COPE apologizes for taking real-estate company’s money, says failure to disclose under investigation

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      The Coalition of Progressive Electors has issued an official response to allegations it accepted money from a real-estate developer and failed to include $12,500 in a November 4 disclosure of campaign contributions.

      The email, signed by COPE executive co-chairs Heather Gies and Tim Louis, apologizes for what happened and promises that the money will be returned.

      “COPE recognizes that vetting procedures which should have been in place around developer donations were either deficient or overlooked,” it states. “COPE is working to identify and rectify the problems caused by these deficiencies, and will develop a robust system of checks and balances moving forward.”

      According to the email, the donations—$3,000 from Canreal Management Corporation plus $9,500 from the company’s president, Raymond Bergen—were “not initially perceived to contravene COPE's policy of not accepting donations from developers”.

      Whether or not Canreal is a “development” corporation became the subject of intense debate within COPE’s membership following a party meeting held on November 23. (Bergen has said Canreal is not active in residential development.) Before that date, most COPE candidates running in the 2014 civic election were not aware the donations in question existed, several of them have claimed in interviews with the Straight.

      “There are many people who were horrified to learn of this betrayal,” said COPE city council candidate Gayle Gavin via telephone. “I have taken steps with other candidates to repay one of the developers [Canreal]. We have been working on that since November 25 or 26 when we found out about this.”

      On December 15, the Straight reported that COPE financial agent Margaret Panton revealed at a December 4 meeting that it was a COPE member or members who approached Canreal and initiated a discussion around donations. (During that speech, Panton was highly critical of the party, going so far as to say she regrets accepting the position she holds with it today.)

      The December 16 statement emailed to media leaves key questions unanswered, including which COPE member or members asked Bergen and Canreal for donations.

      When the Straight asked Gavin—perhaps the most outspoken critic of COPE accepting the money, she responded: “A very dedicated and valuable member of our organization was put under a great deal of pressure to find a donation. This person brought back the donation and said, ‘I would like this vetted first’, because one check was written personally and the member noticed that the second check was written on a corporation. It was not vetted properly.”

      Gavin declined repeated requests for a name.

      The December 16 statement also fails to answer why the $3,000 and $9,500 donations were not included in a list of political contributions published on November 4, a matter that it only says will be investigated.

      “COPE is taking these errors seriously and is currently developing internal processes to address this issue, including clarifying donations policies and vetting procedures to avoid future errors,” the email reads. “COPE wholeheartedly apologizes for letting down the voters of Vancouver, our membership, and the candidates who campaigned in good faith.”

      For the $12,500 to not count as official political donations, COPE will have to repay it to Canreal and Bergen before a February 13 disclosure deadline set by Elections B.C. (That’s according to COPE’s email. A City of Vancouver website states that Elections B.C. will actually accept disclosure statements up until March 16, albeit with a $500 “late filing fee” for each document submitted.)

      COPE treasurer Paul Houle previously told the Straight that most COPE members are in agreement the donations should be repaid. However, according to Houle, the party currently does not have funds available to return the money.

      Comments

      7 Comments

      Save Vancouver

      Dec 16, 2014 at 10:22pm

      So Gayle Gavin was "horrified to learn of this betrayal"? Maybe she should be more horrified by COPE's failure to elect anyone.

      wait whaaaaat?

      Dec 16, 2014 at 10:37pm

      These people aren't even competent enough to figure out if they are accepting money from real estate corporations. And they campaigned as *THE* party not beholden to real estate interests and corporations?

      What a joke. Amateur hour is over. You are done.

      Gayle Gavin

      Dec 16, 2014 at 11:34pm

      People of Vancouver,

      On December 14 I came to the COPE membership meeting with 100 copies of evidence of this betrayal, that were handed out with the full intention to publicly disclose that some members of the COPE campaign committee had taken moneys from two developers, contrary to COPE policy. My only regret is that I was the second, not the first person able to speak of it. I had no intention of sweeping this under the carpet.

      You as well as myself and other COPE candidates were betrayed by this grave transgression, whether with intent or through carelessness, that might work to undermine our faith that we can reform our government through the electoral process.

      A new approach to political organizations is necessary. Revealing to the light of day errors such as these – accepting and then hiding donations from developers –builds the quality of organization that can unite people to change human development, here in Vancouver and around the world.

      Redressing such problems is the basis of community cohesion. Some COPE candidates and members have already raised $3,000 to repay the Canreal Management Corporation portion of the donations. While COPE candidates are continuing their work in their communities, part of our effort will be to raise money to repay COPE’s debts to developers, banks and former backers.

      Gayle Gavin

      Dec 17, 2014 at 8:34am

      P.S. Lisa Barrett, Jennifer O'Keefe, and Wilson Munoz walked to the front of the room with me to make the announcement and Lisa and Wilson spoke. We are all on the audio [starting about 10 minutes] released by Metro News December 15, titled "Financial Agent Report". On November 25, Sid Chow Tan was the first to donate a cheque to repay Canreal. Audrey Siegl expressed her distress of the incident and had to leave after the First Naitons welcome. Keith Higgins brought serious cash to the meeting for repayment of Canreal. Tim Louis, who is also the co-chair of COPE, sat close to Wilson Munuz. when the three of us spoke.

      Gayle Gavin

      Dec 17, 2014 at 8:46am

      More than one quarter of the funds to repay Canreal represent contributions by candidates on the Parks and School slates.

      Tommy Khang

      Dec 17, 2014 at 9:01am

      Can COPE stop pretending like its a viable party now and truly take itself off life support? These kind of shenanigans must be highly off putting towards whatever is left of the COPE base.

      James Blatchford

      Dec 17, 2014 at 9:13am

      Gayle Gavin: sister, way too much drama...this is not the end of the world. It is you that declared this type of donation "filthy lucra"....that is, until someone offered you some. Get over yourselves, no need for a biblical shaming. Say sorry and move the hell on. Stop the Spanish Inquisition before you drive Monty Python out of retirement.