Albion mall back as Maple Ridge election issue

SmartCentres sends out e-mails to voters, B.C. Elections says company has to register as third party

Signs about new shopping mall in Albion flats were posted in area three years ago.

Signs about new shopping mall in Albion flats were posted in area three years ago.

A council veteran seeking re-election is criticizing SmartCentres for an e-mail it sent last week, urging voters to elect candidates who support a shopping mall in the Albion flats.

“This time, I’m trying to get in front of it, because it’s kind of disgusting,” said Craig Speirs.

“For me, this just points out these people want to influence our community’s government in order to get their way.”

On Friday, Verity Howarth received an e-mail titled “Vote for Albion Shopping!”

The body of the e-mail says that the next council of Maple Ridge will vote on “making shopping a reality in the Albion flats.”

The letter asks people to support candidates who want to bring “much-needed shopping options … on the Albion flats.

“Remember – please consider voting for candidates who support shopping in the Albion flats and vote on Saturday, Nov. 15!”

Howarth got the e-mail Friday and said it was unsolicited.

“I’ve never been a supporter of SmartCentres or shopping in Albion flats,” she said.

“I don’t know how they got my e-mail address, other than me writing letters of complaint.”

Howarth said with Maple Ridge being close to Coquitlam, a shopping mall in Albion flats isn’t needed.

“I’m upset about the idea.”

She posted the e-mail on Facebook so that other candidates could address the issue.

“I don’t think businesses should be swaying voters.”

She also disagreed with the city swapping its land with that owned by SmartCentres.

“I think it’s really outrageous that land that’s owned by the people of Maple Ridge,” is being negotiated.

She has no faith in the public consultation process, pointing out that council ignored the community’s say during such for the area in 2010.

The City of Maple Ridge and SmartCentres have been trying to work out a land swap so that the developer can have the city’s land on the east side of 105th Avenue at Lougheed Highway in return for that on the west side.

The Agricultural Land Commission has said it would exclude land east of 105th Ave. for development, but has rejected exclusion of land on the west side.

Speirs said Maple Ridge council has pursued a mall in that location for eight years.

The city paid a top consultant $100,000 for a study and public consultation, then ignored its findings and the public’s desire to preserve the land on the western part.

“We just continue to spend money hand over fist.”

Staff time has also been diverted trying to develop a plan for the area, he said.

Speirs accused the current council of stalling the deal until the election is over.

“We’re not stalling anything,” replied Mayor Ernie Daykin.

So far in the campaign, shopping hasn’t been a “burning issue,” Daykin added. “I was surprised to see it.”

Maybe that will encourage people to do a little more homework and learn the positions of candidates on the issue, he said.

Sandra Kaiser, with SmartCentres, said the e-mails were sent to people who were in the company’s database from the 2011 election, when the mall also was an issue.

But she doesn’t know how many were sent out because she didn’t know how many were returned as not reaching the intended e-mail recipients.

“It was just sent to our database – people who had expressed an interest in shopping.”

Last election, SmartCentres put up signs asking people to contact them if they wanted a mall in Albion flats.

The intent was to get people to keep the issue in mind when they vote for whoever they choose to vote for.

“That’s all we’re doing,” Kaiser said.

“We’re not supporting any candidates, it’s simply, ‘Here’s an issue. If you’re interested in it, ask the candidates that you’re thinking of voting for to see where they stand on that issue.’”

Negotiations with the city have slowed during the current election, she added.

However, Elections BC said the e-mail is considered third-party advertising under B.C.’s new Local Elections Campaign Financing Act.

“The letter takes a position on an issue with which candidates are associated so by definition … it does meet the definition of third-party advertising,” said compliance officer Mark Thompson.

If you take a stance on an issue with a candidate or organization is associated, it becomes third-party advertising, he said.

The list of third-party sponsors is on the Elections BC website.

As a result, the company has to register as a third-party sponsor. SmartCentres has said it will do that, Thompson said.

“We’ve informed them of the requirement to register and they’re going to do so without any problems, and that will be the end of that one.”