“Getting to Yes” – BCLiberals Style

Update: Minister John Rustad responds via Twitter..(see end of post).

In June of 2015, I wrote about a brewing scandal on Haida Gwaii, after a Facebook post appeared on the website of the Haida Council accusing Enbridge of offering cash to individual Hereditary Chiefs for their signatures on term sheets supporting the Northern Gateway Pipeline.. That original post is linked here : http://www.bcveritas.com/index.php/2015/06/30/time-to-call-in-the-rcmp-has-enbridge-offered-bribes/

More on Haida Gwaii in a minute, but a strikingly similar controversy has erupted in Gitxsan territory, and the new one has much closer ties to the BC Government in the documentation. When I started this blog, I never thought I would write so much about First Nations issues and energy companies. I’m well aware that my knowledge in both areas is inadequate to the task and I have many more questions than answers. I invite answers from all sides… submit a comment, mark it confidential and it will not be published. I really want to know…. My questions will finish this post.

Due to great work by Discourse Media, and exposure of actual term sheets in Haida Gwaii, we now know what was being offered was money for a group of six Hereditary Chiefs to use via a trust fund. The trust would be devoted to promoting cultural activities in the territory.

The entire paper trail is not available, because the signed copies of the term sheets haven’t been published. A trust was formed by the chiefs accused of betraying the Haida Nation, and letters of support to the NEB for granting an extension to Northern Gateway’s applications were sent signed by those Chiefs. In other words, the fundamental things Enbridge asked the Chiefs to do were carried out, and the suggested trust fund was formed.

Discourse Media’s Trevor Jang sums it up here: http://www.towardreconciliation.discoursemedia.org/investigation/documents-raise-questions-negotiations-enbridge-haida-hereditary-chiefs/ Two of the Hereditary Chiefs named in the documents have been stripped of their status. It’s a huge action taken by the Haida which hasn’t happened there in hundreds of years… A similar action only occurred in one case in all of BC in the 20th century.

During the Royals visit in October, the Haida asked Premier Christy Clark to stay away.. (she said, “that’s ok, I’m too busy anyway”.)  I don’t know, but suspect, this is one of the reasons she was not welcome on Haida Gwaii at that time.

Now to the brewing controversy among the Gitxsan. Thanks to a piece in the Smithers Interior News, linked just below, we know a trust fund totalling $5.3 million was settled on a group of 8 Hereditary Chiefs , apparently connected to support for a natural gas pipeline through their territory. The actual documents are linked in the article..Note that as in Haida Gwaii, trust is formed separately and before support from the entire First Nation (or group of Nations) is achieved.

The question therefore in both cases, is what was promised if anything, in exchange for the funds in trust?

https://t.co/kuh1awLdWn

A couple of things stand out:

“The documents were posted online after they were found in a sealed envelope outside the home of a Hazelton resident on Friday, Oct. 14.”

One of the Chiefs , Gordon Sebastian, said .. there is more information than is seen in the leaked documents.

“The numbers are true,” he said. “There is a whole arrangement there and a whole big thing that didn’t get on Facebook, that we still treasure as confidential.”

The Amdimxxw Trust was settled in June of 2016, signed by several Chiefs in September.. The Benefit Agreement between the band and the Province (with a space for Minister John Rustad to sign) is a “draft agreement” . It has not been completed. Shades of the Quickwins memo, which was drafted but never acted on.

What the Benefit Agreement does is provide a different set of financial compensations to the Gitxsan in exchange for absolution of the obligation to consult, and a promise not to campaign, speak, or act against the Prince Rupert Gas Transmission Project.

Now to my questions, which I think need to be asked by citizens and by media..

