Farewell Elizabeth Denham, We’ll Miss You

News broke this morning, March 22, 2016,  that Elizabeth Denham, BC’s Information and Privacy Commissioner, is departing to work for the UK government in a similar role. We should all be saddened by the loss. Vaughn Palmer has already noted on twitter what a loss this is to BC, and I agree. Here’s why. I’m illustrating it based on an exchange with Adam Stirling, well known Victoria CFAX radio personality. Adam’s a guy I have lots of time for. His opinions are his own, and he’s exceptionally witty in their presentation. In no way should this post be interpreted as lessening my respect for a very bright and honest commentator.

Adam said to me that the rehiring of Laura Miller as the BCLiberals Executive Director didn’t bother him, while the appointment of ex-Fraser Institute climate denier and Vancouver Sun editor Fazil Mihlar to a climate advisory position bothered him a lot. What that says to me is that Adam is not worried enough about process, but is worried about policy.

Laura Miller is accused of conspiring in Ontario to “bury the bodies” in an operation to delete the hard drives of staff computers in Premier Dalton McGuinty’s office. This is one dark side of governing which watchdogs like Elizabeth Denham work to mitigate.

Vaughn Palmer is bothered quite a lot..on CKNW recently he railed that it shows the BCLiberals don’t care what they do. Laura Miller as Executive Director of the party is in a significant position of public trust. While entitled to the presumption of innocence, she should have been put on paid leave until her name is cleared (or not) in Palmer’s view. I agree.

In point form, not chronological or complete,  here are some of the highlights of the BCLiberal government and party record on our “right to know”..

  1. Amrik Virk was part of the board of Kwantlen College when a process some would call devious was put in place to exceed mandated salary and benefits to the hiring College executives. He denied any involvement until emails surfaced proved he was involved. Amrik Virk was subsequently in charge of FOI in the BCGovernment for a time http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/11/25/amrik-virk-kwantlen-emails_n_6215694.html
  2. The Quickwins scandal : Government staffers , in a memo from the Premier’s office, were involved in a strategy to gather voter information from within the Ministry of Multiculturalism, and pass that information on to BC Liberal Party operatives. Emails surfaced admonishing everyone involved to not use government email, to avoid FOI. A police investigation into this matter is still ongoing. Elizabeth Denham has ruled that private communication on government business is subject to Freedom of Information laws. The quickwins scandal involves corruption of the line between Party business and Government business, and there’s even a bribery angle: http://www.thetyee.ca/News/2014/09/11/Quick-Wins-Key-Witness-Speaks It’s never been clear to me why the press coverage never adequately made the connection between the Haakstad memo in the Premier’s office, and the BCL Party office that was to receive private information on BC Citizens in a partisan vote-building scheme. Was it not obvious that if information was to be collected and shipped outside government, someone planned to receive and use it?
  3. The Triple Delete scandal continues to rock the BC Government. A mid level staffer (George Gretes) in the Transport Ministry is now charged with lying to Elizabeth Denham when asked about his deleting emails by force when the whistleblower, Tim Duncan, wanted to follow FOI law and release them. Tim Duncan maintains the culture of FOI evasion in BC is widespread in the political arm of government.

While George Gretes is charged, several people aren’t, despite evidence they may have routinely triple deleted emails. The Minister of Transport , Todd Stone, admitted he did so routinely.

Evan Southern, the guy responsible for FOI in the Premier’s Office, showed such respect for our right to know that he kept no records of his FOI queries except on Post it Notes, which were quickly discarded. He went to work as interim ED of the BCLiberal Party , until Laura Miller was able to return from “mounting her defense” to the Ontario charges.

George Gretes was forced to resign from Government. Laura Miller is welcome back in the Party Office. Elizabeth Denham is the watchdog who did the forensic work to lead to charges against Gretes.

The consequence of destruction of public records was diminished by the Clark Liberals last May, when the application of the Offenses Act was removed from the set of possible penalties. Gretes , it is reported, faces at most a fine for his activities, and for allegedly perjuring himself before the watchdog.

4. In many minds, this is the biggest one…..The Health Firings scandal. It’s the lack of documentation of key decisions that has made this scandal last so long. It’s now in the hands of the Ombudsman , Jay Chalke. Eight people were fired. The government maintained for years that an RCMP investigation into information breaches and contracting irregularities was happening when it wasn’t. A review by Marcia McNeill, hired to get to the bottom of it, failed due to lack of documentation. People refused to answer, or lied to McNeill, and they still work in government for the most part. Rod MacIsaac, a co-op student, committed suicide.

Now , in the face of Chalke’s review, the reseachers and families the government settled with are saying the wrongs done to them in the original investigation are being repeated. They are being denied adequate legal funding, and they are being denied access to their notes and emails to help prepare for submissions and interviews.

