VANCOUVER—It was crisp, white pieces of paper folded up and lying on a drab sidewalk not far from Vancouver City Hall that grabbed the attention of Stanley Q. Woodvine.
The paper was pristine enough for Woodvine to assume someone had recently dropped it. So, being a binner who is homeless, he picked it up.
“I thought, ‘Somebody just dropped this, I wonder what it is?’ ” he said.
The contents of the two sheets, including large sums under a donations category, have quickly become a conversation topic in the local municipal election.
The list of names includes many people in the real-estate development industry, leading to allegations they may have been getting their business and social circles to donate the maximum allowed to the political party of the current mayor, Kennedy Stewart, called Forward Together.
Forward Together said it follows provincial electoral regulations.
Yet in a city facing a housing crisis that many blame on a lack of rental units and homes suitable for families being built, the idea that the man running for re-election as a champion of those having housing troubles is significantly funded by property developers has not been well received.
After complaints, Elections BC said it is now reviewing the list to ensure rules are being followed.
Woodvine said he wasn’t sure what the documents meant and who they related to, so he tweeted out a photo of the first page.
As a blogger who writes about being homeless, Woodvine said, his followers are often well versed and engaged in city affairs. He said they quickly came to the conclusion the list looked like a potential donations list for Forward Together.
“People who read the tweet started to volunteer information,” he said. “They were able to basically connect some of the dots, they could look at first names and say that might be this person who works with this party.”
The paper had some of the most notable names in the Vancouver development community on it. Their names were listed under the title “Captain” followed by columns showing 2022 donations, goal, “NM followup” and notes. There were 38 names in total.
The “NM” matches the initials of Neil Monckton, the City of Vancouver’s chief of staff. The name “Neil” is also mentioned in the spreadsheet. Other first names on the documents also correspond with those of people in Stewart’s circle, such as Alvin. Stewart’s communications director as mayor was Alvin Singh, now a candidate for the party.
Forward Together sent a statement to the Star saying the party follows all Elections BC rules and also disclosed its donor list in August.
Some Vancouver media outlets have confirmed the figures with some of those in the papers. The Tyee sought out those on the list earlier this week and reported one person confirmed his name and the amount donated was correct but was unsure of why he was listed as a “captain.”
The figures listed are far higher than the donation limit of $1,250 per person in British Columbia, leading Woodvine and others to suggest the sheet shows influential people in the development industry could be raising political donations from their peer groups.
The sheet has $64,350 next to one name in the 2022 donations category.
There’s no suggestion of anything illegal, it should be noted.
Duff Conacher, a co-founder of Democracy Watch, said the optics nonetheless aren’t good.
“It shows how much of a sham the donation limit is, and that applies provincially as well,” Conacher said.
Though corporations themselves can’t donate large sums of money to a political candidate, they can still raise it. Such contributions could give them an oversized amount of influence at Vancouver City Hall, he opined.
Conacher said if the donation limits were much smaller, such as under $100, then politicians would need far more people to donate to earn the same amount. It would also put everyone on a more even playing field because many residents can’t afford to donate $1,250.
Bill Tieleman, the campaign manager and council candidate of rival party TEAM for a Livable Vancouver, said he filed a complaint to Elections BC regarding the list.
Tieleman said his concerns go further than whether any rules were broken in fundraising. The city of Vancouver deals with rezoning applications regularly.
Therefore, even the appearance of developers getting preferential treatment must be avoided, he said, which is why his party won’t accept them.
“It’s the wrong appearance to be having,” Tieleman said.
Woodvine said he thinks the list shows a need for further reforms in the political fundraising regime in the province.
After coming into power in 2017, the provincial NDP set out new guidelines putting an end to the days of unlimited donations from anyone in B.C.
Perhaps even more regulations are needed, Woodvine said, and those regulations can start with declaring where money for political campaigns is coming from before election day. The figures for the October 2018 municipal elections were not released until February 2019.
“I believe voters should actually be aware of how parties are raising this money,” he said. “I believe that all Vancouver parties should have to declare this information before the vote so that the voters can actually make a decision.”
Election day is Oct. 15.
Jeremy Nuttall is a Vancouver-based investigative reporter for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @Nuttallreports