Imagine, for a moment, if four members of a governing civic party met secretly with the top developer in their city. And imagine a deal was cut: the politicians would take care of the developer's desires as part of their special "partnership," and the developer would cut a six-figure cheque to their re-election campaign to "carry favour."
Now imagine that a recording of that meeting was secretly made, leaked to a local reporter, and posted to YouTube for all to hear.
Can you imagine the outrage from everyday taxpayers and from residents impacted by the developer's future projects?
Well, Vision Vancouver has been caught cutting precisely this kind of sleazy deal -- not with a developer, but with CUPE, the union representing city workers.
Recordings of a meeting where four Vision Vancouver incumbents -- Geoff Meggs, Raymond Louie, Niki Sharma, and Trevor Loke -- made some expensive promises to CUPE in return for $119,000 in CUPE donations have hit YouTube, thanks to reporter Bob Mackin. The union donation includes $102,000 cash, $10,000 for CUPE-described "activists" to take time off from their city jobs to work for the Vision campaign, and $7,000 in Vision-friendly advertising.
Why so much? "We looked at how much money we would have to spend to carry favour with Vision in the next round of negotiations," a CUPE 1004 speaker put it. "But ... our support [for Vision] is not unconditional."
In other words: CUPE is investing this hundred grand to make sure they get what they want at the bargaining table -- and if Vision ever wants more campaign cash, they'll have to continue to prove their value to the union during wage negotiations.
If you're a Vancouver property taxpayer, a chill should be running down your spine.
Vision's four incumbents made clear promises to CUPE. "Gregor Robertson, our mayor, has again recommitted to not expand contracting out, to make sure that wherever we can bring in new processes, that members of 'Ten-04' will be there delivering those services," Meggs promised CUPE 1004. "We are committed to our relationship with the trade union movement." Louie, Loke, and Sharma are all on tape, readily agreeing with Meggs.
If CUPE 1004 is getting this deal, what's CUPE 15 getting? Or the Vancouver Police Department union? Or the firefighters? All of them represent Vancouver workers.
Labour deals aren't cheap for taxpayers. A Canadian Taxpayers Federation analysis showed that in 2013, Vancouver collected $66.3 million more in property taxes than it did in 2009. This extra money includes revenue from growth, higher assessments, and council-approved tax increases.
But during that same period, Vancouver spent $73 million more in wages and benefits -- meaning every nickel of those higher taxes (and more!) went into labour's pockets. No wonder CUPE was so happy to cut a six-figure campaign cheque.
This CTF analysis complements other recent work done on municipal labour costs, including this Ernst and Young study showing municipal wages have increased twice as fast as provincial government wages since 2001, and this Fraser Institute study showing that 17 Metro Vancouver cities are grossly overspending the combined rates of growth and inflation.
Labour is the city's number one cost. As a taxpayer, if it feels like you're paying more in property taxes in Vancouver but not getting much back in new services, you're right. But at least Vision will be able to collect its six-figure donation cheque.