5. The firing of Ken Boessenkool, conservative political operator, from the Premier’s office, for inappropriate behaviour toward a female staffer, was conducted without notes. FOI requests on the affair came up blank. It was to a degree the first look we had into the burying of all damaging information which remains a hallmark of Christy Clark’s government.

So Adam, I could go on, but I’ve made my point. FOI matters. Respect for the public right to know matters. I don’t know your nuanced view on Laura Miller from one tweet, but I do know her re-hire is another confirmation that to the Clark government, nothing trumps their political need to bury the bodies, and that leads away from accountability. We need our watchdogs to care. We need the public to care. We need our media to care.

Because if government’s natural wish to hide what it’s doing succeeds in obliterating our ability to get accurate information about decisions and why they are made, journalism is dead, and democracy is sinking fast.

Elizabeth Denham has done heroic work against the tendency of government caucuses, and particularly the government caucus in BC, to bury the bodies. She is instrumental in what we know about the “triple-delete” scandal. She has consistently balanced the expectation of privacy for citizens with the right of citizens to access information the government would rather we didn’t know. She has fought for stronger laws, stiffer penalties, and a legislated
“duty to document” decision making.

Elizabeth Denham will be greatly missed, and we should all take an interest in her replacement and the process by which that person is chosen.

 

 

 

 

 

We Will Not Get Better Government Part III (Updated)

The theme is this: We cannot hope for government based on principle, if the media fail to hold government accountable.

AN UPDATE – March 11, 2016 (after which I’m busy over the weekend.. if comments are approved slowly, regrets.. I’ll get there) .

A day after posting this and getting wound up about it, some things to share.

Laila’s original post from 2013 (with a great comment thread) on Tyabji-Wilson and the sheep tanning business and how it all started.. There’s lots of interest here:  the way local businesses felt frozen out of the funding, how Tyabji-Wilson and Gordon Wilson were in a financial pickle (facing foreclosure)  prior to endorsing Clark, and how Gordon’s LNG appointment was supposed to be short term with measurables delivered prior to any extension (with a maximum of one year – ha) , while Tyabji’s sheep tanning project was supposed to grow a long term self-sustaining operation (not).

https://t.co/ygzN5T5L0c

Justin McElroy of Global Online follows including a video of Keith Baldrey “covering” the story. The online piece is okay, but Baldrey spins it as something funny. His curious approach to allegations of a conflict of interest in the awarding of a grant of $180K to Tyabji-Wilson is to speak by phone to her (the recipient of the lolly) and nobody else. He also introduces from left field a notion that this isn’t about patronage to Christy’s friends, it’s sour grapes because Gordon used to be NDP. Sorry, that’s not journalism. It’s not an attempt to get to the heart of the issue in a fair manner, with evidence , but rather a lame attempt to diffuse it.

https://t.co/Vfn5uI6Lcv

And here is Andrew MacLeod in the Tyee… Like Global Online, Andrew gets statements from Mike Farnworth of the NDP, and from Tyabji-Wilson. But tellingly, there is no representative from the government explaining why the conflict allegation from staff was over-ruled. It really puzzles me why Tyabji-Wilson would be the go to source about how a grant was awarded to her and why.

https://t.co/7W8xnP2o0O

Original post below…….

March 10th: Today, members of the press were live tweeting the goings on prior to Question Period in the BC Legislature…then when the questions began, except for Bob Mackin, everything went silent. Given the revelations that were happening about the inappropriate awarding of a grant of public money to the Premier’s biographer, you could be forgiven for thinking the intrepid crew were rushing to file their stories. I think you’d be wrong, though I’ll be the first to apologize if the tale gets the coverage it richly deserves.

In short, the NDP got onto an email trail sparked by curiosity about a “Buy Local” grant being lobbied for in an unregistered way by Judy Tyabji-Wilson , wife of Gordon Wilson. Gordon is the $150K/year LNG advocate who has managed the creation of an LNG Opportunities website with no LNG opportunities on it. Judy Tyabji-Wilson is the Premier’s biographer, ex BCL MLA and friend of the government and the Premier.

It gets better.. Judy Tyabji-Wilson was also advocating the formation of a non-profit to help some locals get skilled in the art of skinning sheep, so that they may find work… Despite warnings about conflict of interest from staff, and concerns that this amounted to a “business start-up” which was outside the mandate of the funds, she was appointed to run the operation ..She was the proponent, the president of the non-profit, the negotiator, and the largest financial beneficiary….and the business she started died on the vine after accomplishing very little and costing 40% more than initially advertised.

The full Hansard exchange is reproduced below. It stinks.

