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Defeated Vancouver mayoral hopeful Marissen accepted an illegal loan for Progress Vancouver campaign

The fourth-place finisher in last fall’s race for the Vancouver mayoralty received an illegal $50,000 loan and is now struggling to return the money.
Mark Marissen had a long history of working behind the scenes in political campaigns before running for election | Mike Howell

The fourth-place finisher in last fall’s race for the Vancouver mayoralty received an illegal $50,000 loan and is now struggling to return the money.

Mark Marissen was the leader of Progress Vancouver and had received the loan from Jason McLean in February 2022 “to finance the day-to-day administration of Progress Vancouver's elector organization office intended to operate on a continuing basis outside campaign periods,” according to an Elections BC prohibited campaign loan form.

It was due for repayment on the Oct. 15 election day, subject to a five per cent interest rate.

Jason McLean is CEO of the privately held McLean Group, which owns real estate, construction, film production, IT and communications, and flight charter companies. He is a former chair of the then-named Vancouver Board of Trade, and a former Vancouver Police Board member who worked as an aide in the office of Liberal prime minister Jean Chretien. He declined to comment.

The Elections BC guide for elector organizations states that a loan received from an eligible individual must be counted towards the contribution limit for that individual in the calendar year the loan was received. Individual donations to parties and candidates in 2022 were capped at $1,250. The guide also said that if a financial agent becomes aware that a loan was accepted contrary to the law, it must be returned or repaid within 30 days. Elections BC has the power to issue fines for accepting or making a prohibited loan.

After a reporter sought comment from Marissen, financial agent AnnMarie Aase forwarded a statement from Marissen, the principal of the lobbying and strategic communications firm Burrard Strategy.

Marissen admitted Progress Vancouver was unaware of the NDP government’s amendments to campaign financing laws via the March 2021 Local Elections Statutes Amendment Act “as it pertains to the effect of deeming all loans to an elector organization to be loans for election expenses and subject to the prescribed limit on loans from non-financial institutions.”

Marissen also said the party received wrong advice from an unnamed lawyer in January 2022, who said there was no jurisdictional limit, dollar limit or limit based on individual versus corporate status to fund the day-to-day operations of a party office outside of campaign or election periods.

"Progress Vancouver became aware of the full extent of the amendments having come into effect only after it had paid bills for the purposes set out for the party as explained above,” Marissen said. “It hoped to be able to return Mr. McLean's loan through campaign contributions, but has not been successful to date in doing so. Progress Vancouver continues to solicit permitted donations and intends to repay Mr. McLean.”

McLean made three donations totalling $3,239 to Progress Vancouver last year. Other family members donated $1,239 each, including Andrea, Melanie, Brenda and David McLean.

David McLean was a major BC Liberal donor who backed Gordon Campbell and later Christy Clark in their rise to power. He was also the chair of CN Rail when it privatized BC Rail after the tainted 2003 bidding process. Only BC Liberal aides Dave Basi and Bob Virk were ever charged. They pleaded guilty during their 2010 breach of trust trial in exchange for taxpayers picking up their $6.2 million legal tab.

Marissen received 5,830 votes in a Vancouver civic election dominated by Ken Sim and his ABC Vancouver party. None of Marissen’s six candidates for city council or Metro Vancouver’s electoral area A were elected.

Marissen previously enjoyed success organizing political campaigns before the 2017 end of B.C.’s big-money campaign donation era. Since the election, he registered to lobby the NDP government on behalf of Surrey city hall to close down the Surrey Police Service and keep the RCMP as the local police force. Neither Mayor Brenda Locke nor Marissen have disclosed his contract value.

Progress Vancouver raised $256,097.79 (including the loan) and spent $265,673.53, according to its month-late filing with Elections BC, for which it was fined $500.

Marissen’s ex-wife Clark endorsed his campaign and appeared on a robocall. She made donations totalling $2,224. Their son, Hamish Marissen Clark, is also listed for a $1,000 contribution.

Marissen was supported financially by numerous figures from the BC Liberals’ 2001 to 2017 dynasty: Clark’s ex-deputy chief of staff Kim Haakstad ($1,250), ex-chief of staff Ken Boessenkool ($1,239), campaign mastermind and lobbyist Patrick Kinsella ($1,239), former cabinet ministers Olga Ilich ($2,500) and Suzanne Anton ($400), and Clark biographer Judi Tyabji ($1,000).

Hector Bremner, who ran for mayor in 2018 under the Yes Vancouver banner, gave $100, veteran federal Liberal Party activists David Gruber ($2,250) and Bill Cunningham ($500), and Dirk Brinkman, husband of Vancouver Quadra Liberal MP Joyce Murray ($975).

British Columbia was famously deemed the “Wild West of Canadian Political Cash” in a 2017 New York Times investigation because it had no limits on the source or size of political donations. The NDP banned corporate and union donations after it came to power in 2017 with the support of the Green Party. Annual limits were set for individuals to contribute to provincial and municipal parties and candidates, and donors must be a resident of B.C. and a citizen or permanent resident of Canada.