So how much does a good report card cost?


Something pretty delicious happened yesterday during a twitter fest over Site C…

The BCLiberals were announcing contracts awarded on the project, and of course, Les Leyne, Mike Smyth, and Tom Fletcher have all pretty much dismissed any suggestion by the BCNDP that Site C should go before the BC Utilities Commission. These worthies seem to feel any suggestion the NDP might backtrack on the project in 2017 is irresponsible.

John Horgan called on Clark to put the NDP plan and the Site C plan before BCUC for side-by side review to see which one is actually in the public interest..

Anyway, I was looking for the Liberal staffers to forward any independent assessment of Site C…And one of them obliged.

Newly hired CPC staffer Sebastien Togneri , now under Clark’s command after being in a bit of FOI trouble in Ottawa, forwarded the following KPMG report:

https://t.co/6fA8n9PJFe

It’s  a favorable report commissioned by the government. Well worth reading of course.

But then there is this other KPMG report commissioned by an outfit called “Clean Energy BC” on a plan which shares many elements with the NDP energy plan put out by John Horgan. You don’t get to read it, because it was recalled in a hurry as soon as it was released, but you can see a copy in Keith Baldrey’s left hand in this Global BC video from November 19th.

https://t.co/l2ZvsmBIDX

It suggests alternative plans would have a bigger impact on jobs and GDP , (and save a valuable food producing valley, and respect First Nations rights -MA) ..In short it might be a better plan.

I would never cast aspersions on the integrity of any person or organization , but I wonder if the BCLiberals really want to hold up one of two conflicting reports bought with different dollars from KPMG, as justification for avoiding a public interest review of the biggest , most expensive project in BC history?

Who decided to recall the report KPMG did for Clean Energy? Why? How did this happen?

More on these issues from Vaughn Palmer  :

http://ow.ly/V7s2C

 

 

 

Alberta is not following BC’s Climate lead

You could hear the bomb go off when Rachel Notley stood on a stage in Alberta with Murray Edwards of Canadian Natural Resources, execs from Suncor, and others to announce Alberta’s version of a carbon tax.

I’m not an expert on carbon taxation. But I do know complete nonsense when I see it, and it came from BC. Because I’m not an expert I’ll cite one at the end of this post.

Terry Lake, former Minister of Environment for BC, tweeted something along the lines of “Great to see Alberta following BC’s lead with this carbon tax”. Those aren’t his exact words.  It is true that BC had a carbon tax years before Alberta, but at every other level Lake’s tweet is nonsensical.

The differences between Alberta’s version are several… First of all, Alberta’s price will not meet BC’s price of $30/ton for a couple of years, in 2018. Secondly, Alberta’s carbon tax is economy wide. BC’s carbon offset program exempts the Oil and Gas industry. Schools and hospitals participate in our Carbon Trust, but fracking wells don’t. My understanding is that because leaks from drilling wells are so pervasive and difficult to measure, our government believes it would be hard to fairly assess and tax drilling operations.  Thirdly, carbon tax revenue in Alberta will be spent on things that help reduce carbon use…transit for example. In BC, not so much.

Most important of all though, is Premier Notley’s determination to reduce dependence on fossil fuel, raising the level of renewable energy to 30% by 2030 (Saskatchewan has a 50% target).. and ending coal fired generation.

That’s a stark contrast from the idea of Christy Clark going to the Paris climate conference to argue that LNG is clean and will somehow reduce overall GHG emissions when … Well…Even if an LNG export plant is built, a doubtful proposition at current and projected prices, even one large plant will blow BC’s stated climate targets out the window for a generation or more.

Here’s the link to Lee Thiessen’s piece in the Times-Colonist today .. He’s the retired Executive Director of BC’s Climate Secretariat.

The money quote : The current provincial government has no legitimacy in asserting that it is a climate-policy leader. It cannot take credit for the carbon tax in the upcoming Paris climate-change conference, while undermining its effectiveness at the same time. – See more at: http://www.timescolonist.com/opinion/op-ed/comment-b-c-liberals-undermine-carbon-tax-s-usefulness-1.2118741#sthash.XtvwnkVk.cOgt9dzV.dpuf

Bob Mackin and David Berner on TripleDelete

Watch this video. Absorb the fact that the pattern of deletion of records to avoid FOI is against the current law. The Premier’s emails get deleted. Her Chief of Staff’s emails get deleted….Under current law it’s an infraction to “conceal a record” to avoid FOI. What other explanation is there for all records these people create being deleted routinely?

Ask yourself why none of the Freedom of Info Commissioners recommendations of the past four years have seen action.

