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Sunday, March 26 2017 @ 06:45 MDT

Home builders try to buy themselves a city council.

Calgary PoliticsA local television station acquired a video secretly taped at a meeting of some of Calgary's home builders. In it the builder speaking basically states how with the generous spread of campaign dollars, they have three councillors in their back pockets and are trying to get at least five more. Further, he states that 11 of them have ponied up $100000 each to "bring Preston onside" with his Manning Centre and its candidate school.

Now does that mean that these guys were successful in buying themselves some aldermen? That remains to be seen. Of the aldermen mentioned by Cal Wenzel as basically being in their pockets, I've heard Peter Demong state on the radio this morning that it hasn't affected the way he votes, citing very few split votes with this council. I've heard nothing from the other two aldermen mentioned Shane Keeting and Diane Colley-Urquart, but at the end of February, Colley-Urquart was shilling hard for the development industry on the Calgary Eyeopener. At the time of this writing none of them have stated anything about giving the money back.

Which begs the question of optics. It is abundantly clear in the video that the people giving the money intended it to keep the recipients on side and friendly to their interests.The recipients, now knowing that the donation was intended to keep them "on side", now need to do the ethical thingand return the money. The optics would then show those receiving the money aren't on the take as they would have returned the funds. If, as it's claimed, the money is small potatoes then none of the candidates who've received the largess of this particular group will miss it. Further it would show the voter that they are indeed not for sale. Time will tell if they do this.

Now the Manning Centre is another kettle of fish. The video quite clearly states that the $1.1 million donated to them was to bring the Centre on side. That is unambiguous. It is also stated in the video that one of the Manning Centre employees hired with the money is in the room and that the money was to help out candidates friendly to the builders. The Manning Centre has denied this, before they saw the video, and continues to deny this after they have presumably now seen the video. Why such fervent denial? Well the Manning Centre is a registered not-for-profit and the Manning Foundation is a registered charity. So? There are limits, very small limits, on how much non-profits and charities can spend on political activism. If the $1.1 million is over these limits, then the Manning Centre/Foundation would be in a bit of trouble with CRA, possibly losing their tax-free/charity status. Now it's unlikely that CRA will investigate either since both are aligned with the current Harper regime and that kind of enforcement is for political adversaries.

So what of the builders? Well other than blasting past their contribution limits (donations in kind, e.g. the trucks, count towards the limit) it would be difficult to prove that they did anything illegal. Yes offering a public official money with the expectation of receiving favourable treatment is illegal, but difficult to prove. Even with the builders basically admitting that the money was to ensure that they have aldermen basically in their pockets it is difficult to prove in a court of law. So the end is that we, the voting public get to see what is clearly unethical and possibly illegal behaviour on the part of some builders, but there is little we can do about it other than pressuring the named recipients of the money to act in an ethical manner.

Of course the builders are livid at being outed and in an act that shows irony is not dead, calling the videographer "cowardly" and that they're trying to hunt him down. The reality is that a bunch of extremely wealthy individuals got caught trying to buy politicians. Now they and the politicians involved are in massive damage control as the ugly light of transparency has been thrown on their activities. We shall see what becomes of this.

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