  1. In both the Haida Gwaii case and the Gitxsan case, the Chiefs acted on their own. They kept their agreements secret from the population they serve. How can it be right, or in the spirit of established Canadian Law (Tsil’qhotin), for an energy company, a government, or both , to offer financial benefits to named individual Chiefs even “in trust” without their bands’ knowledge or consent?
  2. Minister Rustad has surely been involved in efforts to have the Gitxsan onside with the Prince Rupert Gas Transmission Project. Was he aware of the “Amdimxxw Trust”?
  3. Was the “Amdimxxw Trust” in fact paid out prior to the Benefit agreement between the Gitxsan and the Province ? Were there any conditions placed on expenditures by the Chiefs? Was it public or private money?
  4. In the Haida case, Enbridge offered money “in trust” for cultural activities. What was in place, if anything, to ensure the slightest accountability for expenditure of funds? Do we think Enbridge would be motivated to monitor ?
  5. We expect that in negotiations with affected First Nations for support of resource activities on their lands, that the bands as a whole will be compensated for risks and harms. That’s normal. Is compensating individual leaders to act against the will of their population also normal?
  6. Over a year ago, I struck the analogy of secret money going to individual Municipal Council members to buy support for a controversial casino project. People would be charged and likely as not, jailed, should such a scheme come to light. Leaving aside the argument that a fund “in trust” appears to insulate the Chiefs from “receipt of personal benefits”… What should we think when resource companies or our BC Government provide funds for the secret use of a group of Chiefs within a larger affected First Nation?
  7. What ethical line is there that the Christy Clark government won’t cross in order to get to yes?
  8. We have two cases with some similarities, notably secrecy and some sort of side deal with individual Chiefs. Surely questions must now be raised in the minds of all members of all First Nations in BC about agreements already signed on their behalf. If I’m not overstating the case.. (I don’t think I am overstating).. How does the doubt cast by these incidents serve the First Nations people, the government, or the resource companies themselves?
  9. If the Trust was formed to compensate the Chiefs for being LNG advocates, why not hire them? Like Gordon Wilson? Then everybody would know where they stand. If the Trust was formed for another reason, let us know.

Feel free to add to this list in the comments..

Minister Rustad stated the following in response to my queries on Twitter…

1) “BC’s agreement with the Gitxsan is public on our website. Can’t answer questions about decisions the Gitxsan leadership are making “

2) “Agreement provides funds to the Gitxsan. Their leadership decided to set up a trust and make decisions.”

3) “All but 1 of Gitxsan hereditary Chiefs impacted by the PRGTL signed. Others as well. Intent of chiefs to set up trust for Gitxsan.”

The trouble with these answers is that the Chiefs who signed now apparently have to be answerable for those signatures. As in Haida Gwaii, it appears the population that makes up the nation may be more than a tad upset. Add to that the advice of Judith Sayers, who said to me Tsil’qhotin requires that land use decisions have the free prior knowledge and consent of the community, not just the Chiefs. This is true whether the Chiefs are elected or Hereditary, or some mix of the two.

This is the check and balance that prevents approaching those members of the leadership who can be “persuaded” and then running roughshod over the rest.

One thing I do NOT wish to imply is that the Chiefs were out for their own personal gain, and not to provide a benefit to their people. The trouble is all this secrecy…We know about the Trust because it was leaked to a matriarch of one of the Gitxsan clans. $5.3 million means a lot to the Gitxsan people. How does an amount like that become a surprise?

The Smithers Interior News promises more to come October 26th…Credit to John Rustad for responding to an idiot blogger.

VSB Firing is a Classic Hit Job – Updated with Link to Patti Bacchus interview

I’m aware before I start that I can’t do this topic justice in the way that education advocacy organizations like FACE BC and PAN-Vancouver can. Please watch their websites. Last night there was some serious fact-checking going on via social media with regard to a disaster of a Press Conference with Education Minister Mike Bernier. Mr. Bernier is participating in a disinformation campaign to deflect responsibility for his actions.

UPDATE: The Vancouver Observer went to Patty Bacchus and got her side of the story here – http://www.vancouverobserver.com/opinion/axed-christy-clark-patti-bacchuss-account-final-hours-vancouvers-school-board Much of Patti’s account confirms and expands details on the case I make below, that the firing of the VSB has all the earmarks of a political hatchet job by the Minister of Education. I urge you to read it …. because after all…if we are going to live in a “he said, she said” universe in which smoke and mirrors substitute for facts… we should at least know what both parties said.

This post is about the firing of the Vancouver School Board, public education and the bullying by the BCLiberal government. But for context I offer the case of the 8 fired health researchers in 2012. Over a period of years their reputations were damaged without evidence being presented to us, or to the RCMP. One of them, Rod MacIsaac, committed suicide. Somewhere in the investigative process, his suicide note was erased from his computer (allegedly) before his sister got the computer back. Enough about that for the moment. Let’s move on to the firing of the Vancouver School Board this past Monday and the overall education policy under the current government. It’s my contention that if there is any bullying going on, that’s reprehensible, but there’s far more evidence of it, for a much longer time period, at the Provincial level.

