Media ramp up ‘fair questions’ about Vision Vancouver funding

Tides Canada connections to Vision Vancouver and associates now under scrutiny by Revenue Canada

Was money from charitable sources funneled into Vision Vancouver's coffers to pay down their debt and to mount their 2008 election bid? That's a question we've raised here at City Caucus for several years. Now pressure is mounting on the electoral organization, as their close associates are being subjected to a nationally publicized audit.

For the average voter, discussing where municipal politicians get their funding usually triggers little more than a shrug. However, the unflattering media coverage about the money and organization behind the folks running Vancouver City Hall has the potential to resonate with the public, something that Vision operatives understand.

Ezra Levant

Last week we linked to a video rant about Vancouver's mayor by Sun TV personality Ezra Levant, who dubbed Gregor Robertson as The Manchurian Mayor. Levant's passionate conservative positions on subjects are well known, but it's when he seizes on the subject of charity abuse he's most convincing and compelling to watch. This week he devoted approximately twenty minutes of his program to explain how he sees Tides Canada gaming the system, going as far as calling Tides' president Ross McMillan a liar, and implicating Vancouver-based web zine The Tyee in a large money laundering scam. Watch the clip here.

Ross McMillan states in his CBC interview that authorities should look at their grant recipients rather than Tides Canada, whom he claims is fully in compliance with our country's Charities Act. It echoes comments coming out of the office of the Vancouver mayor:

“Ms. Krause’s questions about companies that have made political donations to Vision Vancouver should be directed to those companies themselves . . . All of the donors referenced by Ms. Krause are already disclosed in Vision Vancouver’s reports.”

Shirking responsibility for who donates to your organization might be a more plausible tactic, if it weren't for the fact that the people who donated to Vision Vancouver actually work in Gregor Robertson's office. Chief of Staff Mike Magee runs a small consulting business on the side called Convergence Communications. We originally wrote about Convergence's donations at the start of our Know Your Donor series back in March 2009.

In that 2007 disclosure statement was a significant donation by Convergence Communications Inc., a consultancy owned and operated by Michael Magee. The total donations given by Magee's company were $27,783.95. Of those donations $15,000 were given within 30 days, and $10,000 was given in the form of two payments (on September 30, 2006), according to Vision's sworn statement.

During a period before 2008 Magee served as President on Vision Vancouver's Board of Directors. He is now Chief of Staff to Mayor Gregor Robertson.

Prior to the 2007 disclosure, Magee's company paid $1200.93 toward the 2005 election campaign according to the party's 2005 record. The $28K donation from 2007 was used to help pay off Vision Vancouver's campaign debt of $170,000 from their 2005 campaign.

During the 2008 campaign Convergence gave just one payment of $10,000 on November 11th, just one week before Election Day.

Magee's $38,984.88 donation to his own political organization is over and above the $20,642 he also gave to Gregor Robertson while he was an MLA during roughly the same time period. Robertson did not become leader of Vision Vancouver until June 2008.

Sixty thousand dollars worth of political donations puts Convergence Communications in the category of multi-million dollar profitable enterprises such as Rennie Marketing or Concord Pacific, not a small consultancy. Convergence Communications worked as "special advisers" to Tides Canada.

Over at the Globe and Mail, columnist Gary Mason began to weigh in to this topic with his own "fair questions" about money possibly moving between a US-funded charity and Vision Vancouver. He discusses the work of blogger Vivian Krause:

On her Fair Questions blog, Ms. Krause has drawn a potential link between Tides Canada and Vision Vancouver, the civic party led by Mayor Gregor Robertson. Mr. Robertson is a former director of Tides Canada. His chief of staff, Mike Magee, was a senior adviser to the organization at one time. Most notably, one of the mayor’s most important donors and key advisers, Joel Solomon, is vice-chair of the organization.

Ms. Krause has shown more than $60-million (U.S.) flowing from U.S. foundations to Tides Canada. She has also revealed $8.7-million going from the Endswell Foundation to Tides Canada, which in turn has distributed funds to a labyrinth of investment companies and public-relations firms that have made significant political contributions to Vision Vancouver.

It takes the mind of a forensic accountant to follow the money trail, in some cases. Some of the information Ms. Krause has uncovered is perplexing and raises natural questions. When Vision Vancouver came to power in 2008, for instance, its biggest campaign donors were Renewal Partners – a small investment firm the president of which is Mr. Solomon – and Strategic Communications, a public relations firm also associated with Renewal.

U.S. tax returns indicate Endswell paid $2.3-million toward salaries at Renewal over a five-year period. Endswell has also indicated it contributed an unspecified amount of money to Strategic Communications.

It is Ms. Krause’s contention that Endswell, while legally a separate entity, is part and parcel of Tides Canada. Mr. Solomon is certainly connected to both operations.

