“Bob Plecas is a Friend of Mine” – Vaughn Palmer (updated)


Update: I said below that Bobbi Plecas, daughter of Bob Plecas, was an ADM in an unrelated Ministry. NVG noticed that she was moved to the Office of the Premier on July 30. http://www.llbc.leg.bc.ca/public/pubdocs/bcdocs2015_2/588707/2015PREM0054-001211.pdf

Also, Bobbi Plecas was cited in a Bob Mackin piece with something of a connection to the Quick Wins scandal http://thetyee.ca/News/2013/06/12/Quick-Wins-Docs/ Particularly  .. “on March 1, Citizens’ Services assistant deputy minister Bobbi Plecas ordered several senior bureaucrats to search for “multiculturalism AND outreach, strategy, contracts, consultant”; all content related to Bahia, Nuguid, Woo and Chow; any and all records associated with community liaison tendering; communications plans on ethnic media; decision and briefing notes, Treasury Board and financial documentation consistent with the keywords; and any documentation on the Draft Multiculturalism Strategic Outreach plan. …. The Tyee”


A couple of days ago, Vaughn opined online in the Vancouver Sun that the referral to Bob Plecas of the scandal in the Ministry of Children and Families is a good move. It will avoid the mistakes of the hasty health firings. http://www.canada.com/news/metro/Vaughn+Palmer+Liberals+take+considered+approach+with+review/11247142/story.html

But isn’t it completely redundant? And isn’t Plecas really an insider, not an outsider, in the following sense? Plecas has worked as an appointee at the highest level under various governments, some left, some right.

What high level political appointees like Plecas do, is advise, and help clean up messes for their less capable and less experienced bosses (in this case Stephanie Cadieux).

There are problems with this appointment. Here are a few, but before reading further, consider that the court’s finding is that children were abused over a couple of years due to the MCFD workers disputing the judges previous finding that there was risk of abuse, due to MCFD misleading police, and ignoring an existing court order to enforce supervised visits only for the father:

1) Plecas will have no power to subpoena or force testimony

2) Plecas will be reviewing policy and practice, not fault finding. If what I noted in the last paragraph constitutes policy and practice, that would be evil. I don’t believe it for a minute. So what’s the point?

3) Plecas has a daughter who is an ADM in an unrelated Ministry. Like Marcia McNeill, who, it’s been reported, is married to an OIC appointee within government, this does not presume bias, but it adds to an atmosphere of “insider-ism”.  Never mind, Plecas has been on the inside of government so much it hardly matters. Norman Spector was kind enough to expand on this, pointing out there is also a grandfatherly relationship more distant , with John Horgan’s Chief of Staff’s kids.

Add to this donations to BCLiberals (and a smaller amount to NDP) plus Darryl Plecas’ campaign. (Note: Darryl is not related . I was unsure in first writing and should have left that out) Links are in the comment from NVG below. I’m admittedly cranky about this stuff. Victoria is a small city. Sometimes it’s too small. If I make too much of it in anyone’s opinion, I accept that judgement.

4) Anything Plecas does is redundant to what the Representative for Children and Youth is already mandated to do. Mary Ellen-Turpond is the right person to review this. Otherwise, why have statutory watchdogs at all?

Former West Van School Trustee Reema Faris took issue on twitter with Palmers defense of the Plecas review here. I agree with all her points:


Oh, and the title above? Well, I compliment Palmer for rare disclosure in his July 24th piece that Plecas is indeed a friend (below). But I can’t help thinking that the leading figures in our Press Gallery have been around nearly as long as Plecas. And I believe that’s a serious problem. Because long-standing relationships that develop between journalists and politicians or civil servants appear to lead to an affection for the status quo.

Experience is a double-edged sword


Blog Break til July 29

I’ll be taking a break. Thanks for reading and sharing over the last month or two.

