Westbank Projects Corp: A review of governance, corporate social responsibility, transparency

Triumph of the Technocrat

“Triumph of the Technocrat” art piece at The Lauren by Westbank in the West End.

From time to time CityHallWatch looks at the major entities that are building the physical and social structure of Vancouver.

This time we have a look at Westbank Projects Corp., the company. While its brand and projects have had a high profile and carefully managed promotions, little data is publicly available regarding the governance of the company itself.

If you are an entity considering entering into business deals or contractual arrangements lasting decades or generations into the future, the requirement of due diligence would call upon you to know fully about your potential partner.

However, no data is publicly available on Westbank in terms of who owns the company, who are the major shareholders, who are the officers and directors and major funders. Likewise, when it comes to matters of corporate social responsibility (CSR), the promotional materials and glitzy media coverage talk about sustainability, but data is limited.

Granted, Westbank is a privately-held company, so it is not required by law to publish this kind of information. But how does it look in terms of corporate social responsibility, transparency, accountability, governance? Is it up to par with the best practices and expectations that society has for corporations today?

Has Westbank…
1. Provided corporate governance information publicly on website or other (ownership, shareholders, directors, corporate subsidiaries and affiliates, decision-making systems, policies, etc.)? No
2. Renounced corruption in all its forms, including extortion and bribery? No
3. Published a corporate social responsibility (CSR) report? No

Leading companies of the world today publish CSR or integrated reports following well-established guidelines (e.g., see Global Reporting Initiative). https://www.globalreporting.org/Pages/default.aspx

For a multi-billion dollar company with so much influence on city planning, it would be reassuring to see a public commitment to the UN Global Compact, which is billed as “the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative” and calls upon companies to align strategies and operations with universal principles on human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption, and take actions that advance societal goals. Many signatories are in the construction industry. (https://www.unglobalcompact.org/).

As an example of proactive corporate disclosure in this industry, consider Concert Properties (http://www.concertproperties.com/about) which is in roughly the same league as Westbank in terms of size. Granted, Concert Properties is not a privately-held corporation, but it is informative to see high level of corporate transparency: shareholders (Canadian union and management pension plans), directors, and executives, and more. It publishes a Sustainability Framework (2019 edition is 44 pages), and provides lots of information about community involvement.

ESG (environment, sustainability, governance) is a key term in terms of corporate sustainability today. Concert Properties covers all of these in its reporting.

The lack of publicly available information about Westbank leaves room for questions in the public mind regarding how it does business. We know the company is influencing decision-makers, but how that happens is opaque. Lobbyist registries exist at the provincial and federal levels, and Toronto has a robust one at the municipal level. None yet exist in Metro Vancouver.

What governance structures are in place at Westbank? The founder and CEO is now about sixty years old. What will the company be like over the potential life of a multi-decade or multi-generational contract?

For further reading, below is additional material on Westbank Projects Corp., examined from various angles. Continue reading

9.3% tax increase? How high is too high? Vancouver’s property tax dilemma: Comments by Mark Ting on CBC

Dollar signs, CHW

At the Special Budget Council Meeting starting 9:30 am on Tuesday, December 3, 2019, Vancouver City Council will discuss the draft 2020 municipal budget (#VanBudget2020).

Here is the link to the agenda, live stream video, and instructions on writing or speaking to Council.
https://council.vancouver.ca/20191203/spec20191203ag.htm

If you go to Vancouver.ca/budget you can also access many other info resources on this topic, prepared by City staff.

Many opinions have been expressed in mainstream and social media about the rising budget, but in the midst of all that, we think Mark Ting (Certified Financial Planner and CBC columnist) has offered good comments. Some of his points we highlight below. For the full text please visit CBC online (https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/how-high-is-too-high-vancouver-s-property-tax-dilemma-1.5379887).

One additional point we would like to say based on ten years as CityHallWatch observing the City’s budgeting and reporting process. Many people have pointed out that the 600-plus-page draft budget reads like a sales pitch and lacks the presentation of information people need to really evaluate the budget. This is a trend that became entrenched under Vision Vancouver. Of course, the municipal government is a large organization, so expertise and knowledge is required to truly evaluate budget efficiency. No person or organization we have seen has the time or capacity do to a comprehensive evaluation of Vancouver’s operating and capital budgets. But the newly approved position of Independent Auditor General Office, proposed by Councillor Colleen Hardwick, will be a valuable step in that direction.

How high is too high? Vancouver’s property tax dilemma: Columnist Mark Ting considers the effect on renters, landlords and homeowners (Mark Ting · for CBC News,  1-Dec-2019)

[Excerpts / highlights selected by CityHallWatch] Continue reading

Development applications snapshot 1-Dec-2019

For an explanation of our monthly snapshots please visit this page:
https://cityhallwatch.wordpress.com/city-hall/snapshots-rezoning-development-applications/

As a free public service CityHallWatch takes a separate monthly snapshot of the Rezoning Applications and Development Applications listed on the City of Vancouver website. The rezoning list contains valuable information on each application, and indicates scheduled “open houses” and Public Hearings. The development list shows applications currently in progress as well as upcoming Development Permit Board meetings. Spread the word to anyone who might be affected or interested.

