Maple Ridge election activities questioned

Did Walmart developer Smart!Centres break any laws by suggesting candidates who supported more shopping in Maple Ridge?

Smart!Centres posts a sign in the Albion flats telling people to 'vote for shopping.'

One of the organizers of the Maple Ridge Neighbourhoods website, which grilled candidates during November’s election, is asking if SmartCentres broke any laws when it resurfaced a billboard on its Albion flats property and e-mailed its selection of candidates to people in its database.

Bruce Hobbs says he has “lots of concerns,” but that it’s up to former candidates to ask those questions, and he’s not sure anybody has.

SmartCentres though says it stayed within the rules.

The company wants to develop its property in the Albion flats and is awaiting, along with the District of Maple Ridge, comments from the Agricultural Land Commission on the draft plan submitted by Maple Ridge.

Most of the property in Albion flats is within the Agricultural Land Reserve and would have to removed from it to be used for other purposes.

During the November municipal election, SmartCentres forwarded a list of six candidates that were seen as supporting shopping in Albion flats by the group Residents for Smart Shopping, a group supported by SmartCentres.

Al Hogarth, Judy Dueck, Cheryl Ashlie, Mike Morden, Bob Masse and Graham Mowatt were on that list.

All but Mowatt were elected.

SmartCentres said it forwarded the list to about 1,100 recipients on their e-mail list in the days before the Nov. 19 vote, but doubted it swayed the election.

According to the B.C. Campaign Organizer and Elector Organization Guide, an organization that spends or receives $500 in donations is considered a campaign organizer and has to register with the chief election officer.

Christian Cowley, a Maple Ridge candidate, said creating a new surface on the bill board alone would exceed $500. “I would like to see a printer who would put a bill board on two sides like that for $500.”

And sending out 1,100 e-mails could take an hour of staff time.

But it’s not something he’s worried about and he’s not going to pursue it.

“It’s a fait accompli. It’s not going to overturn the process.”

And other groups sent out lists as well, he pointed out.

He also noted that some people on the SmartCentres contact list don’t even support shopping in Albion flats.

Vice-president Sandra Kaiser said SmartCentres didn’t take any financial contributions and therefore wasn’t a campaign organizer and that it paid for the billboard conversion itself, though it wouldn’t say how much that cost.

As well, the e-mails to the company’s existing database didn’t incur any incremental cost, she added.

“SmartCentres does not, and did not, accept contributions from anyone else in respect of any activities of this nature. It is not, therefore, a campaign organizer,” Kaiser said.

As a result, the company didn’t have to contact the chief election officer or file a campaign disclosure statement, she added.

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