Stories worth following and a link below to an op/ed well worth reading by Pete McMartin:

The court case re the Shawnigan Waste Dump, in which an environmental engineering firm appears to have made a profit sharing deal with the client, breaking every ethical rule in the book. (Note: It’s an intriguing story to follow because it has parallels in the conflict of interest in “Credit Rating Agency” reporting. And one wonders whether deals like this have happened before, especially in BC. )

The Health Firings scandal has gone to the Ombudsman, and while he has been granted powers to investigate, a key point is that for efficiency reasons he won’t be duplicating the work of other agencies… I note that the Auditor General is “still looking” at possible connections with Big Pharma. So…

More FOI follies, as the NDP produces an email from the Transport Ministry, which was reported as “no records found” when the request went to BCFerries.

Martyn Brown continues to try and wake the BCLiberals up to how bad the PETRONAS deal really is.

Stephen Harper, alongside Christy Clark, turned up at the wildfire zone in Kelowna, but wouldn’t answer questions from media. When will the media simply stop turning up to report on him? Not soon enough.

Read this… I think McMartin is bang on. BC has lost its way.


Til next week… Merv


Interesting Times in the Petro State (updated)

Update: An hour after I wrote the piece below, via a link from Twitterite Josh Cole:

Canadaland (Jesse Brown) has a piece on the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers editing educational materials provided to schools by Canadian Geographic




The world has gone a bit nuts. Have you noticed?

1) Last year, the Supreme Court of Canada brought down a ruling that First Nations title exists, and must be considered as part of approval of projects pushed forward by governments.

This week, the PETRONAS deal was approved in the BCLegislature, despite what appears to be a valid claim of title, and unanimous opposition from the Lax Kw’Alaams. But don’t worry. The project is unlikely to proceed. Why?

Because even under the 25 year tax breaks and allowances for 70% temporary foreign workers , the project is still not economically viable under global market conditions. The spot price is too low. Supply coming on stream from Russia and now Iran present too great a challenge.

And First Nations, unless they’re fully accommodated, will have a strong case to block the project.

On the other hand, those easy terms our government negotiated set a new benchmark for the giving away of resources in our province. We have to vote these bastards out.

2) In the Peace, an informational meeting was disrupted by a man who may or may not have been connected to a ‘hacktivist’ group called “Anonymous”. Hard to tell, as he has disappeared without trace for now, while another man who was outside the meeting, apparently holding a knife was shot to death on the street by police.

Presumably we’ll know more once the Independent Investigations Office is through with the review of the shooting, but I have questions.

a: Was lethal force justified? Or were there other options?

b: Where is the first man from inside the hall?

c: Why is “Anonymous” helping re-elect Harper? Because that is the effect of masks and surreptitious activity and vowing to “avenge”.. The best place to be in relation to Harper is up front, in the open.

d: Can Public Safety Minister Stephen Blaney explain himself? He is quoted as saying the most vile things here… “Those who don’t legally dissent can expect to (get shot)” . My words in the brackets.

Then Blaney goes on to create a spurious and dishonest link between the Dawson Creek shooting and “Jihadi Terrorism:”.  That’s useful, because since the advent of the C-51 debate people all over the country have suspected the real agenda was to make spying on First Nations and Environmental activists easier.

Now we know the Minister doesn’t understand the difference.

Note to the Minister: People are about peaceful dissent. That’s why the July 23 Save the Peace Rally has been cancelled in this atmosphere of high emotion.

But dissent isn’t going away. And nor are First Nations right to meaningful negotiations and accommodation in development of resources.



When Vision is Lacking at the Top

Nature abhors a vacuum. Nelson BC may be filling a small part of an enormous vacuum in BC (scroll down) .

The Premiers met last week at a conference devoted in part to a “National Energy Strategy”. A little spat between Brad Wall, defender of bitumen pipelines, and the more moderate new Premier of Alberta, Rachel Notley, overshadowed the “jolly incoherence” of our Premier.

Christy Clark said a couple of things worth noting: One for it’s inflammatory superfluity, and one for it’s shock value to the folks at home.