Province screen shot

Now a further report has come out, also involving information and allegations by Vivian Krause, from The Province newspaper. Reporter Sam Cooper has written a story titled "Tides Canada being reviewed by feds for alleged improper links to Vancouver mayoral campaign":

Using U.S. tax records, Krause has pointed to about $60-million donated to Tides Canada from American foundations. She noted Tides Canada and another green charity with common directorship, Endswell Foundation, contributed funds to a group of five public relations and investment companies. Using civic election records, Krause showed these companies — Interdependent Investments Ltd, Renewal Partners, Strategic Communications, Convergence Communications and Communicopia — were top funders for Vision Vancouver and Mayor Gregor Robertson in 2008.

Krause suspects the CRA is questioning whether the five companies were used to indirectly pass money from charities to Vision Vancouver.

“I think Tides Canada are skirting the spirit of the law that charities should not contribute to political parties, within the income tax act,” Krause alleged.

Cumulatively, it's a pretty intense week of negative media coverage for an organization that has flown under the radar since their electoral victory in November. Of course, Vision supporters will label the increased media scrutinty and the allegations by Krause as a coordinated political attack. However, in order to substantiate these claims they need proof, like the kind Krause's own investigations are now providing Revenue Canada auditors.

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  • Brenton

    Meanwhile, Tides Canada just won a national award for “demonstrating best practices in key areas of governance and management.” along with other notable charities such as the Sick Kids Foundation, Food Bank Canada and the Vancouver Foundation (according to their press release). Those key areas are:

    – board governance;
    – financial accountability and transparency;
    – ethical fundraising;
    – staff management; and,
    – volunteer involvement.

    • Watching Levant’s video provides a valuable counterpoint to the message you’ve posted from Tides.

      • ridgered

        With respect, calling Levant’s rant a counterpoint is at best disingenuous and at worst, delusional. Levant is an unabashed shill for big oil and as partisan as they come – go figure he doesn’t think highly of Vision Vancouver or Mayor Robertson.

        And on the topic of funding, I wonder when we can expect Ms. Krause to present her research into the foreign money provided in support of oil sands development, Mr. Levant’s unhinged diatribe on the influnce of that funding on our federal government and City Caucus’ analysis of the ensuing media coverage?

        • We’ll let others judge whether Levant’s commentary is ‘unhinged’ or insightful. Krause has been very up front about what money she has received from any corporate interests. And we’d be happy to reveal any funding received for the work we do at City Caucus, and would challenge other blogs such as The Tyee and Vancouver Observer to do the same.

          • ridgered

            Nice try. My post had nothing to do with how Ms. Krause funds her work. I asked when we will see the results of her research into foreign funding of oil sand development advocacy, similar to that which she did in regards to foreign funding for environmental groups. Funding which, it appears from a recent Canadian Press investigation, represents a very small proportion of environmental organization budgets. Your defence of Levant requires no additional comment from me – bias is as bias does…

        • Ms Jones

          Vivian’s work is stellar. her work is not funded by charity , most comes from her own pocket. In my book she is the hero. Your buddies at Vision and this Mayor are a bunch of trespassers who got in office by misrepresenting themselves. The worse politicians money could buy… ever!

          • ridgered

            Ms. Jones: I don’t live or vote in Vancouver so have no ‘buddies’ at Vision, and don’t know Mayor Robertson – that said, I was under the impression that the current City Council was chosen by a plurality of the voting citizens of Vancouver in an election. Not sure how that makes them trespassers… Can I infer from your comment that you believe those citizens who voted for mayor and council are not capable of determining if,or how, misrepresentation was occuring and were hoodwinked?

          • Ms Jones

            IN reply to “ridgered” Please read Max’s comment :”Taken from and article by Kevin Libin November 20th, 2010″
            Yes “ridgered” some punks punk-ed some Vancouver voters, misrepresented themselves. Period.
            The worse US Dollars could buy!

      • Steven Forth

        Mr. Levant’s video is an example of a rant, it is not journalism. It is also an example of the right wing strategy of trying to polarize the country, create wedge issues, and to reduce discourse to blustering triades that prevent people from talking to each other. It is despicable.

        • Karla Sofen

          So when he shows you the actual documents that prove what he says is true, it’s still just a rant? Confirmation bias and disconfirmation bias hard at work again Steven.

          • Steven Forth

            If he did that I would agree, but he did not. Let’s see what the audit says.

    • West End Gal

      Is this message from Tzeporah Berman? I heard she’s in town to cover some tracks, wipe some fingerprints, you know, the usual. FYI everyone I saw a sign on Commercial… Greenpeace is hiring… door to door/ street annoying staff! A good sign they’ve received the latest tranche of money from the “Brothers” in New York!

      • Steven Forth

        Another cowardly comment by a person who is afraid to stand behind their own beliefs and prefers to attack people who work for the larger interst. Shame.