Watch the video..

http://thebernermonologues.blogspot.com/2015/11/the-high-costs-of-freedom-of.html

 

Updated: David Loukidelis Can’t be the Right Choice on FOI

UPDATE: A comment from Lew on Laila’s site was so on point I had to insert it here:

It should be noted that Mr. Whitmarsh wielded the pen of purported authority in both the Basi/Virk payoff and the health ministry firings. He did not have the legal authority in the former, and lacked the moral authority in the latter. In both cases the key Minister behind the curtain was Michael de Jong.

At the time the Basi/Virk deal was conceived, Gordon Campbell was in the big chair, and according to the public statements of cabinet member Bill Bennett, “You have almost a battered wife syndrome inside our caucus today, inside our cabinet.” Yet we are led to believe that in this atmosphere two bureaucrats would take it upon themselves to come up with a convoluted scheme to end a sensational criminal and kiss off $6.2 million in public funds without a nod or direction from above. Not likely.

In the health ministry firings, de Jong was making noises all over the place about how the BC Liberals were going to create an atmosphere conducive to pharmaceutical investment in BC. He was fresh back from making this pitch at a major biotech conference in Boston. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/drug-rd-investment-in-bc-marks-global-shift/article4332956/ Would bureaucrats in this atmosphere fire eight drug researchers without a nod or direction from above? Not likely.

It was also very instructive to watch the actions of Mr. Whitmarsh when the excrement started hitting the fan on this. He lawyered up and went public with squeals that he thought the government was going to scapegoat him for the whole thing. Because he knew two things; that’s how they play, and it wasn’t his idea.”

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David Loukidelis has been hired to review how the Clark government can achieve better practice with regard to obeying FOI legislation (in other words, how it can stop disobeying the legislation).

Laila Yuile has some great questions around this appointment from her post yesterday here:

http://lailayuile.com/2015/11/12/complicit-or-incompetent-questions-continue-to-pile-up-for-the-premier-who-continues-to-ignore-them-all

I’d like to add the following history regarding Loukidelis and the approval of the payout of $6M to, I believe, induce a guilty plea with a get out of jail free card for Dave Basi and Bob Virk… This is from Gary Mason’s G & M article of May 4th 2012:

Normally raucous Question Period was silenced this week when Mr. van Dongen got up to ask a question of Attorney-General Shirley Bond. And a terrific question it was.

The government has claimed that the decision to waive the legal fees of Bob Virk and Dave Basi was made by deputy finance minister Graham Whitmarsh and deputy attorney-general David Loukidelis, who announced on Friday he is leaving his position in June for personal reasons. In other words, by two bureaucrats who were independent of any influence by elected government officials.

But did Mr. Loukidelis and Mr. Whitmarsh have the power to make that decision?

A statement sent out by Mr. Loukidelis on Oct. 20, 2010 – shortly after the deal became public – said the deputy minister of finance had authority under the Financial Administration Act to release the two guilty government officials of their $6-million obligations to the government.

But in the legislature, Mr. van Dongen wanted to know why, if this was true, did the act say something quite different. In fact, it states specifically: “A debt or obligation to the government may not be forgiven without the approval of the Lieutenant Governor in Council [cabinet]if the amount forgiven is $100,000 or more.

Full link here to Gary Mason’s piece:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/clark-liberals-still-tightlipped-on-6-million-payout/article4104878

If there is a single act of the BCGovernment that is more infamous than the Basi-Virk payout, it can only be the ongoing Health Firings scandal. Jay Chalke has been assigned the job of finding documents on that which eluded the previous reviewer Marcia McNeill.

The scope and nature of Graham Whitmarsh’s role in the Health Firings scandal is still to be clarified. His role, and Loukidelis’ role, in the Basi Virk scandal is well known…though the only consequence of note is that they both left government. Loukidelis left government only days after John van Dongen asked the above question in the legislature. Whitmarsh left sometime after the health researchers were fired.

So Laila is right… we have come full circle.

I think we should recognize that Loukidelis, whatever his competence on FOI, will not be taking testimony, but only presenting a cover story on how the Clark crew will be cleaning up their act. I don’t believe that for a second.

Meet the Pro-Media Contortionists

Tom Fletcher and Keith Baldrey, and others, have been around as leading members of the Press Gallery in BC since before the fall of Glen Clark. I point that out because I recall how relentless the pursuit of Glen Clark was by media over the casino/deck scandal.