1) She said the PQ would never succeed in any effort on Quebec Sovereignty. She may be right, and for many of the reasons stated, but she should not have said so. Until there is a serious referendum brought forward again, there is no need to say anything but “Quebec is outside my purview.” Anything else has potential to inflame passions best left idle.

2) More importantly at home, the Premier is quoted as saying the document agreed to last week is “in line with BC’s Five Conditions” on pipelines, including Northern Gateway. I couldn’t find any reference to a greater provincial share of the proceeds from projects which load environmental risk on BC. While she was careful enough to note that marine spill response was up to the Feds (and would therefore require a change of Federal Government), none of the other four were given mention in a vague and meaningless discussion.

For a simple critique of what the Premiers came up with see CBC here :


Note the absence of reference to anything not fossil-fuel related.

And look at an initiative from Nelson BC on solar panels as an investment in the future. Urge your town or city to study a similar initiative.


People will jump in and do the right thing if you give them a chance.


Very Little Return from LNG

The PETRONAS deal, will return, at best, a couple of hundred million per year and a few hundred permanent jobs..  It will not make us debt free. It will not lead to 100K jobs. What it will do is lock in special tax treatment for 25 years.

Here are two columns where the pro media tell us about the politics in the house, without telling us the deficiencies brought forward by the opposition in the actual deal. One has to ask why?



Ministerial Responsibility

Once upon a time in Canada, there was a notion called Ministerial Responsibility. According to a (clearly) outdated Wikipedia article on the concept, this is what was meant:

Individual ministerial responsibility is a constitutional convention in governments using the Westminster System that a cabinet minister bears the ultimate responsibility for the actions of their ministry or department. Individual ministerial responsibility is not the same as cabinet collective responsibility, which states members of the cabinet must approve publicly of its collective decisions or resign.

This means that if waste, corruption, or any other misbehaviour is found to have occurred within a ministry, the minister is responsible even if the minister had no knowledge of the actions. A minister is ultimately responsible for all actions by a ministry because, even without knowledge of an infraction by subordinates, the minister approved the hiring and continued employment of those civil servants. If misdeeds are found to have occurred in a ministry, the minister is expected to resign. It is also possible for a minister to face criminal charges for malfeasance under their watch.

By these standards, the fact that the public was misled for years about the existence, nature and status of a fictional RCMP investigation into the Health Firings scandal should have already cost Terry Lake his portfolio. And Cadieux has to go as well.

No amount of weaseling can rid Terry Lake of the stain of withholding the fact that even the pretense of an RCMP file had ended months before he admitted it.

Similarly, the fact that public servants within the Ministry of Children and Family Development purposefully ignored an order of the BC Supreme Court should cause the immediate resignation of Stephanie Cadieux, the Minister in charge. See Norm Farrel’s posting of the second court judgement here :


I think all of us feel no envy for anyone working in child protection. The staff of this ministry make enormously consequential, gut-wrenching decisions. But I also think it’s beyond debate that when a court has heard evidence and makes a ruling that decides against the sincere beliefs of those staff members, the court wins the argument. At that point the staff must let it go and move on.

In this case, it seems a child was subject to abuse by way of the obstinacy of people within the Ministry, and the willingness to over-ride law. That way madness lies.

Stephanie Cadieux, Terry Lake. Please resign. Let’s restore accountability and respect to governance of this province.

Of Pipelines and Shell Games Part IV (Christy, I don’t believe you)


Dear Christy,

About those “five conditions”. I don’t believe you.

I’ve talked about propaganda. Now let’s talk about that disconnect between what government says, and what it does, or perhaps, plans to do.

The big deal with bitumen export via the West Coast is the product. One of the more positive developments recently is new Premier Notley’s musing on doing more refining in or near Alberta.

I won’t enumerate the environmental arguments here, but  a pipeline across Northern BC, and shipping raw bitumen from Kitimat or Prince Rupert with the associated marine challenges is the most irresponsible thing we could do.

Thank goodness we have Christy Clark to stand up for her five conditions, among which are “world leading spill response”, accommodation of First Nations, etc. I’m sure in the Premier’s Conference currently underway, in which a plan to “fast-track” pipelines is being discussed, Christy is all about her “five conditions”.

