Question for city hall watchers: Have you ever heard of a Surrey realtor named Balpreet Bal, or a development company called Modern Green Canada?
Neither had I until I made my semi-regular trip to city hall to inspect a set of forms the mayor and councillors are required to fill out when they receive a “gift or personal benefit” worth $50 or more. The requirement is spelled out in the city’s code of conduct policy.
What I discovered is Bal gave Mayor Kennedy Stewart a $91.99 bottle of 15-year-old Glenlivet scotch. Bal also gave councillors Sarah Kirby-Yung and Lisa Dominato each a $39 bottle of Amarone wine, or as Dominato wrote it, “Montresor Amarone della Valpolicella.”
Coun. Michael Wiebe received a $68 “bottle of whiskey” from Bal.
The gifts were received in December.
I’ll let you know where all that booze ended up after I tell you about some “chocolate houses” that were sent to certain councillors from Modern Green Canada, which is developing the former Oakridge Transit Centre property on West 41st Avenue, near Oak Street.
Kirby-Yung, along with councillors Dominato, Adriane Carr and Colleen Hardwick each received a chocolate house from Modern Green Canada. Kirby-Yung noted in her forms the house was worth $23.99. So did Hardwick, but Dominato and Carr listed their houses at $30 each.
Carr also received a book, Great Walls of New Zealand, from a visiting cabinet minister from New Zealand. She listed the book’s worth at $70.
Those are all the gifts the mayor and councillors received, according to the documents I inspected Jan. 16. It’s not clear to me whether other councillors received gifts and have yet to disclose them, or they just weren’t on the gift lists of Bal and Modern Green Canada, or anyone else for that matter.
The city’s code of conduct also states that elected officials, staff and members of advisory bodies have the option to not accept the gift or personal benefit “and relinquish immediately to the city clerk without disclosure.”
Bal told me he wasn’t sure whether he sent booze to all of council and would check with his assistant and get back to me. He was also unsure whether he sent gifts to other Metro Vancouver councils. As of writing this, I hadn’t heard back from him. I also sent an email to Modern Green Canada’s media relations person, but didn’t get a response.
So where did all that booze go?
According to the documents, the Glenlivet scotch sent to the mayor was “disposed of.” Stewart told me in an interview that he re-gifted it to a friend. In fact, he said, he doesn’t drink scotch. Kirby-Yung “kept” her wine, while Dominato told me she donated hers to the United Way for a fundraising event. Wiebe indicated his whiskey went to “charity.”
As for the chocolate houses, Kirby-Yung’s form says she donated it, as did Carr, Dominato and Hardwick, whom I spoke to about the gift. Her chocolate house was donated to the Salvation Army.
“I have no interest in taking any of these kinds of gifts,” Hardwick said. “I don’t even recall looking at it. I think it was sitting on [a council assistant’s] desk and I just went, ‘Nope.’”
Carr kept the book from the New Zealand politician.
When I asked Bal why he donated the booze to the mayor and some of the councillors, he replied:
“It’s a new council and I just kind of wanted to introduce myself. That’s about it.”
He said he didn’t know the mayor or any of the councillors. He also said he doesn’t do business in Vancouver but is considering it. When told the public could perceive any gifts or donations to politicians as buying influence, Bal said he didn’t see how his gifts to council would benefit him.
“I don’t see how a $90 bottle would do that,” he said, referring to the scotch he sent to the mayor. “It was just a friendly gesture. There’s nothing else really to it.”
Dominato told me she disclosed the wine and chocolate house—even though the threshold for filling out a form is $50 or more—out of an abundance of caution and to be transparent. She said she didn’t know Bal or the principals of Modern Green Canada.
“I felt it was best to donate it to charity,” she said.
Interestingly, when I looked at all the gift disclosures filed for 2018, there was none from the previous council.
There was a time when councillors were given more than booze and chocolate, as I reported way back in 2008. That’s when the Sam Sullivan-led council went on yacht rides to watch the fireworks in English Bay, went to Cirque de Soleil shows and attended Canucks games and a Bruce Springsteen concert in private boxes.
Concord Pacific, one of the city’s biggest developers and biggest donors to the campaigns of the NPA and Vision Vancouver, picked up the tab for all of it.