Port Moody councillors spar over developer donations as election finance resolution rescinded and revised
Election season is over, but old grievances still appear to scar Port Moody’s council.
An election finance resolution passed by the former council was rescinded on Feb. 28, and replaced with an updated version, sparking a heated debate over developer donations.
Councillors took turns speaking in extended monologues, either defending their integrity, dismissing public concerns, or making accusatory statements at former and current colleagues.
“We as a council cannot continue to demonize developers,” said Coun. Diana Dilworth. “I was shamed, I was demeaned, and people in this room circulated a disgusting postcard that was mailed to every single resident in Port Moody.”
The majority of the discussion centred on whether developer contributions to candidates were a legitimate issue in the city.
The rescinded resolution, which the previous council passed on July 19, 2022, specifically called for tighter regulation of industry donations, and greater transparency when councillors vote.
It stipulated councillors should disclose their contribution amounts from individuals associated with that development, and possibly recuse themselves, prior to a vote.
Furthermore, the resolution called for campaign disclosure statements to be made available on the city website, with a summary list of industry donors.
Lastly, it recommended advocating for tighter restrictions at future Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) and Lower Mainland Local Government Association (LMLGA) meetings.
These include stricter conditions on industry donors if they do not reside or vote locally, mandated councillor disclosures, and the public financing of elections.
Couns. Samantha Agtarap and Kyla Knowles tabled the new resolution, which cut the former document’s focus on developers, and emphasized the need for publicly funding campaigns.
The report stated all allegations of undue influence through campaign contributions are unsubstantiated, and that restrictions cannot single out the development industry as it is discriminatory.
Knowles added the former resolution was “divisive in nature.”
Agtarap called it undemocratic to exclude or limit participation by someone based on their job or relationships, adding the wording was vague.
“Does this mean that members of the Legion, or churches, that have worked with developers … would be ineligible to donate to election campaigns?” she said.
Agtarap said the restrictions should apply to all donors equally.
The new resolution stated the current system of campaign funding creates an inequitable playing field, as wealthier, or better connected candidates can better fund their campaigns.
They pitched a variety of solutions, from pooling and limiting resources between candidates for advertising, to banning political slates.
Most of the meeting’s discussion, however, focused on whether or not developer donations were, in fact, an issue at all.
The Dispatch recently conducted an analysis of developer donations during the 2022 municipal elections.
Port Moody was the only city in the Tri-Cities where donations from developers eclipsed corporate donations made in 2014, the last municipal election before the province banned such donations in 2017.
Nearly $70,000 rolled into the campaigns of eight candidates, five of whom were elected.
Most of these candidates received the majority of their funding through developers, with some receiving significant percentages from executives associated with a single company.
All of the councillors who took industry donations fiercely defended their impartiality and inability to be bought through a donation.
Coun. Haven Lurbiecki was clearly the subject of many of the other councillors’ ire.
She was the sole elected member of mayoral candidate Steve Milani’s slate, who campaigned on their refusal to take developer contributions
Lurbiecki was also the only councillor who voted against rescinding the former resolution, and approving the new resolution.
While she voiced support for publicly funded elections, she said she found the new resolution weaker than its predecessor, adding it seems disingenuous to those who raised the issue during the campaign.
Lurbiecki said the concern is not that a $1,250 max donation would buy a candidate, but that many councillors funded the majority of their campaigns with these donations, instead of local residents.
“If they don’t even live in Port Moody, and they have a development proposal in front of us, why are they giving you that funding?” she said. “If you honestly feel that you need that money, and you cannot get elected without the support of industry … What does that say?”
She criticized the rationale for council revisiting a resolution which had already passed, and questioned why the former resolution had not already been sent to UBCM and LMLGA.
Staff responded that the resolution missed the UBCM deadline by a month, and a staffing turnover stalled it from being sent earlier.
“It doesn’t look good,” Lurbiecki said. “I completely disagree with rescinding the previous motion from last term. It calls for public funding, like you claim to want to support, but it actually gets to the meat of the problem.”
Many Port Moody residents genuinely do care about developer influence in local politics, Lurbiecki concluded, adding the issue will continue to come up.
“You can try to say that … no one cares about this, but I’m telling you, they do.”
Knowles said she and other councillors were “named and shamed repeatedly” by their opposition for refusing to discriminate against developers.
She said the issue is “political posturing” by current and former councillors who don’t want to accept the results of the election.
“Too much time has been wasted on this matter already,” Knowles said. “I hope those who seek to derail the work of this council with petty and defamatory accusations of corruption, come to accept that the residents of Port Moody chose (us).”
Dilworth said that no elected member of the current council has broken any campaign finance law, and have followed the legislated set by the province.
She said some candidates tried, and failed, to force a wedge issue on the matter, adding that any concerns over developer donations should be directed at local MLAs.
“They are not bribes or corruption as some love to insinuate,” Dilworth said. “The motion of our last council to mandate a higher level of transparency is a moot one, at best.”
Coun. Callan Morrison said he was sad to see the issue surface again, and that only a minority on council, and in the community, care about developer donations.
He said that the wording of the former council’s motion was meant to challenge the integrity of their opponents.
“This motion was passed, in my opinion, with the intent to cast fear and doubt in our community for an upcoming election,” Morrison said. “I grew up here, a $1,200 donation, a $12,000 donation, heck, a $12 million donation will never make me compromise my integrity.”
He said the results of the election were clear, and disagreed that it was a concern among Port Moody citizens, apart from a “small pocket.”
Coun. Amy Lubik said she doesn’t doubt that everyone is following the law, but said she thinks there are wider systemic issues and loopholes that are still being taken advantage of by corporate actors.
She mentioned the case of the Pacific Prosperity Network, a variation of a U.S. super-PAC, which took in significant cash from wealthy individuals to support pro-business candidates across B.C. – notably $380,000 from Lululemon founder, Chip Wilson.
Patrick Penner, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Tri-Cities Dispatch