By Richard Peachey.

On October 5, in the interests of transparency and accountability, Abbotsford mayoral candidate Henry Braun made a firm commitment to publicly reveal his campaign donor list before the November 15 election. This past Friday, he fulfilled that commitment.

The AbbotsfordFirst slate, by contrast, has made a firm commitment to NOT reveal their donors before the election. They are sticking with the law that requires donor disclosure only after the election. Despite their loud claims to be in favour of transparency and accountability, AbbotsfordFirst is not willing to go that extra mile.

Last Thursday, I attended an AbbotsfordFirst public meeting at Straiton Community Hall. At the door I asked candidate Ross Siemens whether his slate would be following Henry Braun’s good example and releasing their donor list prior to the election. Ross told me they had “discussed” the question, leaving me with the impression that they hadn’t yet made a final decision about it.

Ross also mentioned a problem with early disclosure: that not all the donations would have been received yet. (Hmm. This didn’t seem to pose a problem for Henry Braun — he has stated that he will simply update the list the day before the election. Seems doable to me.)

During the public Q&A time, I asked the AbbotsfordFirst candidates whether they would be revealing their donor list before the election. To my surprise (on several levels), Vince Dimanno gave me a clear, firm, definitive answer to my question: They would definitely NOT be doing that. After all, that would involve . . . “a lot of paperwork” . . . and right now they were “busy campaigning.”

(Really? “Paper” work?? Don’t they have a computer? Isn’t Vince Dimanno himself a computer expert? Doesn’t AbbotsfordFirst have an executive of five people and an advisory council of eighteen? Is there no one who can do a bit of data entry to help these candidates become “transparent and accountable” like they advertise themselves to be? And isn’t Henry Braun also busy campaigning these days? He’s only one person, but he somehow managed to disclose his donors, in the interests of transparency and accountability. But . . . this “slate” can’t get that relatively minor job done? How then are they going to govern our city??)

The AbbotsfordFirst candidates seem to be leaning toward favouring Henry Braun rather than Bruce Banman for mayor. (Henry Braun has not publicly endorsed AbbotsfordFirst candidates.) But they’re certainly not in favour of Henry Braun’s approach to transparency and accountability.

Henry Braun is not satisfied to simply meet the demands of the law. He has imposed several additional principles on himself: (1) to publicly disclose his donor list before the election; (2) to not accept any donation exceeding $2500.00; and (3) to not accept donations after the election (to avoid the appearance of inappropriate influence).

[Note: AbbotsfordFirst’s website clearly encourages donations of up to $5,000.00 without specifying that amount as a maximum.]

But AbbotsfordFirst is content to merely follow the minimum legal requirements. They won’t disclose their donor list before the election. And, one must presume, they’ll accept donations of any amount, at any time. For them, anything goes, as long as it’s within the law. They won’t be offering any additional transparency or accountability beyond what the law absolutely mandates. Never mind that their lofty three-part slogan has “Accountability” placed smack in the middle.

As I drove home from that AbbotsfordFirst public meeting last Thursday, the radio told me about two Vancouver “slates” releasing their donor lists: Vision Vancouver had already done so that day, to be followed by the Non-Partisan Association the next day. Later I learned that the three other Vancouver slates have released their donor lists as well (all five lists are available here).

Henry Braun has done it. Five Vancouver slates have done it. But AbbotsfordFirst — a well-oiled machine that talks a big talk about transparency and accountability — can’t do it? Or is it that they simply won’t do it? They don’t want to do it?

And why would AbbotsfordFirst not want to release their donor list? Is it because they don’t want the public to know that, say, one or two well-heeled individuals have kicked in big bucks for all those large coloured signs, and the 40,000+ magazines (16 pages of full colour!), and the delivery of those magazines to every home in Abbotsford, and the expenses of all those public meetings? One wonders, what might those one or two big donors be expecting in return from their “investment”?

These sorts of questions occur to voters, and rightly so. Which is why the Vancouver slates (and Henry Braun) have all seen fit to release their donor lists before the municipal election.

If AbbotsfordFirst continues to refuse to follow the lead of these good examples, and if AbbotsfordFirst continues to engage in hypocrisy over their claims to be “transparent and accountable,” then I suggest that voters have a perfect right to become very suspicious of them.