In my last post I argued that allegations of workplace harassment and bullying by trustees at the VSB require independent, fair, examination. I stand by that whether the trustees are Vision, Green or NPA. I couldn’t imagine a contrast more striking between fair examination and what’s happened. What’s happened appears like a political attack on the character of vocal advocates for adequate , stable, education funding. Let’s review:

October 3rd, 2016, Keith Baldrey of GlobalBC, who praises anything the BCLiberals do but pounces on any perceived mis-step by the NDP tweeted the following  “The VSB is paralysed. Showdown between senior managers and Vision Trustees is ongoing. Ugly and unprecedented.” “Entire mgt. team takes leave in showdown… District in crisis, says Trustee”.

Exactly two weeks later, the entire VSB is fired.

In that two weeks, what happened? We found out 6 senior staff had taken leave. I’d be the last to argue that’s an insignificant fact. As Gary Mason said in a column, “it’s a statement”. But whose statement? What does it mean? You don’t know and I don’t either. At least one NPA trustee, according to Patti Bacchus, has  been warned by the chair more than once for rude behaviour at meetings. If a toxic work environment exists, there’s frequently more than one side at fault.

The board has been in chaos, in part, due to rapidly changing policy directions from the Minister of Education. The Minister put forward an urban school requirement (um, sorry, goal) of 95% capacity in order for seismic upgrades to proceed. This is a topic near and dear to school administrations around the lower mainland and Victoria where earthquake danger is highest.

The VSB, as well as SD38 Richmond, had made plans including school closures to meet that requirement.  When the 95% policy was withdrawn on the fly, plans already made required review, which has caused a lot of trouble for both boards over the last two months as they adjust. Both boards suspended their school closure plans.

A letter appeared in the Richmond paper signed by the governing MLA’s Teresa Wat, John Yap, and Linda Reid, promising seismic upgrade funds would be forthcoming for Richmond. Minister Bernier held forth that of course SD38 was different, because it had passed a balanced budget. Vancouver had instead made a symbolic gesture of refusing to pass the budget as legally required by June30th to protest underfunding of its schools under the current formula.

It’s important to be aware that VSB had drawn up a balanced budget, and was functioning under that plan. It had declined to formally pass it at a Board meeting at the end of June as required.

When the majority members (Vision + Green) on the VSB saw a link being drawn between seismic upgrade funds and the passage of the budget, they called Bernier’s bluff. On Friday October 14th they announced a special meeting for October 17th in order to pass the budget and “get on with the seismic funding”. Seismic upgrades had been promised since 2004, to be complete by 2020 , but only a portion are complete, many haven’t begun and it’s certain the 2020 deadline will be missed.

October 14th, the Cabinet Order for dismissal of the Board was drawn up… October 16th it was signed by Bernier and Peter Fassbender. Which brings us to the Press Conference yesterday at which Bernier should have been laughed out of office.

Bernier cited the following to justify the firings.

  1. Failure to pass a balanced budget as legally required by June 30th. (Why the rush this weekend Minister?)
  2. Disturbing information from a special audit report (due October 21st, but Bernier saw a draft October 15th, the day AFTER the Cabinet order was drawn up).  He could not possibly release new information regarding the financial management at VSB. Patti Bacchus had lodged a privacy complaint with the commissioner out of concern emails had been shared with the special auditor which compromised trustees privacy and the privacy of parents. So Bernier has to keep it under wraps because the Privacy Commissioner is involved? O , wait, the Privacy Office contradicted that here: https://t.co/A9xgu9h0ML
  3. The VSB has not submitted a Long Range Facilities Plan.. This is flatly untrue. A copy of the LRFP, submitted to his office in June,  was immediately posted online when Bernier made that “error”.
  4. Later in the day, Bernier was pleased to announce that no schools would be closed in Vancouver this year…. WTF? The school year is in progress. The election is in May. The appointed administrator, Diane Turner, hasn’t had time to unpack her briefcase.. She’s in no position to change the suspension of school closure already enacted by the Board or do anything prior to 2018-19. What nonsense!
  5. The auditor had ‘found savings’ that the Board wouldn’t touch. I’d love to be proved wrong, but in my mind that means the sale of VSB’s stake in Kingsgate Mall. Kingsgate used to be a school property, and since it shut down as a school and was redeveloped, VSB has leveraged it through leasing into capital funding. In other words it has been used to indirectly offset cuts to education enacted since 2001. It’s long been rumored a prominent developer and large BCLiberal donor , Ryan Beedie, has had his eyes on the property.
  6. Bernier referred darkly to other findings from the audit report related to the ongoing harassment allegations which he referred to Worksafe BC to investigate two weeks ago…. And this is where the context above matters:

In 2012, we were treated to dark allegations of contract irregularities and privacy breaches in the Ministry of Health. 8 researchers were fired. An RCMP investigation was ongoing (an investigation which never happened because no documentary evidence ever went to the RCMP. We still don’t know who made that decision or why. A man committed suicide.