  • Karla Sofen

    This Christmas, I intend to dress up as Santa Claus, erect a “Salvation Army” sign and kettle with logo and begin ringing a bell to gather donations. I am giving out receipts for charitable donations upon request using the Salvation Army’s charitable number.

    However, I’m going to give all the money to Ethical Perfectly legal, perfectly acceptable practice, right? Contact Salvation Army if you have a problem with it.

    That’s how Tides Canada is responding? Funny thing is… they aren’t being sarcastic the way I am.

    • West End Gal

      You must be using a lot of Oily sunscreen on your sculpted body, Karla or shall I all you Kathleen? You go girl, but don’t stay too much in the sun. Not good for your super villain persona.

      • Karla Sofen

        My unfortunate name seems to invite the same kinds of personal attacks that Vivian receives daily. Don’t you think she gets tired of people accusing her of being paid by oil companies over and over? She’s posted her own tax returns on her site! What more can she do? But yet the attacks keep coming. However, with so many Google references to the super villain, the noise gives me some measure of Internet privacy. The point being, argue the subject not the source. What Vivian has uncovered can’t be collaterally attacked successfully – eventually her facts will be accepted as self-evident. Our local journalists are just steaming at being shown up as the hacks they are. Good journalism like this should not be the rarity it is.

        • Steven Forth

          Why not wait and see the outcome of the audit, politically motivated though it is?

          • Karla Sofen

            Your point of view won’t change when the outcome of the audit is released. I prefer to put weight in the evidence right before my eyes rather than pretend there isn’t any the way are doing.

        • Steven Forth

          I am impressed by your ability to know the future. Perhaps you are a commodities trader. I will make up my mind once the facts are in.

          • Karla Sofen

            I am recommending this mutual fund as a result of the Alberta elections: SASKWORKSRES.TO

            Saskatchewan is on the way up in every respect and this is your chance to buy Suncor in 1980 all over again.

            And I absolutely predict that if the audit comes out dirty, you will say the fix was in and Harper made sure this would happen and big oil pays so much tax so CRA had to do it to keep the money flowing, etc. You always have excuses and conspiracy theories for absolutely everything. Why should this be different?

  • Max

    Taken from and article by Kevin Libin November 20th, 2010:

    …..Mr. Solomon, the man with the plan to use his skills in a way that would leverage business and politics toward the “common good” was, by reported accounts, influential in persuading Mr. Robertson to enter politics, first as an NDP MLA and later, in 2008, to run for the leadership of the newly formed Vision Vancouver party. Some of the biggest donors to both Vision Vancouver and Mr. Robertson have come from Mr. Solomon’s circle. Michael Magee’s Convergence Communications, which consults to both Tides and Renewal, sent $28,000 to Vision Vancouver to help it pay off its $350,000 debt prior to the 2008 election; Mr. Solomon’s Renewal sent $10,000; and Strategic Communications, one of Renewal Partner’s investment recipients, sent $48,000 (Strategic Communications’ founder, Bob Penner, has also been brought on as an advisor to the mayor). A Vancouver Sun analysis found that in the lead-up to the 2008 election, won by Mr. Robertson, more than $330,000 of the $1.4 million raised by Vision came from people and organizations affiliated directly with Mr. Solomon or his businesses.

    In all, Vision spent nearly $2 million on its campaign, a record expenditure for the city of Vancouver, official population 600,000. Several donors to Mr. Robertson’s own nomination campaign were Americans, including Oprah’s “healthy living” expert Dr. Andrew Weil (an acquaintance of Mr. Solomon’s and a favourite Hollyhock speaker) who gave between $1,000 and $1,999, according to Vision Vancouver’s election filings; heirs to Roy A. Hunt’s Alcoa fortune (the Hunt-Badiners gave between $500 and $999); Richard Perl, a New York recycling executive and advisor to Renewal ($500 and $999); Mark Deutschmann, head of a Tennessee realty company backed by Renewal money (between $1,000 and $1,999); and organic yogurt magnate Gary Hirshberg, a Hollyhock regular (he gave between $2,000 and $4,999), who told the Sun he believed a Robertson-led Vancouver was an ideal “incubator” for conservation concepts that could eventually be spread to other cities.

    …..A number of donors to Mr. Robertson’s mayoralty campaigns (whether they donated cash or volunteered their professional time) have been (either themselves or through their firms) on the receiving end of consulting fees paid by Tides, an organization that accepts American donations. The donors include Joel Solomon who, together with Carol Newell, donated a total of $95,003 and Strategic Communications and Bob Penner, whose contribution total was $85,009.

    • Steven Forth

      Thank you Max. Can you also provide research on the funinf of the NPA and Ms. Anton?

      • Steven Forth

        Oops, “funding” though “funinf” is kind of a fun word.

