It’s early afternoon Thursday and Stanley Q. Woodvine is on the phone with a reporter talking about the discovery he made this week on a sidewalk near city hall.
His find — a two-page list of what appears to be donors to Mayor Kennedy Stewart’s party, Forward Together — has attracted the attention of local and national media.
It’s also created a buzz on social media and raised questions around finance and conflict-of-interest rules from some of the candidates and parties challenging Stewart and his team in the Oct. 15 election.
“That was a reporter from the Toronto Star,” said Woodvine after finishing his call.
Seated in a coffee shop on Broadway, with a view of his bicycle and belongings outside the window, Woodvine said the attention has been unexpected since he posted the donor list Sept.13 on Twitter.
“I’m amazed with the coverage,” he said. “All I did is go, ‘Look, I’ve found these weird pieces of paper — what are they?’ This is a rare example where social media just simply outdid itself.”
The two pages, which Woodvine shared during the interview, are in spreadsheet form and list names of various high-profile business people and the amount of their contribution in 2022.
Francesco Aquilini, Terry Hui among donors
Among the 41 names are Vancouver Canucks’ owner and property developer Francesco Aquilini ($64,350), Wayne Pai of Landa Global Properties ($22,489), Ajay Dilawri of auto retailer Dilawri Group of Companies ($20,153), real estate veteran Bob Rennie ($12,500), Dak Molnar of the Molnar Group ($11,200), Concord Pacific CEO Terry Hui ($8,200) and Kerry Bonnis of Bonnis Properties ($3,750).
Each person on the list appears under the heading “captain” and each has a fundraising goal. For example, Aquilini’s goal is $110,000, Dilawri’s is $50,000 and Hui’s is $31,250.
The names Neil, Mark, Alvin and Raymond appear under the “notes” heading on the spreadsheet. Two entries under “notes” — one connected to Rennie, another to Evan Allegretto of Intracorp Homes — say “NM to propose doubling goal on Sept. 12.”
Another linked to Hui says “Raymond following up.”
The total amount of donations received was more than $270,000.
Forward Together has not confirmed or denied whether the two pages belong to the party. Members of the party include Neil Monckton (the mayor’s chief of staff), Alvin Singh (the mayor’s communications director) and Mark Hosak (party executive director).
The reference to “Raymond” in the documents isn’t clear, although former Vision Vancouver councillor Raymond Louie — whose name is listed as a “captain” — has been a longtime friend to Monckton and Stewart.
Louie is now the chief operating officer of Coromandel Properties Ltd.
A text message sent to Monckton Thursday was not returned before deadline. The party has only issued one statement to questions about Woodvine’s discovery and has not held a press conference since news broke of the spreadsheet find.
"Like all campaigns, Forward Together is actively fundraising,” said Hosak in the statement. “We follow all Elections BC rules. In August we were the first campaign to publicly disclose our donor list and will do so again before election day. Our last disclosure showed we have received donations from almost 2,500 individuals making more than 6,000 donations over the four-year-plus period. Our average donation was $175.”
The statement goes on to criticize ABC Vancouver’s mayoral candidate Ken Sim, whom Stewart sees as his main challenger in his re-election bid.
"Ken Sim will likely spend more than $2.3 million in the election period,” the statement continued.
“And we can see that in the tens of thousands of dollars spent on misleading radio ads, billboards and social media. Forward Together is actively fundraising so that we can get our message out and connect with voters about how we can tackle the real issues of housing affordability; homelessness, mental health and the opioid epidemic; and climate change."
ABC Vancouver reacts to spreadsheet
Karem Allam, ABC’s campaign manager, said Thursday that he couldn’t verify the spreadsheet found by Woodvine belonged to Forward Together, but “there’s a lot of smoke that demonstrates it’s their document.”
Allam acknowledged it wasn’t unusual for parties to seek donations from business people for campaigns, with ABC having received contributions from some of the same people as Forward Together — Ajay Dilawri ($1,200), Arnold Silber of Value Property Group ($1,200) and Colin Bosa of Bosa Properties Inc. ($1,200), for example.
ABC also recently held a fundraiser at the Floata Restaurant in Chinatown, where Allam estimated the party raised $60,000 to $70,000. It costs guests $50 each. For groups who wanted to be closer to the stage, they could pay $1,200 for a table.
What concerns Allam is the inference in the spreadsheet that Monckton was soliciting donations from developers while working as the mayor’s chief of staff. A Forward Together member told Vancouver Is Awesome via email that Monckton has been on a leave of absence from city hall since Sept. 10 and Singh since Aug. 22.
“Either they outright deny that the chief of staff was going out there and shaking down people he's regulating, or they admit to it,” Allam said. “Either way, we don't have the full story until they admit it. They have an obligation this election to clear the air on this because it's that serious.”
TEAM for a Livable Vancouver has also raised concerns about the spreadsheet and has asked Elections BC and the city’s integrity commissioner Lisa Southern to investigate.
“Neither the mayor, nor his party Forward Together, nor his staff have denied that the fundraising list disclosed this week is fake or inaccurate, nor that the names on the list correspond to the name ‘Neil’ and initials ‘NM’ or the name ‘Alvin’ – that means it is important for the integrity commissioner to fully and quickly investigate what happened,” said TEAM’s mayoral candidate Colleen Hardwick in a news release.
“There are questions that must be answered and very soon whether or not any of this constitutes a conflict of interest or perceived conflict of interest – because these major corporate developers come before city council with projects cumulatively worth in the billions of dollars and the public needs to know the [city’s] Code of Conduct is being followed in every way.”
