 or Oct. 17. Dhesi declined comment when contacted by theBreaker

The BC Liberals slammed Horgan, chief of staff Geoff Meggs and Citizens Services Minister Jinny Sims for posing at that event in a group photograph with Maninder Gill and Jawahar Padda. Gill is the former Radio India manager appealing aggravated assault and weapons convictions over a shooting outside a Surrey temple in 2010. Padda is a pizzeria owner who is scheduled to appear May 22 in Surrey Provincial Court on charges of pointing a firearm, uttering threats and unlawful confinement. 

At the time, Horgan said that he was not privy to the invitation list, but would be more careful in future. 

“I abhor what [Gill] has done and he has been convicted and he will pay the price for that,” Horgan said.

While in opposition, the Horgan-led NDP often criticized BC Liberal Premier Christy Clark for holding similar events where attendees made large donations in order to have an audience with the premier. Last fall, the NDP banned corporations and unions from donating, and set a $1,200 annual limit for donations by individuals who are Canadian citizens or permanent residents. 

The new law also includes new rules for reporting fundraising events and for a $100-per-person cap on admission to fundraisers at a private residence.

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Bob Mackin Richmond city councillor Chak Kwong Au

Bob Mackin

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.”

Has a citizen caught Coun. Hector Bremner (far right) with his pants down? (@PaceGroupVan)

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.  

Bremner and 2017 by-election campaign worker Bhela in 2013. (Twitter)

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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Bob Mackin NPA Coun. Hector Bremner’s continued vice-presidency

Bob Mackin 

A B.C. Supreme Court judge ordered a lawsuit involving dual agency and shadow flipping in the sale of a British Properties house to go to full trial instead of a summary hearing “at the earliest possible opportunity,” because it would be unjust otherwise. 

In a written April 11 verdict, Justice Nigel Kent decided against defendants Zhixiang Li, Sincere Real Estate Services Ltd. and agent Yi Zhang aka Leo Zhang, who sought a summary hearing on liability issues and dismissal of the case generally.

Plaintiff Wen Hsien Tsai claimed he is elderly and unsophisticated with poor English skills and was the victim of deception and fraud. Tsai accused Li and Zhang of conspiring to induce him to sell his property below market value so they could resell it for a profit. The defendants deny conspiracy or other wrongful conduct. 

Sincere agent Yi Leo Zhang (Sincere)

Plaintiff Tsai agreed to buy 1028 Eyremount Drive in West Vancouver’s British Properties on May 16, 2015 for $5.1 million. Sincere was the broker of the transaction. On the same date and at the same time, Tsai signed an exclusive listing contract with Sincere. He agreed to pay a gross commission of $100,000 and a limited dual agency agreement authorizing Zhang to be agent for both buyer and seller.  

Two months later, on July 14, 2015, Li assigned the contract of purchase to a numbered company, 1035566 B.C. Ltd., for $600,000, representing a total purchase price for the property to the assignee of $5.7 million. The next day, Tsai signed an addendum to the deal, extending possession and adjustment dates for the transition from the end of October to the start of December. 

“That addendum contained a clause expressly reserving Mr. Li’s right to assign the contract to any third party without notice to Mr. Tsai. Mr. Zhang of Sincere acted as Mr. Li’s broker for the purpose of the assignment and also secured Mr. Tsai’s signature on the Addendum the following day,” Kent wrote.  

Tsai received a $5,000 cheque on July 15, drawn from the numbered company’s bank account, with the notation: “For the extension of completion from Oct 30 to Nov 30.” The contract was further assigned by the numbered company to Lian Zhang, who is not related to Sincere’s Zhang, for $6.3 million. 

Tsai claimed he was unaware of the assignment transactions until mid-October of that year and filed a lawsuit on Oct. 23, 2015. He refused to complete sale of the property on Nov. 30, 2015. In expert reports to the court, the May 2015 property value was estimated at between $5 million and $5.645 million. BC Assessment set the five-bedroom, five-bathroom house at $6.01 million last year.

Court documents include various WeChat messages between Li and Zhang from March to December 2015. During some of the exchanges they refer to themselves as “brother” or “bro.” 

“Some exchanges relate to the property that is the subject matter of the present litigation, as well as to over 40 other properties,” Kent wrote. 

“The fact that Mr. Li and Mr. Zhang may have been friends before the transaction with Mr. Tsai may have no legal significance whatsoever.  In the context of a dual agency scenario, however, skeptics might suggest otherwise. And it must not be overlooked that Mr. Tsai has sworn under oath that he was effectively deceived by Mr. Zhang. First, he portrays himself as an elderly, retired gentleman with a poor command of the English language and whose cataracts make reading difficult for him in any event. “

New provincial rules to stop shadow flipping and dual agency came into effect across British Columbia last month. 

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Bob Mackin  A B.C. Supreme Court judge ordered

Bob Mackin

A B.C. Supreme Court judge agreed with lawyers for the BC Liberal Party and quashed a lawsuit aimed at forcing the party to repay the public treasury for millions of dollars of partisan pre-election ads. 

