Naheed Nenshi hints Manning Centre may be breaking charity laws
The Manning Centre came under fire Thursday by Mayor Naheed Nenshi and Ald. Diane Colley-Urquhart who both called the conservative think-tank’s integrity into question, suggesting the group is intimidating current councillors and may have broken financial donation laws.
Colley-Urquhart says she was intimidated by Dimitri Pantazopolous, director of the centre’s Municipal Governance Program, in a phone conversation in which he told her not to talk to media about their past meetings. Those meetings involve one conversation three weeks ago in which Dimitri quizzed Colley-Urquhart about her intentions for the upcoming municipal election.
The councillor says she was asked about her commitment to the homebuilder industry and whether or not she felt she had worked hard enough on their behalf.
“And that the industry were concerned about the fact that I wasn’t supporting them to the extent that I perhaps had in previous years,” she said.
“I was left with the impression that I wasn’t conservative enough, that I’d lost my way over the past year and a half. And … that maybe there were other candidates out there that were more conservative than myself that could do a better job in working with different stakeholders.”
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Colley-Urquhart’s story is the latest in the fallout from a secretly taped video from a homebuilders’ meeting that surfaced Monday. The video showed local homebuilder Cal Wenzel telling a room full of colleagues that Colley-Urquhart and other councillors have “been taken care of” by the industry. Wenzel goes on to discuss a $1.1 million donation to the Manning Centre to help groom more industry-friendly candidates that could challenge those councillors who he deemed on “the dark side” of development projects.
Mayor Naheed Nenshi was quick to defend Colley-Urquhart, Shane Keating and Peter Demong, suggesting that none of them are “in anyone’s back pocket.”
He added that Pantazopoulos’ questioning of Colley-Urquhart and instructing her not to speak to media about their meeting showed the Manning Centre’s true agenda.
“[That] indicates that this governance project is about a lot more than training people on how to do door-knocking and leaflet drops,” Nenshi said. “This is in fact partisan politics, this is in fact running a slate – or you wouldn’t ask the question, ‘should we run someone against you’. And frankly, phoning someone and telling them you’re not supposed to talk to the press is intimidation.
“It’s clear that this Municipal Governance Project has strayed far, far beyond what it was intended to do.”
Pantazopoulos said that Colley-Urquhart’s version of the conversation is incorrect and that no candidate from her ward is receiving training from the Manning Centre.
“We had a very positive meeting where we discussed various civic issues and we left on very positive terms,” Pantazopoulos said in the statement released Thursday. “I am puzzled at what might have changed between then and now.”
Nenshi said the centre could be in direct violation of charitable donation laws if they are using any of the homebuilders’ $1.1 million donation to run political campaigns against current councillors.
“I would suggest as a non-profit organization, as a charity, we need to look very closely at the legality of what is happening here,” he said. “If I’m sitting on the board of directors of this non-profit, I’m starting to get very worried about these activities.”
Manning Centre chair Chuck Strahl told Beacon News in an interview Wednesday that the centre is not running candidates’ campaigns. The donation will be used to train conservative candidates and get the Municipal Governance Project up and running with the intent of spreading it across the country in the future, he said.
“We’re not here to do the bidding of a group of people,” Strahl said. “We’re here to train people. We’ve made it absolutely clear what we’re doing. That’s what this particular project is about.”
Neither Naheed Nenshi nor Diane Colley-Urquhart mentioned the possible investigation into the claims Wenzel made in the video that some councillors were given campaign donations to support suburban homebuilders’ projects. Colley-Urquhart said she is trying to clear her name in public now.
“Our reputation as municipally elected officials has been tarnished to a certain extent,” she said, adding she has never been affiliated with the Manning Centre and won’t be intimidated by them. “And hopefully in the fullness of time, many of us will be able to regain the reputations we once had before all of this unfolded.”
Cal Wenzel held a press conference Wednesday suggesting that he, too, has had his reputation tarnished and denied he attempted at any point to “buy a council.”
Naheed Nenshi had little sympathy for Wenzel or the Manning Centre while standing behind his council colleagues.
“The Manning Centre has worried that their integrity is being questioned, Mr. Wenzel has worried that his ethics are being questioned,” Nenshi said. “If you don’t want your ethics to be questioned, don’t say and do ethically questionable things.”