A leaked document shows at least one member of the Vancouver Non-Partisan Association’s staff is connected to a dark money political action committee backed by sportswear and real estate mogul Chip Wilson.
Jeff Conatser is listed as data and social media manager on the NPA contact list. He also appears on the Pacific Prosperity Network (PPN) website as its director of technology and digital. The June 2021-registered society offers training, software, websites and apps to right-leaning municipal election candidates.
Elections BC regulates individual donations to elector organizations and candidates, as well as entities that register as third-party advertisers. Political action committees are not regulated, so Elections BC does not require PPN to disclose its donor list.
Neither Conatser nor NPA president David Mawhinney responded before deadline. PPN executive director Micah Haince said Conatser works part-time with PPN and his involvement with the NPA is “completely outside of any role that he holds with PPN.”
Two sources said Conatser also collaborated with former NPA staff member Angelo Isidorou on an anonymous website and Facebook account. Views of Vancouver purports to be a platform for a “grassroots organization dedicated to promoting Vancouver and protecting and enhancing its reputation as a world-class city.”
Isidorou did not respond for comment. Haince said PPN is not involved with Views of Vancouver and has chosen to stay out of the Vancouver election campaign, due to free enterprise vote-splitting against incumbent Mayor Kennedy Stewart.
The Facebook ad library shows that Views of Vancouver spent $20,952 on 36 ads since January 2021, many of which are critical of Mayor Kennedy Stewart. The Facebook ads feature NPA purple designs, promote party policies and encourage users to add their name, postal code, email address and phone number to a petition “aimed to address pressing issues in Vancouver, such as soaring crime, vandalism, pollution, affordability and so much more!” Such online petitions are common tactics to build voter identification databases, but there is no personal information consent disclaimer on the Views of Vancouver website.
Isidorou said in an interview after John Coupar quit Aug. 3 as the party’s mayoral candidate that the party feuded over whether to accept financial support from real estate tycoon Peter Wall.
In that interview, Isidorou identified himself as a volunteer. But a June 28 cease and desist letter from NPA lawyer Bruce Hallsor says otherwise.
“You have recently revealed to NPA officials that you have been being paid by a third party without the NPA’s knowledge, for the work you have done on some of our digital media campaign activities,” Hallsor wrote to Isidorou. “You have done this contrary to NPA policy and contrary to the B.C. Local Elections Campaign Financing Act.”
Hallsor demanded Isidorou immediately return all electronic media information, passwords and data, including the Facebook master ownership permission and any information about supporters or donors.
Before he quit, Coupar, a Park Board commissioner since 2011, had demanded the NPA board approve a campaign budget and accept fundraising support from Wall, who provided office space downtown in the Wall Centre complex and workers for the campaign.
Wall is a longtime BC Liberal supporter who backed Vision Vancouver under Gregor Robertson’s leadership. In 2018, he funnelled $85,000 into a billboard and social media campaign for YES Vancouver mayoral candidate and former NPA councillor Hector Bremner. The controversy sparked amendments to campaign finance laws.
Haince worked on the Wall-funded Bremner campaign. In 2022, Wall is not involved in the Wilson-backed PPN. “They would never work on the same team,” Haince said.
PPN lists the address of law firm Bennett Jones as the registered office. PPN also calls itself Pacific Prosperity Foundation, but it does not appear on the Canada Revenue Agency charities list and does not issue tax receipts.
Wall did not respond for comment.
After the Aug. 4 Coupar bombshell, the NPA moved its campaign office to Kerrisdale. The party is seeking a replacement candidate. Nomination for the Oct. 15 civic election ballot runs Aug. 30-Sept. 9.
Coupar was the first candidate to declare a run for the mayoralty in April 2021 and is the first to depart the race. His closed-door appointment by the NPA board sparked resignations of 2018-elected NPA councillors Sarah Kirby-Yung, Lisa Dominato and Colleen Hardwick. Kirby-Yung and Dominato joined the Ken Sim-led ABC Vancouver party. Hardwick is running for mayor under the Team for a Livable Vancouver banner.
After Coupar left, NPA city council candidate Mauro Francis defected to Progress Vancouver, the party formerly known as YES Vancouver. Its mayoral candidate is BC Liberal and federal Liberal backroom strategist and lobbyist Mark Marissen, the former husband of ex-Premier Christy Clark.