What do we have to do to bring some fundamental accountability to the little cabal of Christy Clark’s cabinet over the FOI scandal? When Elizabeth Denham’s report surfaced, I was driving through Vancouver listening to CKNW.. the reaction from the host was total shock.. Timothy Duncan was right. There is a culture of erasing from the record information which is owned by the public by law.
I’ve been mulling over the media responses to the email scandal. It’s a mixed bag. There is certainly a range of opinion. A few key quotes with links to full op/eds, which I suggest you read if you haven’t already :
A) Paul Willcocks , former editor of the Victoria Times-Colonist, writing in the Tyee:
“Commissioner Elizabeth Denham’s report is really about corruption and a fundamental threat to democracy. ”
B) Les Leyne: Times Colonist
“But it’s been standard operating procedure for years. Government officials over time have become more and more careful about not writing down anything that might come back to haunt them. So the routine requests for information have increasingly prompted responses along the lines of “no records responsive to your request.””
C) Jeremy Nuttall, journalist with the Tyee, believes all FOI complaints should now go to the RCMP.
D) In an episode of CBC On the Island’s political panel October 23rd, former insiders Norman Spector, Martyn Brown, and Elizabeth Cull, in a lengthy discussion, talked about how it’s always been.. In the 90’s Colin Gabelmann brought in BC’s FOI laws, but political operators for the government have always evaded them. Perhaps they’ve not kept notes..perhaps they’ve used private email..
Sadly, perhaps because all three have been “inside government”, and because all three likely worked on things they’d rather not have us know about, the discussion did not address the differences between this crisis and what has gone before.
Norman Spector is keen to call attention to the trouble BCLiberals Executive Director Laura Miller is in for her alleged role in wiping computer hard drives in Dalton McGuinty’soffice.. but strangely, this deletion of a huge swath of information from the public record in BC troubles him only slightly. He did, to be fair, acknowledge to me that anyone in breach of the law should be charged if the RCMP has enough evidence to convict.
So how is the current issue different? Why should we not think this is “business as usual”. I’ll get to that..
Which brings me to Keith Baldrey, Global BC’s political commentator.. He got into a discussion with Laila Yuile, suggesting that in calling for people to pressure their BCLib MLA’s over this, she had somehow left journalism for activism. In fact, Laila has always been activist. She has always called for change when things go wrong. She has always been an independent commentator with opinions, which is exactly what Keith is. They just don’t share the same opinions.
Keith has also said things along the lines of “activism won’t change a thing. If anyone thinks Christy Clark is going to step down…if anyone thinks there will be a citizen uprising over this… well, you’re dreaming. It rarely happens.” He is probably right. I hope he isn’t. But Mr. Baldrey is consistent in his low opinion of activism, whether from the BCTF or the environmental movement.
I don’t know what he believes the public should do when the government behaves in a criminal fashion, or simply fails to represent the wishes of the larger public.
I sent a couple of admittedly snarky comments Keith’s way, pointing out that if FOI law is systemically breached, journalists simply cannot do their jobs. Journalists must rely on factual information. Journalists must dig behind the spin the insiders in governments want to give them.
For the sin of pointing out how much this matters to anyone in media who wants to do an honest job, he blocked me from his Twitter feed (again). O well.
But this is not that. Here’s why..
Christy Clark claimed in public that she knew nothing about “triple deleting”, the process whereby political staffers can erase all record of emails sent. But her own email account has been identified as having been wiped…150+ emails for a specific period from her own account were either triple deleted, or not produced in response to an FOI request.
That means this is not a case of a few staffers working on a sensitive file agreeing not to make notes of their discussions until a decision is reached. That may be reprehensible, but as long as calendar notes of meetings are kept, and the final decision is recorded, it isn’t a breach of law as it currently stands.
What has been exposed is a head of government who tacitly approves of a government wide strategy of hiding a broad range of information from the public it serves, and lies about it when questioned.
Christy Clark simply must step down. It is not possible that all her emails were triple deleted and she didn’t know about it. It is not possible that all of those emails were transitory in nature (if she’s not the “decision maker” within this government, then who the hell is?).
This is my opinion. If anyone has a credible and different take on the facts as they are known, I would love to hear it. I can’t think of an example from any other government that comes close to this in terms of wide systemic subterfuge
The only way in our system to get Christy Clark to resign, as she should, is for sufficient pressure to come from caucus, because the very intelligent people in the BCLiberal caucus must recognize that you can’t run a government this way. You can’t eliminate criminal penalties for FOI evasion at the same time a scandal erupts, and then pretend that the evasion wasn’t intentional. You can’t pretend that the entire activity of the highest officials in the Premier’s office is all transitory…
Les Leyne actually gets it right in the post linked above…Clark is in a box.. If documents on the health firings scandal are produced for Ombudsman Jay Chalke which weren’t produced for Marcia McNeill’s earlier review? Then Clark, Terry Lake, John Dyble, and a host of others will be exposed as liars. And if there are no documents, as McNeill stated, on a file that cost Rod MacIsaac his life?
Well, which is worse do you think?
And Laila Yuile is right . The BCLiberal caucus needs to feel the pressure from constituents. They’ve already made clear that the won’t stand up without being pushed. If you have a Liberal MLA in BC, you simply must write and phone their offices right now, and demand a government that respects the law.
“Commissioner Elizabeth Denham’s report is really about corruption and a fundamental threat to democracy. ” – Paul Willcocks
Sometimes it’s not about left and right, but right and wrong. And if anyone in the media tries to soft-peddle this, call them on it, loudly and clearly.