UBC ethicist David Silver not worried about anonymous seawall donor
Critics of the purported $10 million pledged anonymously for the extension of Vancouver’s seawall have raised questions about the money’s source. But the chair in business ethics at UBC’s Sauder School of Business has said that although “there are issues about the ethics of anonymous donations”, overall he’s not alarmed.
“Some of them have to do with whether somebody is trying to pretend that there is a donation given in the public interest which is actually serving the private interest,” David Silver told the Straight by phone. “Another issue, which I do not think arises in this case no matter what, is when someone gives an anonymous donation—or any donation, really—and it could be in the public interest, but what they are trying to do is they are trying to co-opt the decision-making body’s direction.”
At its July 23 meeting, the Vancouver park board voted to defer Comm. Sarah Blyth’s motion to look at the feasibility of extending the seawall from just west of Kitsilano Beach to Jericho Beach Park.
Prior to the vote, NPA commissioner Melissa De Genova said that an anonymous donor offered $1 million in the 1990s to finance a tunnel under the Lions Gate Bridge. When this person was outed in a newspaper, the offer was revoked, according to De Genova.
“The COPE opposition [at the time] were adamantly against having a donor who was anonymous for the very reason we’re opposed to it tonight,” she declared.
Coun. Geoff Meggs, however, said at the July 10 city-council meeting: “I think it’s very important that when people come forward to help the city anonymously that we respect their contribution and their wish to remain anonymous.”
According to Silver, a government or organization “can only do so much work”, and if you give a large donation, “you could be controlling what they would do” if they wouldn’t have done it [the same thing] without the money.
“And there are some things they would love to do if only they had the money, and then that’s okay to give,” Silver added. “But if you are trying to change their direction, that can be a problem. But in this case, city council can do more than one thing at a time, and so the ethics of it for me would be involved [with]: is there a potential credible, nonpublic interest at stake here? If there isn’t, then I don’t see the problem with an anonymous donation.”