The BC media which took such pride in the tearful and fully televised press conference of Jenny Kwan when she was revealed to have gone on a trip funded by a DTES non-profit….should be chasing down Ms. Tyabji-Wilson, getting her in a room with the Minister of Social Development and the Premier, and grilling the three of them.

The same media that camped outside Glen Clark’s house over a case and brought a pacing Clark into your living room while the police searched for evidence of graft involving the building of a deck in that house,  should be all over this story.

Instead, for now, the cone of silence has descended. The only thing we can do about that is to contact our respected media outlets and make sure this is investigated, because it looks like Government using tax dollars as a slush fund to improve the life of a friend of the Premier.

Hansard:

L. Popham: Over the past two years, the B.C. Liberals have announced a number of Buy Local grants for B.C. agricultural businesses. The announcements are made with great fanfare and photo ops.

Can the minister tell this House how much money government has spent on Buy Local programs?

Hon. N. Letnick: The Buy Local program is part of the huge success of agriculture in British Columbia. This last year alone we’ve seen a record increase in agrifood sales by 5.9 percent, $12.3 billion in agrifood sales — that $12.3 billion, the majority of which is right here in British Columbia and across our country, not to mention the record $3 billion in sales that we had exported to countries around the world. In particular, our partners in the United States took $2 billion of that.

We’re very proud of our Buy Local program — $6 million that was committed over the last three years, another $2 million committed in this year’s balanced budget, and we look forward to increased sales once again in the 2016 year.

Madame Speaker: Member for Saanich South on a supplemental.

L. Popham: On October 27, 2014, the Investment Agriculture Foundation wrote to a recipient of a $100,000 Buy Local grant called Sunshine Organics and outlined various problems with the company’s bookkeeping. The foundation copied Ministry of Agriculture officials and asked that the grant be returned to government.

Can the minister tell this House if these sorts of grants are regularly being taken back by government?

Hon. N. Letnick: I’d just like to continue on the great benefits of the Buy Local program — $6 million over the last three years, another $2 million committed in this year, but not only do we see $8 million from government treasury going to help agricultural producers connect with local people, that’s being more than matched by industry. It’s estimated that the $8 million of taxpayer dollars going through the Buy Local program will be more than $20 million in total, when you factor in the partnerships that we are getting from the private sector.

We fully support the Buy Local program. We fully support British Columbians doing what comes naturally, which is to buy B.C. products, and we’ll continue to do that on this side of the House.

Madame Speaker: Saanich South on a further supplemental.

L. Popham: Four days after the Investment Agriculture Foundation told Sunshine Organics that they wanted their money back, the deputy minister for Agriculture emailed the minister’s chief of staff and executives with government communication about the issue. This email has been completely severed under the policy advice section of the Freedom of Information Act.

Can the minister tell this House why his deputy minister’s advice on this grant would need to be severed under FOI?

[1035]

Hon. N. Letnick: Obviously, I don’t have any influence on the independent FOI branch and the decisions that they make, but I want to continue on the Buy Local program since the member opposite has given me this opportunity.

Last year we had a record year in increases in asparagus, beets, cauliflower, peppers, cattle, milk, chicken, salmon and a record year in honey production, which the hon. member loves to expose. Over two million pounds in honey last year — 3.8 million pounds in 2015, almost double.

We’ll continue to grow agriculture on this side of the House, and I just wish the member opposite would say yes to Buy Local, like all the other products that we do on this side of the House.

HSE – 20160310AM 008/hbw/1035

in honey last year, 3.8 million pounds in 2015 — almost double.

We’ll continue to grow agriculture on this side of the House, and I just wish that the member opposite would say yes to Buy Local, like all our other products that we do on this side of the House.

R. Austin: We were also a bit confused by this severing. After all, why would the deputy minister, a senior assistant deputy minister, the minister’s chief of staff and senior government communications officials need to be briefed about a $50,000 grant to a small Powell River company?

Then we looked to the email trail, and who was emailing all those people, trying to ensure that Sunshine Organics got its grant? Ms. Judi Tyabji Wilson.

Can the minister tell this House why Ms. Tyabji Wilson, who was neither an officer of Sunshine Organics nor a registered lobbyist, was so active in pursuing a grant that was later withdrawn?

Hon. N. Letnick: Again, I’d just like to repeat what I said before. I have no role in the independent FOI and what’s severed.

I’d like to continue on the great achievements of agriculture on this side of the House. Farm cash receipts in B.C. We had a record year for tree fruits; cattle and calves; dairy; hogs; honey, as I said — a record year in net cash income for our agricultural farms, increasing to $312 million last year. That’s with more 32,000 hectares of land in the agricultural land reserve since 2001.