Here’s the problem. It centres around a curious relationship Christy Clark has with her ex-husband, Mark Marrisen. They go back a ways. They were both involved with a lobbying company which did work lobbying the federal government for Enbridge. From the National Post: http://news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/christy-clark-once-served-as-chairwoman-of-b-c-company-that-she-has-promoted-since-becoming-premier .

Recently, during the “yoga-gate” fiasco, one of Clark’s fiercest defenders on social media was Mark Marissen. That’s because he helps (informally) with her communications strategy.

Marissen is an experienced and busy political operative. He helped Barinder Rasode campaign for Mayor of Surrey. When that failed, Barinder Rasode went to work for “Resource Works”, a pro pipeline communications “astroturf” group.

(Purely so as not to upset Les Leyne, I’m not going to mention a Railway deal. )

Marissen is now listed as part of the management group of Pacific Future Energy (Globe and Mail : http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/industry-news/energy-and-resources/bc-group-pitches-10-billion-environmentally-responsible-refinery/article19092415/ )

Other players with the company include Stockwell Day, Chief Louie of the Westbank First Nation, Ovide Mercredi. The company website is here:  http://www.pacificfutureenergy.com/

Pacific Future wants to build a clean/green refinery (which is like non-fat poutine) in the area of Kitimat/Prince Rupert.

When this story came out in the media last year, the level of softballing and look the other way from the media pundits was beyond embarrassing. Clark was asked perhaps one question on it, which she deflected by saying she would recuse herself if the project ever came up in cabinet.

Excuse me? A $10B project which would blow your five conditions all to hell, involving your ex-husband as a principal, comes before cabinet and your intention is to take a washroom break while the others discuss it? You are going to express no opinion? Ask no questions? Neither encourage nor discourage this project from going ahead?

I don’t believe you Christy. If you were to do that, you may as well not be Premier. Premiers don’t recuse from decisions of that magnitude.

But the pro media bought it. At least they stopped asking.

I asked Marissen “why the North Coast? Why not refine in Alberta and save the risk of bitumen transport across thousands of miles of rough pristine territory?”.

His answer was that the large components for the refinery would have to be shipped from Asia. So much for Canadian enterprise. So much for Canadian jobs. Good for Marissen for answering the question though.

That said, projects have a way of being proposed, then dropped. The Pacific Future project is little further along than the “Black Press” refinery , as far as we know.

(Interlude: It’s clearly not just Marissen we need to worry about. Gwyn Morgan , former EnCana Chief, has been advising Christy Clark since before she was sworn in as Premier, and still is. Ken Boessenkool, Fazil Mihlar. There are many pro oil players who are close or have been close advisers to Clark…. Oh yeah, mentioned in the National Post article above is an ADM named John Fraser, son of BC Conflict of Interest Commissioner Paul Fraser. It’s a small world after all.)

Back to today: There is a third player. The day after the Lax Kw’alaams nation rejected a $1B offer from the PETRONAS players in return for support of Pacific Northwest LNG, reports surfaced that the same First Nation supported Eagle Spirit Energy’s proposed oil refinery in the same neighborhood. http://northcoastreview.blogspot.ca/2015/06/lax-kwalaams-government-clarifies.html

Man that neighborhood is getting crowded (which might be why the BC Auditor General issued a report questioning if BC had any plan to manage cumulative impacts).

But note some Lax Kw’alaams members expressed support for an oil refinery in the same location where the band had just unanimously rejected a $1B sweetener for an LNG plant. And the next day, the band said…’no no, these were individuals, not the band itself speaking’.

One has to wonder how widespread the offers of monetary rewards for statements of support really are up that coast. http://www.bcveritas.com/index.php/2015/06/30/time-to-call-in-the-rcmp-has-enbridge-offered-bribes/

Christy, let’s be serious. You’ve called a summer session to sign a terrible deal with PETRONAS over the strong objections of the First Nation most affected. There are three oil refinery proposals for the North Coast underway at one stage or another, one of which is being pimped by your ex husband, ALL of which would require a Northern Gateway type pipeline to be built to the North Coast, and large scale tanker traffic there.