Elections BC: 'no conclusions in this matter'
Elections BC said Friday in an email that the spreadsheet found by Woodvine came to the agency’s attention via social media and through complaints from members of the public.
“Anytime we receive a complaint regarding the legislation we administer, we review it thoroughly to ensure legislative requirements are being met,” said Melanie Hull, a communications advisor for Elections BC.
“We will communicate the outcome of our review to the complainants once our review is complete. At this point the origins of the spreadsheet are unclear and we have made no conclusions in this matter. Individuals can help elector organizations fundraise as long as all of the contributions come from eligible individuals and the contribution limits and recording requirements are being followed."
'Tempest in a teapot'
Jon Stovell, president and CEO of Reliance Properties, called Woodvine’s discovery “a tempest in a teapot,” noting the long history of developers, business people and big unions donating money to civic parties.
Stovell is listed on the spreadsheet as contributing $2,500 this year with a goal of $12,500.
Reached by phone Thursday, Stovell couldn’t verify the authenticity of the two pages but said he had only contributed $1,250 to the party this year — the maximum allowed by an individual under Elections BC finance rules.
The rules, which were in effect in the 2018 campaign, do not preclude members of a family or a company to make multiple personal donations. Nine members of the Aquilini family, for example, donated $11,250 to Forward Together in the first six months of 2022.
Stovell said he had no knowledge of being a “captain,” or what that meant.
“I think they were assigning amounts of money that they were going to ask developers or hope developers would help them raise through their friends or colleagues or whatever, but I never made any commitment, and I never made [a contribution of] more than $1,250,” Stovell said.
In previous elections, when there were no limits on the amount of money a corporation or union could donate, Reliance Properties was a regular contributor to the campaigns of Vision Vancouver and the NPA.
In this campaign, Stovell said he made donations to ABC Vancouver, the NPA and OneCity. COPE, TEAM for a Livable Vancouver and the Greens are not accepting donations from developers, as Stovell learned in the 2018 campaign when the Greens returned his donation.
“While I’m not always aligned with every party and what they represent on this or that, I contribute to everybody to just try to get better people into civic government,” he said, refuting critics’ belief that donations buy influence at city hall. “You're not buying influence with a $1,250 personal donation, you're not buying anything.”
Added Stovell: “I support all the parties because over the last years I've seen every one of those councillors do things that made sense to me in terms of the business I'm in and the need for housing and so on.”
'Mistakenly put on list'
Longtime public relations business owner Laura Ballance also appeared on the spreadsheet, which indicated she and Christa Montpetit contributed $5,100 this year, surpassing the stated “goal” of $5,000.
Ballance, who recently sold her Laura Ballance Media Group to Mediology Media, said she learned about the spreadsheet after people sent it to her; she also saw it posted on Twitter.
She wasn’t clear why $5,100 was connected to her and Montpetit, saying she only donated $250 to the mayor’s campaign at a June fundraiser— before Stewart announced that he had created Forward Together.
“I'll be incredibly transparent: I do not hold any role within the Kennedy Stewart team or the Forward Together team,” she said. “I've never attended a meeting. I have no line of sight on any of those people.”
Ballance said she suspected her name was on the list for the $5,100 because she and Montpetit were involved in organizing an event for the Hospitality Vancouver Association on the same day of the mayor’s fundraiser in June.
The mayor spoke at the event.
“I think we were mistakenly put on that list,” Ballance said. “I'm definitely not one of their captains but I'm also not in any way ashamed to say that I bought a ticket to the fundraiser.”
Added Ballance: “We were happy to host the mayor [at the hospitality event]. He's been a good friend to our sector. Partisanship aside, our sector under this council has had some great champions — whether it's Peter Fry with the Greens, Sarah Kirby-Yung [ABC Vancouver] has been amazing, Lisa Dominato [ABC Vancouver] has been amazing.”
'You stay away from the dead cat'
Woodvine, meanwhile, said his discovery may not be news to close followers of municipal politics or people attuned to the rules that govern the financing of campaigns. But, he said, the media coverage has probably educated many people unaware of the connection between corporations and politicians.
“Imagine a bunch of people who are remarkably clueless, and they wake up one day and discover that the Earth is round — that’s pretty amazing to them,” he said. “Meanwhile, journalists are like, ‘I knew that.’ You have to have some sympathy for all us Flat Earthers who are only learning for the first time that this may be going on.”
Woodvine, who has been homeless since 2004 and used to work as an illustrator and graphic designer, has his own blog and writes about his life and some of his finds. In 2019, he found a blueprint in a bin for a proposed tower in the 1400-block Broadway that revealed the building was going to be much higher than the original plan for five storeys; it ended up being 39 storeys.
As for his latest find, Woodvine said the spreadsheet was in plain view on a sidewalk near No Frills in the 300-block of Broadway. He was returning from a bottle depot after cashing in an early morning haul of containers he collected while binning.
“It's a found piece of paper and I consider it in the public domain,” he said. “It's fair game, as in, ‘What a curious thing to find on the sidewalk in Vancouver a month away from an election.’ That was enough of a reason for me to put it on my Twitter account.”
Added Woodvine: “I don't know how the party feels about the media coverage. But I can imagine for Kennedy Stewart and for his people that they may see this as a kind of a no-win situation. You stay away from the dead cat, you don't touch it, there's no profit there.”