  • spartikus

    Unfortunately I continue to find Vivian Krause’s work error-ridden. For example, in her February 9th National/Financial Post article “$65-million for ducks (?) and more” Krause outlines the funding of Ducks Unlimited Canada – the organization that accounts for nearly 70% of all foreign donations to Canadian environmental charities. She focuses specifically in that article on the Pew Charitable Trust and other groups who support initiatives to stop development of the Alberta Tar Sands.

    The numbers are correct, though as is often typical of her work not presented in a straightforward manner (multiple years are added together to make donations over time seem larger and is done in an inconsistent fashion). Groups that are not in fact related to Ducks Unlimited Canada are included. There is a more serious error, however. It’s the error of omission. What she fails to mention in that article are Ducks Unlimited Canada other very significant donors. Donors such as the EnCana Corporation, Suncor, Transcanada, Irving Oil and Husky Energy – a veritable who’s who of Tar Sand oil companies.

    In that same article she makes an error of fact, labelling Tides Canada’s entire annual expenditures as “payroll”.


    • Karla Sofen

      I haven’t seen your articles or reviewed your evidence and research, but even if you have discovered some errors, explain how the errors negate the actual tax returns and actual documents she has produced? How does an error as you believe exist, make it legal to conspire to evade taxation or make legal a false charitable solicitation? How do the errors make it okay for a charity to spend charitable donations on political advocacy? I have an eraser on my own pencil. Have you commented on her blog and allowed her to respond to your claim? Hey Nimrod, so what?

      • Steven Forth

        Care to wait for the results of the audit? And if the audit comes out clean, will this change your position? Or are you of the ‘my mind is made up, don’t confuse me with facts’ school?

        • Karla Sofen

          You’re the one ignoring the facts Steven. Why won’t you believe your own eyes and ears? If the audit comes out dirty you’ll still be here denying it and coming up with conspiracy theories to explain it, right?

        • Mira

          Steven no one believes that their accountants were hired for looks, but for creativity, am I right?All the confidence men throughout the history tried to con the general population by making them believe he was legit. Until he got caught. You can fool some people all the time, you can fool all people some times, but you cannot fool ALL the people ALL the times! I will not be surprised to see some going down in flames. You don’t receive millions of dollars in “donations and grants” pay yourselves 90% of that, pay some of it into political cofferes of your gang, and call that… CHARITY!

  • Steven Forth

    The NPA are getting desperate, aligning themselves with Ethical Oil and Ezra Levant. And these are the same people who think our economic future depends on exporting bitumen to the ethcial Chinese government. I guess the NPA has given up on Vancouver and being a credible political alternative. Too bad. I did no think Vision would win a third term, but it seems that all honety, integrity and even political common sense has deserted the Vancouver right wing and that they prefer to retreat into a cocoon. We need a new political party.

    • Mira

      NPA is not desperate, I am! I am not member of the NPA , but a member of the people too disgusted by the locusts we got to deal with here in Vancouver. As for a new party, why don’t you go to Cambridge MA – USA… and meet with some of your friends, maybe you can come up with something even more creative than Vision!

    • Ms Jones

      Steven, you are trying too hard to wipe the blame of your Vison/Mayor friends! I wonder why?

      • Steven Forth

        Actually I almost never vote for the same party for three elections in a row. Vey few parties of any stripe can avoid a third-term slump. So if there is a credible alternative to Vision in the next election I will likely support it. And I speak for no one but myself. Not a member of any political party, have never contributed to one, never worked in advocacy, never collected unemployment. I worked for my own company from the age of 25 to 48. Spent two years working for a larger (2,000 person) company in Cambridge. Decided that I liked start-up land better. I start and invest in software companies. In the future I hope to try a manufacturing company, but we will see.

  • boohoo

    Yeah Steven–who are you–really??!?!

    To come on a blog and have a different opinion–you vision hack! You’re OBVIOUSLY bought and paid for by Americans looking to sink their ecofascist teeth into our environment and economy!!

    I mean it makes perfect sense for a theoretical multi-million dollar ecofascist American group to pay you to come on a local political blog and disagree with people! It’s so clever!!


  • gman

    So we have anti-oil charities funded by the Rockingfellers (big-oil) to fight against big-oil and industrialization of the west.And they all agree the only way to save the planet is to raise the price of fuel,so now big-oil instead of producing say three barrels they only have to produce one for the same profit…mmmm….what could be wrong with that?And the government sure doesn’t want to miss out on all this planet saving so they put on a carbon tax and throw it into general revenue and even if we started into another little iceage we coudnt get rid of it because the province is addicted to it.Perfect.

  • Karla Sofen

    Last comment on this. All of Ezra Levant’s argument isn’t included in the clip linked in the article. Here’s the other two segments which flesh out his argument and present his evidence:

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