We will continue to protect agriculture on this side of the House. We will continue to make sure that we grow food for all British Columbians right here in British Columbia.

EMPLOYMENT PROGRAM GRANT AND
CONFLICT-OF-INTEREST CONCERNS
REGARDING JUDI TYABJI WILSON

M. Mungall: The story starts to get a little bit stranger. It turns out that at the very time government was talking to Ms. Tyabji Wilson about the grant for Sunshine Organics, they were awarding Ms. Tyabji Wilson her very own grant. On June 26, 2014, the former Minister of Social Development awarded Ms. Tyabji Wilson $128,000 in grants to start a social enterprise called Tanned, Wild and Woolly.

Can the Minister of Social Development tell the House what, exactly, government expected would be achieved with this $128,000 grant?

Hon. Michelle Stilwell: What I can tell the member opposite is that the community employment partnerships that we run through the ministry are an important part of the employment partnership, EPBC.

In this particular situation, there were five individuals who were struggling to gain a foothold in the job market. They received five weeks of training and work experience to then move forward with the project that is very well managed and evaluated according to strict guidelines within my ministry and has very professional standards.

M. Mungall: Well, in addition to being the spouse of the Premier’s LNG advocate, Ms. Tyabji Wilson is the president of Pebble in the Pond Environmental Society. She proposed forming a social enterprise that would spend $128,000 to train, as the minister said, five employment insurance recipients in how to tan sheepskins. But here’s the thing.

As part of the exercise, the new social enterprise would need to hire a full-time project supervisor to train the five employees to market the sheepskins, manage the grant and so on. Can the Minister of Social Development tell the House who the society hired to manage the $128,000 in taxpayers’ money?

[1040]

Hon. Michelle Stilwell: It’s not uncommon for there to be amendments that are made within a community employment partnership on an ongoing basis as we work through the projects. There are certainly staff reports that are received by my staff that talk about the monthly activity, as well as the financial impacts and any reports that go on through the project as it’s going. Any amendments have to be approved by staff before changes are made.

HSE – 20160310AM 009/amm/1040

the project as it’s going, and any amendments have to be approved by staff before changes are made.

K. Conroy: Well, the society that Ms. Tyabji Wilson founded decided that the best person to manage this project was — wait for it — Ms. Tyabji Wilson. The Minister of Social Development awarded Ms. Tyabji Wilson a $128,000 grant to train five people, and the chief financial beneficiary ends up being Ms. Tyabji Wilson, who developed and applied for the grant in the first place. Does the minister think that perhaps paying Ms. Tyabji Wilson $67,000 to supervise this project was a conflict of interest?

Hon. Michelle Stilwell: The chief financial benefactors in this program are the five individuals who received the training and the skills development that they need to get a foothold in the job market.

Again, my ministry follows very strict guidelines and ensures that the processes are followed and that amendments, when they are made, are reviewed by staff and approved appropriately.

Madame Speaker: Member for Kootenay West on a supplemental.

K. Conroy: Well, the minister’s staff does follow strict guidelines, and her staff did think that Ms. Tyabji Wilson was in a conflict of interest. One of her staff wrote: “There is a direct conflict of interest with the president of the non-profit being hired as a supervisor on the project. This one looks especially bad, as the president was the one that submitted the application and has been the negotiator for the project.” Does that minister agree with her staff’s assessment?

Hon. Michelle Stilwell: Like I mentioned earlier, the staff receive monthly activity and financial reports. They follow very strict guidelines. They follow the processes to ensure that the participants, who are the most important people in this process, the ones who are gaining the job skills and the supports so that they can move on in the job market — that we are following the standards and the guidelines and ensuring that process is followed.

S. Robinson: Now, the minister’s staff didn’t just comment on conflict of interest. They also wrote: “I have some serious concerns about this project as it appears to be a business start-up, and I would question whether this is really the intent of the job creation partnership.”

The minister’s staff went on to question whether there was even a viable business plan, because they noted: “If it’s going to be profitable even as a social enterprise, it needs to have a solid financial and business plan.”

Can the minister tell the House why, according to her staff, she appears to have funded a failed business where the primary financial beneficiary was Ms. Tyabji Wilson?

Hon. Michelle Stilwell: Again, it is my expectation that my staff are doing their due diligence and following the guidelines and the protocols that are involved with the community employment partnerships. The focus is always on the training of the individuals who will receive future skills to move on into the job market. That is vitally important to the employment program of B.C. It’s part of our skills-for-jobs blueprint. It is how we are ensuring that people in this province are getting the job skills that they need to be productive in society.

Madame Speaker: Member for Coquitlam-Maillardville on a supplemental.

