Developers holding fundraiser for councillor on planning committee

Former Ottawa city councillor and planning chair Peter Hume is organizing a fundraiser with developers for Coun. Jean Cloutier, currently a member of the planning committee.

Cloutier is running for a second term in Alta Vista after succeeding Hume in 2014. The two are friends. Hume helped Cloutier win in 2014, and is managing his campaign this year.

'There's nothing nefarious about this.' - Ted Phillips, Taggart Group

In an email sent out Wednesday morning and obtained by CBC News, Hume invited nearly 70 business people — virtually all involved in the development industry — to a fundraiser lunch at Al's Steakhouse next week.

"Ted Phillips, Mike Casey and I have offered to host a campaign lunch for Councillor Cloutier," wrote Hume, referring to Taggart Group and Arnon Corp. executives, respectively.

Provided

Cloutier will attend fundraiser

When reached by CBC, Cloutier said Hume reached out to the development community because it's an industry with which the former councillor is now involved as a private citizen.

"If Peter Hume was a doctor he would have reached out to doctors and it would have been a fundraiser for doctors," Cloutier said.

"Just like we've reached out to people of the film community, the community association, the accounting community — the business communities that I've been involved with in the past."

Cloutier said he plans to attend the fundraiser.

No rules broken

The fundraiser is legal under municipal election rules. While corporate and union donations are now banned, any resident is allowed to donate up to $1,200 to individual candidates — a fact highlighted in Hume's email to invitees.

"Personal cheques should be made out to 'Elect Jean Cloutier'," Hume wrote. "If you cannot attend but would like to donate, please let me know and we can make other arrangements."

Phillips said he was asked by Hume to help Cloutier, which he was happy to do.

"I think Jean is a really good councillor and he brings a good perspective to the city," said Phillips, pointing to Cloutier's experience in small business.

"There's nothing nefarious about this."

Perception of conflict

For residents who believe the development industry holds too much sway over city council, however, this situation can give the perception of a conflict of interest.

The development industry, more than any private industry, needs direct approval from city councillors for projects to go ahead.

Some question whether it's appropriate for members of the planning committee to ask for money from those in the development industry under any circumstance.

Opponents refuse developer donations

Several of Cloutier's campaign rivals have vowed they won't knowingly take campaign donations from anyone involved in the development industry.

Kevin Kit, one of five candidates running against Cloutier, started a community association three years ago because he felt residents were not being heard as the Elmvale Acres Mall was redeveloped by RioCan. It's an issue that's again at the forefront thanks to the mass eviction happening in Heron Gate.

Cloutier is currently working with a development company on a new plan for the community, where more than 100 low-income families are facing eviction.

"If you're sitting on not only planning committee, but also on city council and you're casting a massive net out into the development world to ask for contributions, I cannot honestly see how you're not putting yourself at least in a perceived conflict of interest," Kit said, who has promised not to accept any donations from developers.

Raylene Lang-Dion, who made the same pledge in her bid to win the council seat in Alta Vista, said Cloutier's fundraiser gives her pause.

"One would expect that people would know better these days," she said.

Lang-Dion is married to city hall lobbyist Patrick Dion, who sometimes represents developers and who met with the integrity commissioner early in his wife's campaign for advice on how to avoid any real or perceived conflict of interest.

"The bottom line is that you want to be elected by the people," Lang-Dion said.

Another candidate, John Redins, said he isn't surprised by the fundraiser given how closely Hume has been associated with Cloutier's campaign.

"Who is [Cloutier] speaking up for, the people of Alta Vista or developers?" asked Redins, who said he's running his campaign with zero donation.

Other candidates could not be reached for comment.