Friday evening, Jan 20, 2017 was not only Trump’s inauguration. It was also when Christy Clark climbed down (in the well-timed shadow of the empty bleachers on the Washington parade route) from one of her most offensive positions. She will, at some point, stop taking $50,000 in salary from the BCLiberal Party as compensation for fundraising and party leadership duties.
As always, the climb down was graceless and offensive just by itself. It didn’t have the ring of truth, and she unleashed a number of straw men to defend her from the prying reporters (who no doubt wanted to follow the inauguration news). Here’s a short history of the issue. At the end I’ll list the strawmen and lies told by the Premier
It’s an adjunct to the (far worse) practice of accepting 6 figure donations over the years from companies headquartered both within and outside BC and Canada. That will not change. The opportunity, and therefore the perception of conflict and influence peddling by the BCLiberal government will remain until we vote in a new government.
Gordon Campbell first received a stipend in the 90’s when he ousted LNG shill Gordon Wilson from the BCLiberal leadership. In those days the dollar figure was apparently more, but the circumstances were not comparable. Campbell had no seat in the house and no other job but to lead the party to the promised land, as he eventually did.
The practice of giving the leader a stipend (smaller we imagine, but the numbers have mostly not been revealed) continued until this week.
The heat on this issue began on the low burner with this exchange between Andrew MacLeod and Christy Clark on Dec 12th 2012. MacLeod is no longer being granted “Christmas interviews”:
Tyee: I have a detail question for you. Gordon Campbell while he was premier claimed on his conflict of interest disclosure statement a stipend from the BC Liberal Party, and you do as well. I’m wondering how much it is and what the rationale for it is?
Clark: “I don’t know. Doesn’t it say in the thing?”
Tyee: No, I think you probably tell the Conflict of Interest Commissioner the amount, but what gets reported publicly does not have an amount.
Clark: “It’s a car allowance.”
Tyee: Why? I’m wondering what the rationale is.
Clark: “I do a lot of driving. I do a lot of driving for party events and those kinds of things.”
The burner got turned up to high in April 2016 when Gary Mason and the Globe and Mail discovered the amounts she was being paid. The stipend wasn’t secret, but the amount of extra money the Premier received was never disclosed. See below:
“What Ms. Clark fails to understand is that this is serious. There is a matter of grave public interest here. The Premier, the head of government, is selling access through party fundraising events. That is without dispute. And she is benefiting from the proceeds that access generates. It is a clear conflict. And yet, she and her party treat it like a big joke.
The Liberals say they have been open about the “allowance” she gets from the Liberals as it is mentioned on her disclosure statement. But she doesn’t disclose how much she gets. That has only come out as a result of The Globe and Mail’s stories. I asked the Liberal Party how much her predecessor, Gordon Campbell, received over the previous 10 years he was leader but did not get a response. The party is open only when it’s forced to be.
One other thing to consider about all this: The people whose donations fund Ms. Clark’s Liberal Party salary get a tax receipt. In other words, taxpayers are subsidizing the $50,000 income that the Premier’s party gives her on top of the $200,000 citizens are already paying her as the head of government.
I wonder how most people feel about that?”
In the interest of brevity (people rightly wonder if I can spell the word, never mind attempt its achievement), let’s skip to last week’s NY Times article. Full link here before I quote the juicy bits : https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/13/world/canada/british-columbia-christy-clark.html
The key takeaways from Dan Levin’s piece are that in most places in North America Clark’s stipend is illegal (in a later interview he called it “bribery” – look it up in the Criminal Code if you’re from BC and the word has fallen into disuse). Further, he covers the strange position of the Conflict of Interest Commissioner, whose son is directly appointed by Clark with a senior role in Government Communications, and the fact the Commissioner has never found anyone from the BCLiberals to be in conflict.
“Personal enrichment from the handouts of wealthy donors, some of whom have paid tens of thousands of dollars to meet with her at private party fund-raisers? No conflict of interest here, according to a pair of rulings last year by the province’s conflict-of-interest commissioner — whose son works for Ms. Clark.”
“Unlike many other provinces in Canada, British Columbia has no limits on political donations. Wealthy individuals, corporations, unions and even foreigners are allowed to donate large amounts to political parties there. Critics of the premier and her party, the conservative British Columbia Liberal Party, say the provincial government has been transformed into a lucrative business, dominated by special interests that trade donations for political favors, undermining Canada’s reputation for functional, consensus-driven democracy.”
“On Thursday, Ms. Clark’s government approved the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain oil pipeline project, after opposing the proposal at hearings last January. Political donation records show that Kinder Morgan and other oil industry supporters of the project had donated more than 718,000 Canadian dollars, about $546,000, to the BC Liberal party through March 2016.”
As recently as last week, pundits such as Keith Baldrey were on the news telling us nothing would change because the public didn’t care about the integrity of government decision making and whether or not favorable decisions were being bought by big industry. Gary Mason, whose outrage on the matter is, I believe, real, lamented more than once that nothing would change because again, the public didn’t care enough.
BCLiberal party insiders told Gary the party was laughing it off, and he wrote about the display of arrogance. Well, it turned out it was no laughing matter after all. The public line has been that the public wanted transparency and real-time disclosure, not the end of corporate or union fundraising….Never mind the April poll indicating 86% of us on the other side of the fence and halfway to a farm near the next town on this issue.
On Friday night, Clark said the following: She would stop taking the extra money. She would “instead” look to the party for reimbursement of expenses. She encouraged opposition leader John Horgan to follow her example.
The mind boggles. I have questions, though the assembled press gallery seemed only slightly troubled before their weekend.
1 – In a system that demands no accounting or public disclosure of how political parties operate or spend their money, how can we be assured Clark won’t find a work around? Could take us years to discover it.
2 – Clark’s stipend has always been billed as salary, as compensation for extra work. Even Green leader Andrew Weaver (mystifyingly) said it was justified due to the demands of the job. Now Clark is implying that she has never billed for travel and other expenses for these invitation only party fundraisers? Why wasn’t this “reimbursement” a part of the defensive PR line long ago? I don’t believe it, but of course the secrecy around party operations mean we can never probe the truth
3 – From the beginning, the NDP has stated by comparison to the $50K, Horgan was compensated for a couple of suits each year. In what universe does Clark get away with implying that accounting at NDP HQ is as bad or worse than her own?
4 – Why did Clark lie to Andrew MacLeod in 2012? “Isn’t (the amount) in the thing? It’s like a car allowance.” That is breathtaking. And if I was a reporter it would be the first question I asked Clark. Why did you make up this cheap story? What does it reveal about your character?
The big money donations to political parties are a hot issue and I hope that remains true through May. Trudeau has been on the hot seat for attending fundraisers with a cap of $1500, and more so for the admission that business interests of the participants do get discussed at these things.
The Greens have made it a highlight of their early campaign that they have stopped accepting corporate and union donations. Curiously, they have made it an attack point on the NDP opposition, rather than using it as a wedge against the party who can change it today, and who never will (the governing BCLiberals).
This illustrates to me that the Greens are more interested in growing by a few seats if possible than in changing the system.
Because I guarantee, if John Horgan wins in May, the bribery will stop.
In the meantime, it’s left to us to enjoy the fact that the old pundits who so often tell us we don’t care about scandals, or about integrity issues…. the old pundits who tell us that only a simple “economy stupid” narrative will matter at the next vote….were wrong.
Clark, however ham-fistedly, had to execute a 180 degree turn and sacrifice a pawn (to borrow a chess term), to remain in the game. The polling must have shown the BCLiberals that a strategic retreat on the $50K was needed to save their chances of continuing in power.