Mike Reilly is either the most honest politician in the world or the most opportunistic.
Mr. Reilly is a Vancouver-area developer who has run unsuccessfully for local office three times in the suburb of Delta, B.C., most recently in 2008 when he finished third in the race for mayor. He's planning to run again this fall and in each campaign has vowed to be a "new voice" for the community and work on important issues like environmental protection.
But Mr. Reilly has now offered a candid explanation of his real reasons for wanting to get elected. In blunt testimony before the Tax Court of Canada, he said he was out to earn a good salary and promote his business.
"I didn't listen very much to the citizens," Mr. Reilly told the court in a case involving tax deductions for campaign costs that the Canada Revenue Agency disallowed. "I listened to the businesses. That was my - that was what I was intended to do."
Lawyers for the CRA seemed incredulous, according to court filings, and kept insisting that Mr. Reilly must have felt passionate about some issues. "You know, I don't recall being passionate about any issues other than seizing an opportunity to step in and develop a better profile for myself," Mr. Reilly replied. "No. It was strictly business for me."
He didn't stop there. Mr. Reilly said he would love to be mayor of Vancouver. "It's a great job. In fact, the salary is like $100,000 a year, so it's a well-paying job," he said. "You know, for the record, I was after the job of becoming mayor as another job being basically the same as what I do in the real-estate development. It would be a three-year contract. I would earn income during that time. That was my only interest. Not so much what you say about bringing the concerns of the citizens to the community."
During the Tax Court hearing, Mr. Reilly argued that politics was an extension of his business and that he should therefore be allowed to deduct campaign expenses, which he paid himself, from his income. The CRA argued that running for office is a personal decision, born out of a desire to make a difference, and that campaign expenses are not business-related.
Mr. Justice Wyman Webb sided with the CRA. While the judge based his decision on an accounting issue, he commented on Mr. Reilly's attitude toward politics. "It appears that [Mr. Reilly]was not passionate about any issue except increasing his own profile and earning the salary of mayor," the judge said in his decision, which included excerpts from Mr. Reilly's testimony. "He also did not listen to the citizens of Delta and did not appear to have much interest in their concerns. It will probably not be a surprise that he was not successful in his bid to become mayor."
In an interview, Mr. Reilly said the judge took the "easy way out," refusing to deal with the larger question of campaign expenses and being selective in considering his testimony. "There were three days worth of testimony and the judge only took what [he]felt was necessary to protect the tax department," he said. "I'm saying they've taken [the comments]out of context completely and it's for their own benefit."
Mr. Reilly plans to appeal, saying the issues in the case affect other politicians who finance their own campaigns. When asked about what he would do if elected, Mr. Reilly said he has lived in Delta for years and would act in the best interests of the community. "Yes, I'd like to be mayor. I would run it like a business," he said. "If I was mayor I would just quit all my real-estate stuff."
But he allowed that being mayor of Delta would help his business profile. "When you run for election in one community all of the councillors and mayors of the [neighbouring]communities know who you are," he said, referring to the nearby suburbs of Surrey and White Rock. "So what it does for me is it develops a shorter time frame in maybe, you know, getting to the front of the list as compared to the back of the list."
He has already mapped out a new political strategy, starting with a by-election this September for a vacant council seat. "What I would like to do is spend a year or two years on council and make sure that the people in the community know that I served them well," he said. "And then if they are quite satisfied, then hopefully they'll elect me as mayor."