A tech-savvy citizen is voluntarily producing two handy online maps (click bottom right to switch between rezoning and development applications):  https://vancouverapps-fa328.firebaseapp.com/

Download the full list of development applications we created in PDF format:
CoV development applications snapshot 1-Dec-2019

For a current list of applications, click: vancouver.ca/devapps/.

Below is the list as of 1-Dec-2019. Continue reading

Rezoning applications snapshot 1-Dec-2019

For an explanation of our monthly snapshots please visit this page:
https://cityhallwatch.wordpress.com/city-hall/snapshots-rezoning-development-applications/

As a free public service CityHallWatch takes a monthly snapshot of the Rezoning Applications listed on the City of Vancouver website. The list contains valuable information on each application, and indicates scheduled “open houses” and Public Hearings. Spread the word to anyone who might be affected or interested.

A tech-savvy citizen is voluntarily producing two handy online maps (click bottom right to switch between rezoning and development applications): https://vancouverapps-fa328.firebaseapp.com/

Download the full list of rezoning applications we created in PDF format:
CoV rezoning applications snapshot 1-Dec-2019

For a current list of applications, click: vancouver.ca/rezapps/.

Below is the list as of 1-Dec-2019 Continue reading

STEPUP petition and protest Dec 3 (Tues) against 9.4% tax increase in Vancouver

pile of gold round coins

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

We are passing on this message from STEPUP (http://www.stepupnow.ca/). They are calling on Vancouver residents to come out in mass to speak out against a tax increase four times the rate of inflation.

*********

A clear loud message needs to be sent to the Mayor and Council to stop tax increases.

Please help us urge the city of Vancouver homeowner to come out to protest this budget with an increase totaling 9.4% at 9:30 a.m., Tuesday, December 3, 2019 at City Hall Chambers (3rd floor).

Taxes continue to escalate, continually, making Vancouver less affordable. City Councillors promised a deep dive into eliminating waste, finding savings and making priority choices within the limits of inflation.

They need to question expensive “wants” that are not “needs” and account for programs that are wasting money. Raising taxes is not an option.

**************

As you may be aware Vancouver City Council announced earlier this week that the draft budget for the City for 2020 has been prepared, and that in this budget there is an increase totalling 9.4% in property taxes and utility fees for Vancouver homeowners.

This is in addition to the 6.3% increase for 2019, and a 4.9% increase in 2018 resulting in a total increase of over 20% for these three years. With inflation and worker’s wage increases at about 6% over the same three years (typically about 2% per year), that means that your taxes are going up three times faster than inflation or wage increases. Continue reading

Little Mountain petition & rally Nov 30 (Sat) to mark 10 years since social housing demolition and call for Province to take back the site

Little Mountain-2, CALM_11_09_1811a

Scene from a previous protest against demolition on the Little Mountain site

Rally:
10th anniversary of housing demolition and eviction of Little Mountain community
Where: Little Mountain Social Housing site – corner of 33rd and Ontario
When: Saturday, November 30, 2019, starting 11 a.m.
Organizers: Riley Park South Cambie Community Visions Steering Committee (RPSC) and Community Advocates for Little Mountain

Petition: https://www.thepetitionsite.com/530/409/917/take-back-little-mountain-housing/

*************

The rally’s organizers have had enough with the delays that have become the “new normal” in the redevelopment of the Little Mountain Housing site. Since the outset in 2008, the sale, planning process and consultation around the re-purposing of Vancouver’s first social housing site “have resulted in nothing more than a social and economic disaster.” They are inviting everyone to joint the rally and sign the petition.

RESIDENTS CALL ON GOVERNMENT TO TAKE BACK LITTLE MOUNTAIN

Vancouver residents will rally on Saturday, November 30 to mark 10 (TEN!) years since the Little Mountain Social Housing community was destroyed and to call on the government to take back Little Mountain.

“Everyone knows that this project has been a failure,” said Community Advocates for Little Mountain spokesperson David Chudnovsky. “It’s been 12 years since residents were pushed out of their homes and ten years since those homes were demolished. In the midst of a housing crisis the site is still a gigantic 15 acre vacant lot. Vancouver residents can no longer tolerate this incredible waste. It’s time for the provincial government to #Take Back The Mountain.”

Allan Buium, Riley Park South Cambie Vision Committee Chair added, “Our community needs social housing, affordable rental, co-ops and co-housing. We need to start over with a project that actually deals with the affordable housing crisis.”

Organizers are asking the people of Vancouver to join us at the rally at the Little Mountain site, sign the petition, and take part in the social media photography campaign. Continue reading