The city’s top manager flew to Vancouver on February 4 and that night attended minister of community, sport and cultural development Peter Fassbender’s annual fundraiser.
Ms. Samra was accompanied by her lawyer George Cadman, QC, a prominent figure in Liberal Party circles in Vancouver.
After the up to $625-per-ticket event, Ms. Samra spent the night at the Coast Coal Harbour hotel in downtown Vancouver before flying back to Nanaimo the next day via Harbour Air.
Ms. Samra charged city taxpayers $435.54 for her flights and hotel stay, but the purpose of the expenses was not explained in an expense report released last month.
She also has not disclosed how she used up to $5,000 in personal legal expenses granted to her under a Dec. 15, 2015 in-camera council motion.
Trip followed Mayor’s complaints
In-camera council minutes show that two weeks before Ms. Samra made her trip to the minister’s fundraiser, Mayor Bill McKay “made a statement regarding Hon. Minister Fassbender’s Office, the hiring process for the interim City Manager, and Councillor (Diane) Brennan’s legal action.”
It’s understood that the mayor, who declined to comment for this article, had complained to the Minister’s office about the unusual hiring of Ms. Samra and other concerns.
Councillor Brennan, who had been accused of leaking information about Ms. Samra’s unusual appointment, had hired local lawyer Peter Behie, QC, to defend her.
Mr. Behie had asked the mayor to suspend Ms. Samra pending a legal review of her hiring, but that was blocked by the rest of council.
At the time of the Vancouver trip, Ms. Samra was also in the running for the permanent CAO job. The job was posted Jan. 12 with a deadline for applications Jan. 29.
Minister confirms Samra attended fundraiser
Ms. Samra’s attendance at the Feb. 4 fundraiser, titled An Evening with Peter and Friends, was confirmed by Mr. Fassbender yesterday.
He explained that Mr. Cadman’s firm, Boughton Law, had purchased a table at the fundraiser and Ms. Samra had been one of Mr. Cadman’s client guests. She did not pay for her own ticket nor did she make a donation to his campaign, Mr. Fassbender said.
The minister said he had no advance notice that Ms. Samra would be at his fundraiser and many people typically attended. Liberal Party records filed with Elections BC show that almost 400 tickets were sold at prices from $250 to $625 for the same event in 2015.
However, Ms. Samra showing up at at his fundraiser, held at Surrey’s Aria banquet hall and convention centre, appears to have put the minister in an awkward position.
“I was introduced to her and moved on,” said Mr. Fassbender. “I had absolutely no discussions about Nanaimo with her. And I consciously would not do that in light of the fact that I had been engaged in some discussions (about Nanaimo’s council).”
Mr. Fassbender said Mr. Cadman, who he confirmed was Ms. Samra’s lawyer, was a long-time contributor to his campaigns. In addition to being a shareholder in Boughton Law, Mr. Cadman is a director with the Vancouver Airport Authority and the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade.
Mr. Fassbender said he was not aware of how Ms. Samra had made her way to his event or the expenses she incurred, adding “that’s something she needs to deal with.”
Samra threatened legal action if story published
When News Nanaimo first put certain facts in this article to Ms. Samra last Friday, she threatened to take legal action if we published them.
She made the threat in an email copied to all council members, chief financial officer Victor Mema and her personal assistant Jan Kemp.
Ms. Samra did not respond to an additional request for comment sent to her on Friday.
Only when we sent more questions to her via email yesterday afternoon after speaking with Mr. Fassbender did Ms. Samra finally acknowledge that she attended the fundraiser.
In an email sent after midnight last night — at 12:28am — Ms. Samra said she was “in Vancouver on city business and the taxpayer did not incur any costs for this event.”
Asked what the “city business” was and why it required her to stay overnight, Ms. Samra did not answer. Instead she said:
“My employer is copied. I’m sure if they have any concerns they’d comment.”
City blocks access to the receipts
News Nanaimo first requested expense claims and receipts for Ms. Samra’s expenses on August 29.
On September 9, the city released an itemized report on senior staff expenses for the first six months of 2016.
In News Nanaimo’s article on that report we pointed to gaps in Ms. Samra’s disclosures, including the Vancouver trip on February 4 and 5, as well as a lack of disclosure on legal expenses. The article made it clear that we still wanted to obtain receipts for all expenses.
The next day, September 13, the city applied to BC’s Office of the Information and Privacy to disregard our request for receipts and other documents. This was done under Section 43 of the BC freedom of information law, a rarely used section that would strip News Nanaimo of access rights.
After the city abandoned its Section 43 application, News Nanaimo agreed to narrow the request for receipts to a few specific dates, including the unexplained Feb. 4 and 5 trip to Vancouver.
However, last Wednesday the city flatly refused to provide access to the receipts. News Nanaimo is filing an appeal of that decision with the province.