David Trapp, a retired, 63-year-old TransLink network analyst, had sued the BC Liberals and the B.C. government on March 20, 2017. He claimed the government breached its fiduciary duty to taxpayers by diverting money for use by the governing party on a pre-election ad blitz aimed at winning re-election. Trapp’s lawsuit alleged that the BC Liberals had conspired to be unjustly enriched and committed conversion.

The BC Liberal government ad campaign that sparked a lawsuit. (BC Gov)

In his April 10 written ruling, Justice Ward Branch said that a political party is an unincorporated association that cannot be sued. The party’s argument was supported by a 1987 Ontario Superior Court ruling that stated, “At common law, political parties, like trade unions, have had no legal existence.”

In a Feb. 23 hearing, Trapp’s lawyers, Paul Doroshenko and David Fai, unsuccessfully argued that political parties should be considered legal entities because they must be registered, state their assets and liabilities, appoint a financial agent and auditor, and be governed by expense limits and other laws. The BC Liberals were represented by lawyers Andrew Borrell and Caroline Senini of Fasken, the firm behind $439,785 in donations to the party. 

“You can’t get recourse against political parties by suing them, it’s unfortunate for our society,” Doroshenko said in an interview. “It opens it up for them to be able to abuse that. I guess that’s what they did, they know they can get away with it.”

Branch wrote that the key question was whether provincial tax dollars are “goods of the plaintiff” that can be the subject of the conversion claim against the BC Liberals. 

“I find they are not,” Branch wrote. “Once tax dollars enter the government’s coffers, it would not be proper to characterize those as goods of the plaintiff. Rather they become the property of the government. Decisions made by public officials in pursuit of the public good often cause adverse effects on private interests. But that will not, without more, establish a private interest in public money enforceable in tort.”

Branch also wrote that the only deprivation alleged by the plaintiff under the claim for unjust enrichment was that the government failed to expend funds on other worthy causes. 

“Taxpayers cannot generally control how government funds are spent,” Branch wrote. “There is no guarantee that any monies spent on other objects would necessarily be spent on causes favoured by each and every taxpayer. Indeed, it is virtually assured that they will not be.”

Branch suggested four alternative means for the plaintiff to go about righting the wrong: quasi-criminal proceedings under the Election Act; criminal prosecution for breach of trust under the Criminal Code; a claim for malfeasance in public office; or voting out the party who performed the wrongful acts in an election. 

“We’ve already done one,” Doroshenko said. “The discussion that was thrust out there to the public assisted the public to vote the way they did. We’re investigating the other ones.”

When he filed the lawsuit, former cancer patient Trapp said the government should spend money on “real doctors, not spin doctors.” 

His statement of claim said the party had raised enough money on its own — more than $32.6 million since the 2013 election — that it could afford to pay for its own campaign and not rely on taxpayers. 

Doroshenko is a former BC Liberal volunteer who worked on ex-Premier Gordon Campbell’s riding campaigns. He said NDP advertising waste in the 1990s spurred his activism to help the Liberals win the 2001 election. Campbell banned non-essential advertising in the four-month lead-up to the 2009 election, a policy that Christy Clark scrapped after she became premier in 2011. In opposition in 1999, Clark had been an outspoken foe of NDP advertising waste.  

During Clark’s last fiscal year in office, the party spent $20.5 million of taxpayers’ funds on advertising, but only $1.6 million was deemed statutory. Nearly $15.4 million went to four companies for the “Our Opportunity Is Here” campaign. Companies owned by BC Liberal party workers Kim Pickett ($2.5 million) and Jatinder Rai ($503,000) were among the four suppliers. 

Lawyer Doroshenko

Clark unleashed the “Our Opportunity Is Here” campaign in November 2015, strategically designed to position the BC Liberals for a 2017 win. The Clark Clique wound up losing nine seats and its majority, setting the stage for the Green-supported NDP’s rise to power.

Before the last election, the NDP had promised to enact a law giving the auditor general veto power over government ad campaigns. Premier John Horgan’s government has not yet tabled such a bill. Instead, it has embarked on an ad blitz on multiple fronts: $1.325 million on budget-related ads, $2 million on anti-overdose ads and $300,000 for an electoral reform campaign. ICBC, meanwhile, has spent $800,000 for ads about its financial troubles and BC Hydro is amid a $1.3 million campaign to promote household energy saving. 

“Neither one of us are letting it go,” Doroshenko said. “We’re going to try and figure out how we can call attention to it and get our politicians to look at their behaviour here. There is nothing more offensive than to use taxpayer money to promote their party.” 

Meanwhile, the Elections BC database shows a $300 donation to the BC Liberal Party from a Ward Branch, dated March 31, 2017. A man with the same name also made two donations to the B.C. NDP in spring 2013 worth $150 and $250. At the time of the BC Liberal donation, Branch was a managing partner at Branch MacMaster LLP. The class-action specialist was appointed to the B.C. Supreme Court on June 9, 2017. 

theBreaker asked Bruce Cohen, the communications officer for B.C.’s superior courts, to confirm whether the Ward Branch who donated to the BC Liberal Party before the 2017 election is now the B.C. Supreme Court judge. “I have no comment in response to your inquiry,” Cohen said by email. 

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Bob Mackin A B.C. Supreme Court judge agreed