Vancouver mayor's ghostwritten, taxpayer-funded tweet crossed a line, says critic

A tweet that appeared to come from Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart last fall was actually ghostwritten by a communications company, paid for by Vancouver taxpayers, documents show.

The tweet -- congratulating then-federal Green Party leader Elizabeth May on her election performance — was part of a suite of services offered by Elettra Communications on a $2,500 a month contract.

But critics say there’s no way city money should be paid for the mayor to make political statements.

“He’s a seasoned politician,” said communications consultant Alyn Edwards. “It stinks a little bit. He should know better than mixing politics with the communications that should emanate from the city of Vancouver.”

Last fall, the mayor tweeted his support for May, who had just led three candidates to victory in the 2019 federal election, the highest in that party’s history.

“I’m proud to have stood beside her on key issues that affect the future of our planet. I’m glad she will continue to be a strong voice for the environment in Ottawa,” he wrote then.

But documents obtained by TheBreaker.news show the same tweet submitted as a draft by Elettra Communications.

“Here are two draft MKS tweets for consideration,” wrote Elettra partner Gwen Hardy, who was involved in Stewart’s campaign and donated $1,200, records show.

“Let’s go with #1,” wrote the mayor’s director of communications, Alvin Singh.

Hardy also provided feedback for a $7,800 video that highlighted the mayor’s accomplishments, also paid for by the city.

“I wish there was more energy behind K.’s voiceover. Was there another take of the line, ‘that’s what you told me to work on a year ago?’ I would love that to sound a bit less scripted,” she wrote.

Neither Stewart nor Elettra answered questions on the arrangement.

The amount of money the city spends on communications was under the microscope this week as the mayor defended the decision to budget a $95,000 communications staffer responsible for social media -- even as the city’s revenues plummeted during the pandemic and the city’s police force faces a 1 per cent across the board cut.

“The person you’re talking about, the one position of the 10,000 we hire at the city, has not been hired. For me this is a red herring story,” Stewart said Thursday in a spirited discussion with reporters.

The City of Vancouver employs 41 communications staff, spending about $2.2 million dollars a year, and has one staffer in the mayor’s office.

Compare that to the City of Toronto, at four times Vancouver’s size, which has a complement of about 58 — or about 3 times fewer staff per city resident.

The City of Surrey employs 23 staff, and didn’t supply a budget to CTV News by deadline. Across Lower Mainland cities there are about 100 communications staff with a budget of around $6 million, inquiries from CTV News Vancouver showed.

But the provincial government dwarfed that, with some 250 people employed with a budget of $28 million. That’s down from $37 million budgeted in 2018. The premier has four political communications staff.

With all that money — the politicians should be getting better advice about mixing the personal and the political, said Edwards.

There are plenty of examples of politicians trying to use those resources for their own benefits. The B.C. Liberal Party faced a lawsuit alleging that government ads boasting of the province’s success were overly political. The lawsuit was dismissed on a technicality in 2018.