Each of them released columns about the “Triple-delete” scandal this week, which were full of logical failures and a more general failure to identify the problem for Christy Clark’s government. Have a look… We’ll take Baldrey first:

http://www.burnabynow.com/opinion

This dismissal of the need to be accountable and provide openness is cavalier at best and sneeringly undemocratic at worst. The investigation by B.C. privacy and information commissioner was justifiably scathing and harsh in its findings and judgment. This mentality – that “winning” is all-important and little else matters – can leave vacant the moral and ethical high ground voters still expect to see occupied by those they vote for. Stephen Harper and his Conservative party learned that lesson in a very painful manner in the recent federal election, a contest that turned out to be more about values than anything else. It’s time to shed the arrogance and start following the law. Otherwise that sense of being bulletproof may one day prove to be delusional. ”

What Mr. Baldrey argues, couched in some rather fine rhetoric, is that if the deletion of emails continues, which is against the law when they are responsive to an FOI request (as was the case in the Tim Duncan matter),  the BCLiberals might lose! Heaven forbid!..  He does, correctly , refer to the BCLibs “wanton disregard for the law” , but that is not the problem in itself. It is the threat to the BCLibs electoral dominance that is put forth as the reason for them to reform themselves.

The reaction to this column on Twitter was generally positive, and taken as a sign that the pro BCLib bias among certain pundits may be cracking. Far from it.

On to Tom Fletcher.. While this link is from the Oak Bay News in Victoria, remember Fletcher’s columns are syndicated across the province, particularly in small communities. Here is his column:

http://www.oakbaynews.com/opinion/339610052.html

Everyone agrees that the deputy health minister of the day, Graham Whitmarsh, was legally responsible for the decisions and records. Yet somehow the only record released to the NDP for the two-year period of the firings and subsequent investigation was a heavily blanked-out update from his successor, Stephen Brown, to the premier’s deputy, John Dyble…….”

The larger issue is how freedom of information legislation should work. Should the opposition be able to second-guess decisions of bureaucrats by going through their emails?

The traditional answer is no. Elected officials are responsible, even if they had no actual role, as should always be the case in hiring and firing ministry staff and awarding government work contracts. The buck stops with Lake and Clark, not their deputies.

So I’m waiting for Mr. Fletcher to hold Lake and Clark accountable for the health firings, for the settlements (the nature and dollar amounts are secret), for the misleading of the public with regard to an RCMP investigation that we know never happened, and for the misleading of the RCMP with regards to evidence which never came. Is it too much to suppose that much of the record was illegally deleted? I don’t think it is.

Mr. Fletcher is right that the buck stops with Clark and Lake on the health firings file, but at the same time, in the same column he argues “everyone agrees” it was Graham Whitmarsh’s fault.. throwing under the bus the one of the many civil servants involved who has left government and has sounded the alarm over being scapegoated by the bunch of cowards who run this government. Whitmarsh pointed to extensive work with John Dyble and others at the time, a man quoted in Hansard this week instructing staff in a thank you note to “delete all drafts and treat emails as transitory”.

I’m in no way exonerating Whitmarsh, (he has much to answer for, and not just on this file) but it’s nonsense to pretend that “we know” it’s his fault, and his alone.

What the “Triple-delete” scandal has exposed is an effort among the political arm of Clark’s civil service to avoid accountability for themselves and for Clark herself pre-emptively. To argue that FOI laws should not expose the inner workings of government when the buck stops with the politicians (always at some future date) is nonsense. We have FOI laws precisely so that we might know how the government works in our interest because we pay for it. In part, we have FOI laws to ensure that the government is considering evidence in its decision making, and what that evidence has been.

And what’s been exposed is a rational, pre-emptive, far reaching, intentional, breach of FOI law. And for that, the buck stops with Christy Clark. The buck stops today, not in May 2017.

For a breath of fresh air, read Justine Hunter here, as she talks about how much has been known for a long time within the Ministry of Transport about the Highway of Tears, and about what Todd Stone didn’t want us to know about community consultations along that corridor.. It’s a good honest piece.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/what-to-do-about-safety-on-highway-of-tears-bc-already-has-its-answer/article27170780

The point of all of this is that it’s following the spirit and the letter of the law that matters. Let’s not treat this as some sort of game where “our team” made a bad play but they can still win if they score some points in the final quarter of Clark’s term. We pay the civil service, even the political arm, to provide sound advice to Clark and her cabinet. We don’t pay it to delete the record so that we can’t find out what evidence was considered. And certainly not to cover up mistakes for the Premier.

Further, it’s one of the legitimate roles of the Press Gallery to pursue accountability on our behalf from Premier Clark, whether the first name is Glen or Christy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is Not That (media lines which need to be rejected)

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. ”

http://thetyee.ca/Opinion/2015/10/28/BC-Email-Deletions/

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.””

http://www.timescolonist.com/opinion/columnists/les-leyne-government-boxes-itself-into-a-corner-1.2100538

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.

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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.