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.