S. Robinson: Ms. Tyabji Wilson appears to be a very, very busy woman. As disclosed in her application, she planned to give this project $2,000 worth of consulting services, courtesy of her management consulting firm, Maradadi Pacific. And while she says she was working full-time as the Tanned, Wild and Woolly project supervisor, she was resigning as CEO of her software company, Tugboat Enterprises, selling it to a local investor, and she was being hired as the chief operating officer of the new firm Quantum Key Data Recovery.

[1045]

Ms. Tyabji Wilson was already working as a management consultant and as the COO of a software company. Can the minister explain how she believes that Ms. Tyabji Wilson would also find the time to work full-time as a taxpayer-funded project supervisor?

HSE – 20160310AM 010/jah/1045

Wilson was already working as a management consultant and as the COO of a software company. Can the minister explain how she believes that Miss Tyabji Wilson would also find the time to work full-time as a taxpayer-funded project supervisor?

Hon. Michelle Stilwell: Balance in life is always a challenge. I’m an Olympian. I’m a minister. I’m an MLA and a wife and a mother, so we all find ways.

There have been nearly 200 projects that have been improved through the community employment projects and 900 individuals who have gained experience — 900 individuals who now have better roots on the ground to gain a better future for themselves. The community employment partnership program is working, and every single project that is there, we work through it with the individuals to ensure success.

S. Simpson: Not only was there a clear conflict of interest based on the views of the minister’s staff, the project was more than 40 percent over budget, ballooning from $128,000 to $181,000. Can the minister tell this House how that was good use of taxpayers’ money?

Hon. Michelle Stilwell: Again, with these community employment partnerships, we often see that there are amendments that are made as projects encounter unforeseen circumstances — over a course of the project, such things as additional operational costs or participants leaving the project due to outside employment opportunities. We have to be flexible with these projects, and that’s what we do within the ministry.

Madame Speaker: Vancouver-Hastings on a supplemental.

S. Simpson: Clearly, the minister’s flexibility on this is pretty high. The mismanagement wasn’t just financial, with a $53,000 cost overrun, it didn’t deliver on the performance side either. The premise of Tanned, Wild and Woolly was to keep a thousand sheepskins out of the landfill and make them into a marketable product.

The reality is that they managed to process 148, less than 15 percent of what was originally promised. Can the minister tell us whether the B.C. Liberal idea of performance is 40 percent over budget for less than 15 percent of the promised deliverables? Is that the Liberal idea of success?

Hon. Michelle Stilwell: What is successful is that five individuals received 50 weeks of training that will benefit them for life ongoing, building the skills that they need in the future. That’s what’s important.

M. Farnworth: Actually, maybe the Premier will be happy to answer the question I’m about to ask. The reality is that, although just over 100 or 15 percent of the sheepskins were eventually tanned, only 27 of them were ultimately sold. Not very successful.

But, as part of the Premier’s biographer’s contract, one of the things that she did manage to do was to write a jingle for this company. Perhaps the Premier can tell the House: was the jingle a version of Baa Baa Black Sheep or “The Premier Had a Little Lamb”? It really doesn’t matter, because whatever it was, the taxpayers of this province have clearly been fleeced on this project.

Hon. C. Clark: No, I understand that it was the theme song for the upcoming sequel to V for Vendetta.

Madame Speaker: Member for Port Coquitlam on a supplemental.

[1050]

M. Farnworth: Well then, perhaps the Premier can tell this House, now that she’s been on her feet, why would her government award a grant to the Premier’s biographer after the ministry determines that she would be in a

HSE – 20160310AM 011/alw/1050

Madame Speaker: Member for Port Coquitlam on a supplemental.

M. Farnworth: Well, then, perhaps the Premier can tell this House, now that she’s been on her feet, why her government would award a grant to the Premier’s biographer after the ministry determined that she would be in a conflict of interest? Perhaps she could tell the House why her government funded a start-up company that violated the conditions of the program? Perhaps the Premier can tell the House why her government then decided to increase the grant by 40 percent after it had been found to be in a conflict of interest?

Can the Premier tell this House why the taxpayers of this province were so badly fleeced by the Premier’s own biographer?

Hon. C. Clark: Well, I don’t have a biography, but I promise that when I do write my book, the member opposite will certainly be in it, and there will be lots of stories to tell about this time we’ve had in the House.

The minister has answered the questions that the members have put. I will say, in tribute to her and the work that she does…. A tremendous amount of focus on making sure that…. People who are struggling to get ahead, people who live with disabilities, people who are finding a way into the workforce are a major focus.

Interjections.

Madame Speaker: Members.