In 2016 a vocal, pro-public education School Board and political enemy of Christy Clark is fired. Part of the narrative comprises these allegations of harassment, bullying and dysfunction.  No investigation is complete. No complaints have been published. Reputations are being harmed without the slightest detailed evidence. We don’t know if the dysfunction was between the Vision members and staff, between the NPA members and staff or some mix of the two. We don’t know if this staff “statement” had the prior, promised, backup of the Ministry. We don’t know if the staff had an agenda which didn’t match that of the elected board. Anything is possible.

Just like the health researchers, these Trustees have been maligned and fired before any due process has taken place. Let them be investigated. Share information as and when it’s solid. But don’t give us dark hints and pretend that’s adequate.

Another part of the narrative is the “failure to pass the budget”. The Minister made a very busy weekend for himself ensuring that budget didn’t get passed. It would be passed today if he hadn’t stepped in. Irony.

Every time Minister Bernier has wanted to diss the VSB he has had a different excuse…. 95% capacity? Just kidding. Failure to pass the budget?  Sit on it for months then prevent it being passed. No Long Range Facilities Plan? Whoops, I lied, they did that.

A narrative has also been at work for years, supported by a punditry that is ideologically aligned with austerity in education,  that the VSB is out of step because unlike other school boards around the Province , VSB hasn’t done it’s job and closed schools. That’s a policy issue grappled with by all districts, and whether it would have been better to do so in some cases in the past I leave to others. What I will say is the VSB has been elected in it’s current form, and also in a form in which the right-leaning NPA has had control. The VSB has fulfilled its elected mandate.

I’m not saying the VSB was not operating in a cloud of dysfunction. I am saying this strategy of leaks to the media, of speaking before reports are finished or released, of misinformation, and of dropping poisonous hints, is wrong.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The Content of Their Character”

I’m writing this post after several pretty quiet weeks in the context of the rapid meltdown of the Donald Trump campaign for President of the US…. Revelations of the Donald bragging about assaulting women in 2005 seem to have finished him. This is ironic when there has been so much that he has said during the campaign this year that should have disqualified him without an old video. But it’s got me thinking….how far we have come not only in the USA , but also in Canada and BC,  from an ideal that our politicians must be held to a high code of conduct.

I listened intently to Norm Farrell on a podcast with Canadian Glen the other day. There was much discussion about substantive issues with regard to BCHydro slowly bankrupting itself, paying billions above market value to Independent Power Producers.. but there was also discussion of the starvation of the media, and how it hurts society when journalism is both partisan (in favor of CAPP for example), and under-resourced. The link to that lengthy discussion is here if you have an hour or two…I recommend it… http://www.blogtalkradio.com/canadianglen/2016/10/06/british-columbias-ponzi-party-with-norm-farrell

Norm also talked about why BC bloggers, including myself, do what we do. It’s because we care about our province, and because there is a demonstrable void in news coverage of the deep analytical kind that helps society retain it’s balance and purpose.  (I admire the other voices so much. Norm, RossK, Laila, Dermod Travis, Bob Mackin, BCFIPA, Rafe Mair, Alison Creekside, Grant G and NVG to name only a few. Their research is far deeper than mine. And I feel , to paraphrase the Donald, “I’m the most ordinary citizen.. you wouldn’t believe how ordinary. Everyone is saying how ordinary I am”.)  But I think of an old T-Shirt that made me laugh…the slogan was.. “I YELL BECAUSE I CARE”.

I saw Laila Yuile on Twitter today lamenting how the average BC voter knows more about Donald T than about Christy Clark. It’s true, and that’s also why we must blog. To bridge that gap in any way we can so that government and it’s leadership is held to “a higher standard”. So that we judge our leadership and mark our ballots based on “the content of their character”.

Here are a few of the things that make me worry in the same way the Donald makes me worry. It’s about the normalization of the outrageous..

