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Big-spending Vision Vancouver will have to adapt to new fundraising rules

In addition to finding a new mayoral candidate and quite a few council candidates, the party hopes to win the next election without the millions that bolstered it before.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson announced earlier this week he will not run for re-election in October.

David P. Ball / Metro Order this photo

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson announced earlier this week he will not run for re-election in October.

A Vision Vancouver insider insists that the centre-left civic party, in power for a decade before faltering recently, is not imploding.

But the municipal party has been forced to cut staff and restructure itself as it braces for a smaller-scale fundraising environment, said party co-chair Maria Dobrinskaya, and it will be seeking alliances with other “progressive” parties to win October's upcoming civic election.

“We are currently in the process of hiring a new staff person,” Dobrinskaya told Metro. Vancouver Courier columnist Allan Garr recently noted that the party had recently laid off all its staff and had even packed up its office.

“We did make some significant staff changes over the fall," she admitted, "and that was largely in response to the campaign finance reform legislation and strategic decisions to remain nimble within the organization.”

The party will elect new a new board Jan. 15.

The B.C. government moved to overhaul the province’s campaign finance rules in October, in response to widespread criticism that the previous rules — some of the laxest in Canada — were creating an environment where politicians were either heavily influenced by corporate and union donors, or at least publicly perceived to be swayed by them.

The new rules would ban corporate and union donations, and limit individual contributions to $1,200 per person.

Although Vision won its past three elections, the party is now struggling and must find new talent before the fall election. Last October, the party’s council candidate came in fifth place in a by-election — and Vision politicians Mayor Gregor Robertson, Andrea Reimer and Tim Stevenson all announced they will not run again.

Vision Vancouver raised $2.9 million to fight the 2014 election, compared to the $2.4 million fundraised by the Non-Partisan Association (NPA), Vision’s centre-right rival. For Vision, large donations came in from the Canadian Union of Public Employees ($230,000), local restaurateur David Aisenstat ($230,000), and real estate developers such as Holborn Group CEO Joo Kim Tiah ($105,000).

That election also left Vision over $400,000 in debt after the party spent $3.4 million. It was the most ever spent by a municipal party.

The NPA’s biggest donor in 2014 was Peter Armstrong, the owner of the Great Canadian Railtour Company and then-NPA president ($430,000).

City councillors from both Vision and the NPA had called for stricter rules for municipal campaign financing. But both parties are going to have to adjust to the new fundraising environment, Dobrinskaya said. The NPA gained a council seat in October 2017 when candidate Hector Bremner won the by-election.

“We want to be prudent and ensure we’re well-positioned financially to know we can fight an effective campaign,” she added.

The NPA, meanwhile, has run a tight ship for the past two years and has been “frugal" with its funds, NPA chair Greg Baker wrote to Metro in an email. The party, he added, laid off staff “some time ago” to achieve those savings.

“We are now ramping up operations," he said. "We have just re-hired staff ahead of the NPA's mayoral nomination meeting to be held in the spring.”

In a Jan. 11 interview, Robertson told Metro that Vision would likely have to make an alliance with one or more progressive parties in order to hold onto power this fall.

OneCity, a left-wing party that attracted the fourth-most votes in the by-election, is interested in talking with Vision and other parties about acheiving a "progressive" mandate, said former OneCity candidate RJ Aquino.

Meanwhile anti-poverty activist Jean Swanson, who ran as an independent in the by-election and came in second place, is still deciding whether to run again. But volunteers with the campaign are ready to go if she does stand for office, revealed a source close to the campaign.

Metro was unable to reach the Vancouver Greens, whose candidate came in third in the by-election. But Adriane Carr, the sole Green city councillor, has lately voted and debated in sync with Vision on issues such as a contentious last-minute property tax increase.

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