Hon. C. Clark: Our minister is someone who not only is a wife and a mother and a minister of the Crown. She’s also an Olympian. She understands how important it is that people who live with disabilities get every single opportunity that they can to be able to enter into the workforce, participate in it and lead the kind of fulfilling life that work offers for people. That’s been a central focus for this minister. We are very, very proud of the work that she does and very proud of the work that the staff do in her ministry in supporting that.

We are changing lives in British Columbia through the work that she does. On behalf of everyone, at least on this side of the House, I’d like to say thank you.

Questions and Answers V – LNG

This is the 5th of 6 posts on questions I asked on the 1st day of the current legislative sitting. Again, I invite readers to comment and enlighten me if there are any answers I’ve missed…And check prior posts for questions 1 through 12.

I’m not an environmental or gas industry expert, but I do know the BC Government promised us untold riches from the cleanest LNG in the world in the lead up to the last election. And I know the narrative on which Clark won that election was a fabrication from start to finish.

We have this year deposited $100 million into the “Prosperity Fund” promised from LNG development, but there has been no LNG development. None. That $100 million is money from general revenue. It’s held back from schools and from the disabled in the form of bus passes. It is money Hydro has been forced to borrow in order to pay a dividend. It is money the government itself has borrowed as the capital debt accounts keep growing, projected to pass $70 billion in the next few years .. ($45 billion approximately when Clark came to power in 2011).

In other words, that little $100 million Prosperity Fund is a fabrication, a myth. It will be used in the 2017 campaign as evidence of our sound fiscal management that we have succeeded in putting a little money into a rainy day fund.. But it’s like borrowing from your (admittedly low interest) credit card to buy an RRSP locked into a lower paying GIC fund. That’s the opposite of sound fiscal management.

So the questions….grouped together…they are begging for answers.

13) Will the Premier abandon the spin that because BC doesn’t adequately measure (or tax) methane leaks at Nat Gas wells that those leaks don’t exist? Methane is astronomically more damaging as a climate change causing gas than CO2.

14) Russia and Qatar recently agreed as sellers to lower contracted price to Asia to under $6 btu. Is LNG in BC not dead? (BC requires the long term price to be $10 or more to break even.)

15) The Malaysian Government is under investigation for fraud, corruption and bribery in half a dozen western nations including Switzerland and the US. With Altagas and Shell abandoning their efforts to build LNG in the Kitimat neighborhood, Malaysian state owned PETRONAS stands as the big player left in the Northwest of the Province. But PETRONAS is run by a government in chaos. It is downsizing operations due to falling prices and demand… Are they a good bet for our future?

Even if PETRONAS decided to go ahead with PNW LNG, to satisfy First Nations legal consultation it may well have to find a way to move from Lelu Island to Ridley Island in order to protect one of the world’s great salmon runs. Federal scientists have signed off on the Lelu Island site… other scientists have said the Environmental Assessment was fundamentally flawed. But the scientific debate over the Flora Bank spawning ground will probably end up in the courts, and it may well be dwarfed by the SCC weighing in with further definition of “meaningful consultation, consent, and accomodation” of First Nations concerns.

To sum up….

The dissonance between the spin coming from Rich Coleman, Christy Clark and the LNG faithful, and the reality on both economic and environmental grounds is staggering. It’s a testament to how far we have drifted from the ideal of rational debate on complex issues in governance and planning for our province, to a narrative, supported by large newspapers, which is divorced from reality.

The cleanest LNG in the world…Let’s check that one. This Pembina Institute letter points out that practices at newly built facilities can be leading edge, but until upstream emissions are taken into account it means little. Until upstream extraction practices are improved via legislation and enforcement, measurements of impact will remain flawed and fugitive emissions under-reported.

http://www.pembina.org/pub/woodfibre-lng-emissions-analysis-highlights-methane-policy-gap-in-bc

The BC Government specifically exempted upstream emissions from Environmental permits for LNG plants. The new federal government, under Trudeau is specifically moving to include upstream emissions. Nobody thinks that BC can meet its climate targets if multiple LNG plants are built.

Clark said Trudeau’s move to include upstream emissions was no big deal, after which she trooped off to Ottawa with 100 government and business leaders to lobby for federal support for LNG and other things. No big deal.

I don’t believe Trudeau will succeed in all of his ambitious plan to turn this country in the right direction on climate change in his first term, but five months in, I don’t think he has given up yet either. Clark will have to give him something on methane measurements and accountability.

I don’t believe Trudeau will entirely succeed in a complete reset of First Nations relations, but I do think he understands the Tsilhqot’in decision. And that poses a problem for Clark as well, as the oil and gas players want to ignore that decision, and continue getting as many things as possible (Site C included) “past the point of no return”. It’s a strategy of denial and delay, and it can cost us all a great deal on so many levels in the long term.

