Updated : Round 2 on the $150K grant in Old Massett.

Update: June 1st,  Ian Jessop (CFAX 1070 radio in Victoria) discussed this matter with Norm Farrell of In-Sights – Link to the discussion here beginning five minutes into the radio piece.. https://in-sights.ca/2016/06/01/talking-about-bc-issues/

Also, the FOI response package is now linked at the end of the post. See if you can spot anything useful that I missed .. I have made some revisions for greater accuracy June 2nd. There’s also a new FOI release here which adds nothing substantial to our understanding as far as I can see https://t.co/QNoizLvBvg 

Good for Ian for going where Press Gallery angels fear to tread !

The axiom goes that “a lawyer should not ask a question unless he knows the answer”. As members of the public, or as leader of the opposition, or journalists, or bloggers, we don’t have this luxury. Below are 11 or so questions that must be asked regarding how and why Christy Clark spent $150 K on a whimsical project outside BC jurisdiction.

The failure to ask these questions and have them answered opens up the possibility of governing by personal fiat of the Premier in a way that is too awful to contemplate. That is not a partisan statement. It’s not left, right, green, orange or blue. $150K isn’t much in the Provincial budget but it needs to be accounted for..And it’s not a box of post-it-notes either. It’s 66% more than the cheque that (arguably) ended Harper’s career as PM.

In my post of May 12th, here, http://www.bcveritas.com/index.php/2016/05/12/chief-ken-rea-made-the-request-directly-to-me-christy-clark/ I recounted how John Horgan asked such necessary questions. Since then, the media has dropped the ball in every way. I urge the public again to ask why? Be vocal. Contact a newsroom. I’ve tried. I’ve had one or two polite exchanges with newsroom people. They’re nice people. And yes, they are people, under resourcing and cost pressures I have no idea about…but…  Mostly I’ve been studiously ignored.

Bloggers have picked up the story which has circulated among tens of thousands at various sources. Certainly the traffic on this one post has dwarfed anything I’ve written before. But the mainstream media did not touch on it until this morning’s column by Vaughn Palmer, linked just below.

Vaughn Palmer: Politicians operate with social media firmly in mind

It’s often the case that Palmer “handles” the tricky stories the rest of the Press Gallery won’t touch. He is often the one who, when some heat arises, will do a column which more or less addresses a hot issue and deflates the “media won’t talk about X” narrative. For that, he draws the outrage of the ranters such as myself who find his columns wanting. I want to be clear that while I object to Vaughn dodging what I think are important questions, he’s taking the heat for a failure by the entire BC media here.

I have to say he’s outdone himself. He has made the problem one of the irresponsible blogworld instead of a problem of a Premier who has failed to explain how a spending decision was made. Do read it before continuing. And please read former School Trustee Reema Faris’ very fine off the cuff deconstruction of his column here: https://t.co/gHpG36mwME  It’s quite brilliant.

Here are a few of the questions media need to ask, in order to properly inform the public. Some were asked by NDP leader John Horgan. Some are my own or have been asked by alert blog commenters.

  1. In December 2015, comms. guy for the Premier, Ben Chin, said work on the Old Massett School Grant had been ongoing for over a year. If that’s the case, why did Bruce Clark need to give Ken Rea a number for someone in the Education Ministry?
  2. See #1.. If Chin’s story is true, why did Christy Clark on May 11th 2016, talk about the meeting with chiefs in September 2015, as the possible genesis of the grant?
  3. See #1.. If Chin’s story is true, why did Clark say on May 11th 2016 that Ken Rea “made the request directly to me” at or after those September meetings?
  4. Why, in response to FOI (I have the FOI production received by the NDP) , was there no record of a request for the $150K? Update: There is a briefing note in the FOI documents on page 17.. Dave Byng and Minister Bernier were advised of the suggested $150K feasibility study in the briefing note. Of note is that Old Massett Village Council was not aware of this idea. This begs more questions. Given that two feasibility studies had already been done apparently, why the proposal in November 12. 2015?  Did Ken Rea request it? And if so, was it requested through the Ministry or directly to Clark? Apologies that I missed that piece on first reading.        There was a tiny dribble of a record for some interest on BC/Federal cooperation in actually building the school gymnasium extension going back to 2014, but I don’t think a few pages is enough to say this was serious. There is apparently no funding commitment from the federal government (whom Clark called recalcitrant in Hansard on May 11th) . It contemplated a couple of million in expense in that larger context. Regarding Bruce Clark’s windfarm, again, there was very little…an exploration permit, extended in 2014..just permission to measure winds. Pretty harmless.
  5. Why then, did Clark, personally travel to Old Massett, in the midst of Ken Rea’s election, to dole out $150 K (without informing the Haida Council of her visit) ?
  6. If the provincial interest in Bruce Clark’s windfarm and in the Old Massett school extension were so marginal as the FOI response indicates, why the trip to Haida Gwaii personally by the Premier on November 26 2016?
  7. There was no indication from the FOI response that any serious recent discussion between the province and the feds had occurred. On what basis did Christy suggest that the $150K might move the project along (to the benefit of all)?
  8. I don’t believe there was never a paper trail for this request, or the expenditure. There are signing protocols when the government spends significant amounts. Where is the trail? What budget was the $150K supposed to come from? Given the Clark government’s propensity for triple deleting, it’s surely not too conspiratorial to wonder if significant parts of the record have not been preserved….or perhaps they were illegally withheld? No matter.
  9. What cheque #? What STOB was the cheque drawn from? Who was the spending authority? (contributed by Paul Ramsay after I forgot :-))
  10. How was this First Nations school selected for this largesse? It’s on record that the school is outside normal BC jurisdiction, (issue flagged for legal advice when it came to the actual building project – see the FOI’s). It’s also on record that other schools in federal and BC jurisdiction may well have been in equal or greater need. (For the record, if there were a policy change, and a program by which the Province chose generously to chip into Federal efforts to do better by all First Nations schools, I would heartily support it. This is not that.) Why this school?
  11. Has anyone in the government or the media offered a credible alternative to the most cynical interpretation of these events…namely, that Christy Clark impulsively spent $150K to (indirectly) help her brother’s business interests by helping to get Ken Rea re-elected in Old Massett ? I’m not saying that’s the truth. What I am saying here is that an alternative explanation, backed up by documentation, is owed to the public. The media’s general failure to demand that credible explanation is potentially very damaging to its own role as a check on power. There is enough smoke here to call the fire brigade.

Vaughn Palmer opines correctly that “BC Government helps First Nations school” is not a headline to bring down a government. How about “BC Premier Assists Her Brother’s Business Interests?”. Would that bring down a government if it were true? Again, I’m not saying it is true, but I am saying the Premier owes us a better explanation.

You have to judge for yourself if the inconsistencies in the narrative are enough to demand more answers. As far as we can see, the federal government, who are presumed at some future date to be partners in this project, are not involved. The Old Massett Village Council as of the briefing note November 12, 2015, were not aware of the study proposal. The OMVC hadn’t asked for it. Yet on November 26th, there was Christy Clark flying up .

We aren’t lawyers. I’m not a lawyer. That doesn’t mean we should not ask questions to which we cannot prove the answers. In fact as members of the public we must do so sometimes, to maintain a check on the whims of power.

If you agree with me that Palmer’s column should not be the end of the story in the media on this, phone a newsroom. Just do it. I expect a media that is far less willing to pass on smelly stories just because the missing records will make it hard to prove anything. In fact, it’s the absence of records which should blow media’s fire sky high.