You’ve abandoned the treaty process and canned George Abbott, who despite being a BCLiberal at the time, offered the best understanding of First Nations issues anywhere near your offices. He has now quit the party. Enbridge is alleged to be buying supporters one person at a time in the region. And you are today at a conference in which a significant agenda item is “fast tracking pipeline approvals”.

Christy, your five conditions are vague and malleable. I don’t think they mean a thing.

Can we get serious? Can we refine what we need to export in or near Alberta ? Then talk about a safer transport regime? Then talk about diversifying and weaning our country and our world off the stuff??








Of Pipelines and Shell Games Part 3

I grew up at the end of the Cold War. I remember in my teens theorizing that since military conquest now included the near-certainty of mutually assured self-destruction, empire building had to be economic and political rather than achieved by brute force alone. I was interested in world government, (still think it’s a good and inevitable development), a worldwide rule of law.

But putting those two thoughts together, I didn’t actually formulate then what’s happening now. “Globalization” is an economic force, but it’s corporate. Politics and the law hasn’t kept up.

So: if you’re among the richest corporations in the world, and you operate globally, one of the things you want to do is control media, and control governments. (Bear with me. I’m not a “Bilderberger” and I don’t believe in the ‘illuminati’.)

I asked yesterday if there was balance in today’s media in BC , specifically related to the pipeline issue. We have a large number of media outlets, with various biases. But many of them are small online only operations. The big players are Global, CBC, CTV, the four major dailies (Sun Province TimesColonist, G&M) and Black Press. The last is important, because unless you’re online, or pay for subscriptions to bigger papers, geographically Black Press is your main option in all the smaller communities outside Victoria and Metro Vancouver. The owner of Black Press is pro-pipeline and expressed interest in building a North Coast Refinery which would service the export market, but not the domestic one.

Postmedia, owner of the Vancouver Sun and Province, made an agreement with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers to promote Canada’s Energy Economy (hat tip to Norm Farrell). Journalistically, that’s a problem .

Further, conflicts abound in the coverage given to the pro-industry-at-all-costs crowd in Ottawa and Victoria. The CPC appoints Conservatives to the Boards of the CBC. Peter Mansbridge , the face of the news in Canada let’s face it, has in the past been paid for speeches to the petroleum crowd. Rex Murphy still does this, but now lists as a freelancer.

In Victoria, Keith Baldrey, Les Leyne, Vaughn Palmer, all appear at Business Council or Chamber of Commerce functions. We don’t hear any disclosure of whether these engagements are paid or not.

In the BC Press Gallery are at least four journalists or pundits who have family members who work as Order in Council appointees of the right wing government of Christy Clark (or her predecessor) . To call that an apparent conflict is not an attack on them personally.

Which leads me to the point. There’s a vast amount reported in BC about pipelines and industry, which doesn’t make it into the media with the largest audience. And it’s my view that all the small outlets make up the shortfall of information. All, large or small, can be assessed as having a pro or anti pipeline bias, but the playing field is not even. The largest outlets depend on revenue from pro-fossil fuel advertising, and ad revenue from the right wing governments currently in power.

I imagine a news consumer less obsessed than I am, who watches the evening news, skims a paper now and then in Starbucks, and I wonder whether he gets a true picture of stories like these:

1) The investment of PETRONAS in the LNG plant may be “about $11 billion, of which $8 will be spent offshore” according to Green MLA Andrew Weaver, and others. (Andrew was on CFAX radio last night, and he was kind enough to confirm the numbers with me) . Not the $36B being talked about in the big media or the BCLiberal Press Releases, or anything like it…. We don’t know for sure, but this older Globe and Mail report seems to confirm it (hat tip and thanks to Grant G of the blog “Straight Goods”).