On an economic level, the picture is equally stark. The Alaska Highway news, and eventually, Vaughn Palmer, pointed out that in February, for the first time since the gold rush more or less, the Province sold no new gas rights at all. Revenue from gas land rights has been spread over time, and the current budget is the last one that will include the sales from the boom times of 7 years ago.

Add to that the credible projections that LNG prices will stay low for many years… More on this side of things can be found at the Straight Goods , where Grant has been doing a fine job of following the world LNG news that the Vancouver Sun won’t report on a consistent basis..

http://powellriverpersuader.blogspot.ca/2016/03/petronas-is-out-pacific-northwest-lng.html

What I’m left with is this picture sitting in the middle of a burning landfill of big money. Clark is holding up a sign with her $100 million deposit from borrowed funds to the mythical Prosperity Fund. It’s insignificant. It’s fraudulent. It’s meaningless. And it’s central to next year’s BC election. In my view it’s an election in which honesty, and reason, has to prevail over cotton candy nonsense, with its sweetness and complete lack of substance.

 

 

 

Questions and Answers IV (Scandals)

This is the fourth in a series of posts with questions I asked on the first day of the legislative session, and the state of answers or non-answers. The subject this time is scandals.. and there are a couple of new ones I didn’t anticipate. In some fashion the scandals are all related. They all speak to a cynicism and gamesmanship in government and in the BCLiberal Party which I find appalling. I’ll tie them together. It’s a long post, but it has to be.

I didn’t anticipate the Air Christy affair, (Spoiler: There is no evidence released yet that Christy ever flies commercial within BC other than the Helijet and Harbour Air from Victoria to Vancouver. Bob Mackin was kind enough to explain that while his FOI was specifically on charter jets, the only commercial flight listed on the government site was for a constituency assistant. The press needs to ask follow up questions about Air Christy and whether her flight costs could be reduced by hanging out with the peons on  commercial flights ) .I didn’t know Bob Mackin would break that story or the manipulation of the government response to the Paige Report to land on Federal Election Day …To the questions ..

9 ) Have Christy Clark, Michele Cadario (Deputy Chief of Staff to the Premier), and others begun keeping records as the Premier directed when the temperature was at it’s height on the Triple-Delete scandal last October?

There’s no answer really. Emails from staff in the Premier’s office surfaced on the Paige Report manipulation.. None have so far surfaced from the Premier or from Cadario. Bob Mackin’s story is here:

http://thetyee.ca/News/2016/02/23/BC-Premier-Office-Buried-Scandal

In the meantime, Evan Southern, the man in charge of FOI responses within the Premier’s Office, who conducted his investigations by recording the work on Post-It Notes, has departed to work for the BC Liberal Party office.

In the meantime, the only person facing RCMP investigation over the Triple Delete scandal is George Gretes. Mr. Gretes was the man accused of deleting whistleblower Tim Duncan’s emails to avoid FOI, and allegedly lying to Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham about it.

George Gretes has a new internet presence, posting news story front pages on Twitter, and occasionally boosting BC Liberal Party positions. I asked him twice if he is now working for the Party. He has not responded.

10-11-12) The last of the lawsuits over the Health Firings scandal has been settled (in December 2015). How much in taxpayer funds was spent on legal fees and settlements in total? Who fired the researchers (leading to Rod MacIsaac’s suicide)? Why were they fired?

None of these questions has been answered. We all deserve answers, and in particular, Rod MacIsaac’s family deserves answers. People know the answers, but when Marcia MacNeill was tasked with finding out, the players pointed fingers at each other, which means some, perhaps all of them, lied to her.

Nobody, from the Health Minister initially responsible, Mike deJong, down to the staff who covered their asses instead of helping Marcia MacNeill has taken responsibility. Nobody has told the whole truth.

We await Ombudsman Jay Chalke’s efforts to get to the bottom of it with anticipation, but we also know he will be hindered by non-disclosure agreements and the demonstrated unwillingness to come clean which has been on display since 2012. If the RCMP were misled about evidence coming forth, what hope does a country Ombudsman have?

Update: Shane Woodford at CKNW has broken the story this morning that Linda Kayfish, sister to Rod MacIsaac , and two of the fired health researchers , are refusing to testify for the Ombudman’s probe. They cite inadequate funding for legal representation, and the denial of access to their old records and notes in order to prepare. They are also demanding that the name of the person who composed the letters of dismissal be released . Link to his chat with Simi Sara about it all here. Be sure to listen to the soundcloud portion..

http://www.cknw.com/2016/03/01/unfairly-fired-workers-in-health-firings-scandal-seek-level-playing-field

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Government has a unique power to delay and wait out the storm on scandals. We get told that scandals don’t matter. We elect the same people. That washes everything clean. Nobody talks about the BCRail scandal anymore. But the history of Christy Clark is a history of scandal. Let’s ask Glen Clark, Alison Redford, Mike Duffy, Dean del Mastro, Michael Sona, or Laura Miller if scandals matter.

