New rules, no problem: Developers still making big political contributions in Langley Township
LANGLEY, B.C. – Prior to the last municipal election, new regulations came into effect in an effort to limit corporate and union influence at the local level.
But CTV News has learned some of the largest developers in the province have found ways around the rules by having executives make significant personal contributions to re-election campaigns.
In the Township of Langley, Elections BC campaign disclosure statements show the mayor and three incumbent councillors accepted tens of thousands of dollars in donations from executives and staff at several large development firms.
All of the donations in question were made while council considered redevelopment applications, or neighbourhood plans, where the firms in question had significant projects at stake.
Between May 16 and June 22 in 2018, Mayor Jack Froese and incumbent councillors Blair Whitmarsh and Angie Quaale received a total of $10,200 from Diane Mitchell, Ken Mitchell, Ryan O’Shea, Jacilyn O’Shea and Marlene Best, who are all executives at the Mitchell Group.
Between April 9 and October 1, the mayor and those councillors participated in several debates and public hearings about the Williams Neighbourhood Plan, an area where the Mitchell Group owns 162-acres of land.
The mayor and the two councillors each supported amendments allowing for a larger floor plan for a grocery store that Ken Mitchell spoke in support of at a public hearing. They also voted against an amendment calling for the plan to include more park space.
"Any of those resolutions at council that have been passed, they should be thrown out and have to go back to square one,” said former Langley Township mayor Rick Green. “It's just totally unheard of."
Green, who lost the 2011 mayoral race to Froese, says he did accept developer donations during his political career, but never while those same companies had business before council.
Nobody from the Mitchell Group returned phone calls or emails seeking comment.
The Beedie Group had four projects approved by Langley Township council between July and October of 2018, and during that time four different Beedie executives donated a total of $10,800 to the re-election campaigns of Mayor Froese and Councillors Long and Whitmarsh, and Angie Quaale.
Ryan Beedie, president of the development corporation gave $3,600, while Todd Yuen, president of the firm’s industrial division gave a total of $4,800 to the four candidates.
Robert Fiovento and Jason Tonin, two other Beedie executives, donated $1,200 each.
The seven separate donations took place on June 30, July 4, July 10, July 15, July 25, Sept. 26 and Oct. 9.
Those donations overlap with the four final votes approving the Beedie development projects which took place July 9, July 23, Sept. 17 and Oct. 1.
Calls and emails to the Beedie Group were not returned.
Vesta Properties is developing the largest master planned community in Metro Vancouver and had four different development permits and amendments approved by Langley Township council between April 9 and Oct. 1, 2018.
Vesta president Kent Sillars donated $1,000 to Coun. Whitmarsh on May 16, $1,000 to Mayor Froese on June 26, and $1,000 to Councillor Long on Sept. 11.
Vesta vice-president Dennis Wiemken donated $1,200 to Coun. Long on September 11.
Nobody from Vesta responded to requests for comment on the donations.
None of the personal donations made by executives at the development firms exceeded the allowable amounts.
In an email, Coun. Bob Long denied any wrongdoing.
“There is NO way that my influence can be bought in ANY circumstance and so I reject completely any suggestion of influence,” he said.
Mayor Froese did not return calls and emails seeking comment.
Former councillor Quaale did not win re-election in 2018 and in an email declined to comment for this story.
Coun. Blair Whitmarsh is out of the country, but did provide an emailed statement to CTV News.
“The election financing rules are put in place to deal with potential issues on conflict and to create a level playing field for all candidates in a municipal election. I was and still am fully committed to being a person of honesty and integrity and I did not sway from those rules in any way,” said Whitmarsh.
“It is clear that there are differing opinions on every decision that Council makes but I have never made a decision in which I considered the source of a previous campaign donation as part of my decision process.”
In a similar circumstance in 2016, Langley Township sought a legal opinion from the law firm Lidstone and Company.
“A campaign contribution alone does not establish a financial conflict of interest,” wrote lawyer Don Lidstone. “The exception is where the contribution was a donation made…while the matter is before council.”
The mayor and three councillors who accepted the donations from executives at development firms in 2018 were all on the council that received Lidstone’s legal opinion in June of 2016.