(Addendum: What’s needed, as pointed out by Lew in a comment I accidentally deleted, is a realistic account of how much is invested in the plant, the pipeline to serve it, and components built offshore, (not to mention settlements with communities along the route, to be determined).

2) Clark’s BCLiberals  raised more millions from the Alberta Oil crowd than the Alberta Progressive Conservatives did: Source, the Vancouver Observer, here


3) The government that owns PETRONAS is being rocked by a corruption scandal . Again, the Vancouver Observer


4) A very timely blog post on Huffington BC by Sarah Miller. This is the kind of treatment the BCLiberals deserve , but the larger media still pretend Clark’s government is competent, when in fact, they are only well funded (see point #2).


I will have one more post tomorrow on this subject. Thanks for reading and sharing my stuff. I promise it will be entertaining.



Of Pipelines and Shell Games Part 2

Canadians are among the most educated populations in the world. So it’s amazing that governing political parties (sometimes with an assist from media) pitch to the lowest common denominator.

We all recognize that fossil fuel  industries are here to stay in the short and medium term. We get that our dependence on fossil fuels is massive and it’s part of not just everyday life, but nearly every part of everyday life. We also can handle a serious debate on how to reduce oil dependence without being called “anti-jobs” , unpatriotic, or worse. But we do get called those things whenever we attempt to have a serious conversation.

In an earlier post, I submitted Bruce Livesay’s recent piece on how Harper will win re-election. I urge you to read it if you haven’t already. http://t.co/bImFqsgTgg . Harper and the BC Premier, Clark, are adept at appealing to the basest, least nuanced, forms of debate.

Just this weekend, the BCNDP are making the case that the deal with PETRONAS for an LNG plant on the North Coast is a bad deal. There are no job guarantees for Canadians. The First Nation most affected has not been brought onside yet as is now a legal obligation. The tax regime has been gutted to the point where we would need 5 equally sized projects in the next 5 years just to pay the costs of construction of the Site C dam, which many feel is to be built not to service BC, but to service this LNG industry Clark hopes to bring alive. Put another way…. the PETRONAS project might pay for Site C, by 2042. Maybe.

But focusing on the lack of job guarantees for Canadian workers (there are none whatsoever), the attack line from the online trolls is that the NDP are xenophobic and racist. These terms are actually being used on Twitter as I write, and they are offensive and nonsense as well . I don’t suggest those attack lines come from government communications branches, but Clark has been known to offer support to using the TFW program on the basis that it’s a path to citizenship. (It isn’t).

“We are a country of immigrants.” we hear. “Are you opposed to immigration?” .

In the meantime, BC’s education system is being adjusted to be “pro-trades” training. This isn’t just K-12 . Post-Secondary funding is being changed to include a requirement that a higher percentage of public funding be used for more trades/engineering oriented teaching.

In the meantime, the PETRONAS project, according to Martyn Brown’s long piece linked here, will offer fewer jobs over 25 years than the BC economy generated in other sectors last month . http://t.co/9n6NIY37dj The tax guarantees and giveaways may be far too generous. I think they are. Look at it seriously and see if you agree.

And the media narrative is that honestly critiquing this deal is “the NDP falling into Christy Clark’s trap” (See Mike Smyth today, http://t.co/GWw8GTJzGa )

Better yet, check out Vaughn Palmer. http://t.co/Es4woh7FMs . Clark (with a straight face) strings these two delicious sentences together : “Today we choose to put politics aside,” she continued, not neglecting to put shame aside as well. “We will, each of us, be remembered for how we voted on this bill.”

Never mind. Shane Mills, BCLiberal caucus communications guy, is sharing memes that say “We are for jobs. The NDP is opposed to jobs”.

So, do we have a balance in the media? Martyn Brown , critic, on the one hand, versus Smyth and Palmer, who analyse the electoral politics, but not so much the deal itself, on the other? Compare the circulation of the Sun and the Province to the circulation of the Georgia Straight…. (with a respectful “sorry Charlie”)

More on that in Part 3 tomorrow