A) Clark’s election to the Presidency of the Student Society at SFU was cancelled after a cheating scandal. She left SFU shortly afterward. Judi Tyabji has said to me that this “story” will be covered in the biography she is writing. One assumes it will be downplayed into nothing, but I’m sure that has nothing to do with the $150K contract extension given to her husband Gordon Wilson…..That’s the man who has produced an LNG Opportunities website with no opportunities on it after two  years of work.

B) At the trial of Dave Basi and Bob Virk, the defense argued that the sale of BC Rail was rigged in favor of CN , led by David MacLean. The RCMP investigation led to an unreleased RFP winding up surreptitiously in the hands of Christy Clark’s brother, Bruce. It was suggested, but not proven (the trial was infamously shut down), that Basi and Virk were leaking information that came through Clark’s access to cabinet.

C) The indemnity awarded to Basi and Virk of $6M despite pleading guilty happened under the watch of Mike deJong and, from a distance,  Christy Clark in 2010.

D) The Quickwins scandal still reverberates. Special Prosecutor Butcher received the RCMP investigation report in August, said too quickly he would decide on further charges by the end of September 2015, but is still working on it. Nothing to see here apparently. It’s taken three years.

Remember what this was about. It was about sharing lists of ethnic voters between government and the BCLiberal Party. The strategy was drafted in Christy Clark’s office.

E) A mess of scandals has erupted in the Ministry of Children and Family Development. The manipulation of the Paige Report linked in Mackin’s Tyee piece above speaks to a breathtaking cynicism in Clark’s office.

The government response to a report like the Paige Report is always boilerplate. “We accept the recommendation. We are working really hard to.. It’s unacceptable to this government… ” etc.

For the Premier’s office to reach out and change the timing of this response to fall on the day everyone is focused on the election of a new federal government is shocking in part because it’s so unnecessary. This is evidence of a group within the Premier’s Communications Department that views everything through such a narrow political lens it’s toxic.  Someone’s child died.

F) The Health Firings scandal , some suspect, was about shutting down research into smoking cessation drugs with serious adverse effects at a time when Christy Clark was pushing a government program to distribute those drugs to those who need them to quit.

We don’t know if that’s what it was about.

G) The Triple Delete Scandal is not over. The grapevine has it that the NDP FOI machine has been giving government fits for the last few months and causing lots of overtime in the FOI branch. It’s unclear if this legislative session will see the fruits of their labor come to light, but there is work being done to turn over the rocks and hold the government accountable for it’s promise to be less secretive.

H) According to a Globe and Mail piece, the Premier made a special trip to Haida Gwaii to give funds to a study of a school expansion on Reserve Land (federal jurisdiction) at a time when a councillor who favored her brother Bruce’s wind farm project was running for election. I wonder if she flew charter, though truthfully, commercial flights to Haida Gwaii are expensive enough I don’t know if it matters.

 So here we are with the AIR CHRISTY scandal just making news. Note one name in this “Roundhouse Radio” piece with Bob Mackin. The MacLean family owns Blackcomb Aviation. That’s Christy’s charter airline of choice. David MacLean, according to reports that surfaced in 2011, donated a plane to Clark’s campaign for the BCLiberal leadership.

https://t.co/emd2ifKgq7

David MacLean was at the helm of CN when BCRail was sold for a song. Basi and Virk were charged with corruption as a consequence of an investigation into that sale of the railway.

The Air Christy story will expand on the line of comparison of expenses with other Premiers (Kathleen Wynne billed $14K last year according to Integrity BC – Christy has spent $500K over five years) , but I found the other thing intriguing….

Update: There are other charters used . I’m grateful to NVG for linking some 2015 documentation  in the comments below. London Air Services turns up frequently . A quick Google shows it is a high end executive service operating out of Richmond. There is also a short hop at $1400 for 3 people from Vancouver to Victoria with Pacific Coastal. There is one for $2800 for 4 people Vancouver to Whistler. It would be intriguing to know the rationale for using charter in those cases.

I also see SeaAir flights to and from the summer house on Galiano from Vancouver . SeaAir isn’t especially expensive but I wonder if our taxes should fund weekend getaways?

This has been a long post. It could have been much much longer. But I’m going to ask a question I’ve been asking for a while. When do the cumulative impacts of the serial evasions catch up to Clark? When do we stop pretending that there is any effort directed to openness and away from simple or complex damage control. What does it say when the BCLiberal Party Office employs people who keep getting in trouble (Mark Robertson Laura Miller Evan Southern …)?