  1. Dean del Mastro was applauded in the House of Commons when he finally resigned after being convicted of election expense fraud. I wasn’t there, but it spoke to an attitude that his colleagues felt “well, you do what you have to.. too bad he got caught”. He was applauded.
  2. The Green Party of Canada was forced to sign a statement with Elections Canada acknowledging that it had attempted to misinform voters in Victoria at the end of the 2015 Federal election campaign… Flyers were distributed on the last day quoting an out of date and misleading poll that showed the Greens within an inch of taking Murray Rankin’s seat. If you can’t trust the Greens to play straight, who can you trust?
  3. Our pink shirt, anti-bullying Premier Clark has her Education Minister sending open letters to parents in Vancouver fanning the flames on alleged workplace harassment at the Vancouver School Board. The allegations may well have merit. We do not know. The allegations are serious, and should be independently and fairly investigated. (But Clark is not asked questions or called to task for engaging in photo-ops including some with disgraced MLA Pat Pimm, who is now charged with assaulting his wife.) Minister Bernier is part of a government which must be pressed hard to ever comment on “internal matters” or “matters under investigation, whether civil or criminal” that reflect poorly on itself. Yet he has no problem blowing on the embers of a fire in the camp of an activist, pro public education board.
  4. Moira Stillwell “accidentally” let out that the nomination process for her Vancouver Langara BC Liberal seat is being orchestrated “quietly/secretly” by a group including Bruce Clark, Christy’s brother. Vaughn Palmer lets it pass with a chuckle… “denials all round” – heh. Never mind that Bruce Clark was in receipt of confidential documents prior to the BC Rail sale. Never mind that Bruce Clark may have indirectly benefitted from Christy’s strangest ever photo-op in Haida Gwaii. A reminder about the questions never asked by the MSM press here http://www.bcveritas.com/index.php/2016/06/06/again-on-the-old-massett-150k-grant-new-information/
  5. The Rep for Children and Youth, Mary-Ellen Turpel-Lafond is out with another staggering report on neglect of children-in-care ..Please read RossK’s excellent take on it here, as well as Stephen Quinn’s uncharacteristically serious “no satire” column linked within : http://pacificgazette.blogspot.ca/2016/10/why-there-is-no-fall-sitting-of.html The Money quote : “And now the Minister responsible won’t even speak, in person, to the latest devastating report from Ms. Turpel-Lafond and her office? Either to the media or, of course, the legislature? ” And remember how Christy’s office manipulated the release date of its response to an earlier RCYBC report to fall on federal election day 2015.
  6. Bob Plecas was tasked with helping to fix things in the Ministry of Children and Families. He was , (with cheerleading from the Press Gallery) going to get to the bottom of the JP case. Ministry staffers ignored the order of a judge, and thereby exposed a child to sexual abuse (according to said judge). The good Mr. Plecas hasn’t been seen since January, and nobody in the Press Gallery is even asking if he is okay? Poor man. We need that report before next election, not after.
  7. The Health Firings file… I can not let this go.. For more than four years the Clark government has circled the wagons, manipulated the flow of information, lied to the public and the RCMP.. all to avoid telling us why it ruined the lives of eight people and caused a suicide. “The content of their character”. Terry Lake, long serving, celebrated Health Minister has announced his decision not to run again. I hope it’s out of shame.
  8. Our media shows no interest in pursuing the notion that First Nations leaders are being offered what are essentially bribes, to sign on in support of resource projects. Read great independent reporting on the issue here : http://www.towardreconciliation.discoursemedia.org/investigation/what-made-this-haida-clan-potlatch-so-historic/   And ask why this isn’t a dinner table topic? Truth and Reconcilation with First Nations is supposed to be a national priority, but virtually no media and no level of government is questioning the wild west tactics of the Energy Sector in BC. A Vancouver based Canadian mining company is being sued in a BC court for alleged slave labor practices in Africa. We should look hard at how resource companies are “getting to yes” at home, sometimes with a strategy of community division rather than community engagement. Our Premier was asked by the Haida Nation to stay away during a recent photo-op with the Royals.. Was that snub connected to any of the issues I’ve raised here??

I don’t know why it is that Donald Trump is now seen as unfit for office because of things he said in 2005, rather than the equally offensive things he has said throughout 2016… It’s true those things , if unearthed about the candidacy of any Canadian candidate would cause him to drop out of the race. I hope it’s true. It is true, isn’t it?

I do know that I hope and pray that whatever our natural party allegiance might be, we agree with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s overnight statement.. “To put country above party is a duty”.