Clark disappoints with response to NYT

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.

Quotes:

“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.

 

It’s Up To Us in 2017

I want to talk about ideals, and why they matter. I want to talk about attitudes to the most vulnerable and less well-off, (with statistics and everything) . I want to talk about music, Bruce Cockburn particularly,  and of course, about BC politics and the upcoming election. All of these things matter, to us as individuals and as members of our communities. I think this will be a much more personal post than usual. There are several threads running through this . Thanks for your patience.

As I’ve contemplated a New Year’s post for 2017, one emotion has become increasingly clear, and it’s born in the shadow of Trump’s victory in the US election. That emotion is a sense of isolation, and of loss… even dread. What do we do? A friend who is a retired policeman was on the phone to me after Trump’s win, choking back tears as he contemplated what his fellow officers in the US, his colleagues, might  be ordered to do in the coming years.

I know these days Gord Downie (bless him) and the Tragically Hip are the face of the nation to itself. I can’t commend Downie enough for what he’s done bringing indigenous issues into the comfortable living rooms of Canada. But I grew up with Bruce Cockburn, and he still means more to me.

As a young guitarist with more ambition than talent in the 70’s, I absorbed Cockburn as well as I could through my skin. Cockburn is a good but inconsistent songwriter, yet his lyrics often define what it is to be Canadian with a conscience. As a guitarist, Cockburn is world class.. inventive, smooth, unassumingly brilliant. He’s the kind of player that players are in awe of, yet non-musicians hardly notice.

Cockburn is an idealist. He sang songs over his long career about military atrocities in Central America, about religious and existential joy, about justice and environmental issues. In his way, he has always been an artist committed to bringing the truth (as he sees it) to light. Running through his 40 years of music is a yearning for a better, more caring society.

Cockburn, love him or loathe him, has never been shy about looking where we’d rather not look, sharing things about ourselves and our society we would rather not see.

As a Canadian, I’m an idealist too. I don’t think idealism is fashionable at the moment, and that contributes to the feeling of isolation. I still believe however, this idealism is a Canadian thing. And it’s always been true that “looking away” from the darker side of ourselves , tempting though it is, makes it harder to confront the change we need.

“BC Politics is class struggle”. “It’s a polarized choice between a pro-business government and a pro-union government”.

Those sentiments were expressed to me by a member of the pundit club. Class struggle. Really. I think of government as how we all take care of each other, particularly those who need more help. If it’s a class struggle, when they win they get ice cream and caviar and the rest of us get gruel. When we win it’s the reverse. They don’t care to help us, and we don’t care about them.

I think we are better than that.

This month disabled people adapt to a new regime with regard to their transportation “choices”. I’m not disabled myself, but I’ve been hearing from those who are.  Here are some highlights.

Until this year, disability rates were frozen in BC for 9 years. This year they were increased by $77/month.

A buspass that used to cost $45/year now costs $624/year.

Administratively it’s a nightmare. Clients must opt in or out. As their need for food vs transport and ability to budget changes, they may opt in or out. Every time they opt in, they get a new card. While they opt in “until further notice” , if they opt out because they are too hungry or need to pay a late Hydro bill, they will then have to opt in again…. The administrative cost adds up.

But fear not, out of that generous new money ($77/month after 9 frozen years X 99,000 people = $91,476,000) , the government will claw back at a rate of $52 or $66/month depending on the transport subsidy type as much as $89,960,009 ).   This figure is based on everyone opting for transport instead of food, and is therefore inflated… but you see my point.

And government will save administration costs for those who choose food instead.

The shelter allowance for disability clients is $375/month, whether you live in Chetwind or Metro Vancouver. Even with the increase, people who physically or mentally can’t work are being asked to live on roughly $1000/month… in 2017.

Disabled people, whether they are able to earn income or not, need transportation in most places to get to appointments and socialize. Those with cognitive impairments will find this month to month system (transit stickers etc.) especially difficult to manage.

Comparing inflation of rents (over 9 years), Hydro, phone, and other normal costs, especially food,  to that $77/ month, it’s abundantly clear to me as an observer that government is saying “choose between mobility and food”.  That’s a cruel position. It leads to a level of desperation I find completely unacceptable, and my rage isn’t about Class Struggle. It’s about shared humanity..

Here’s what one articulate person affected said about it, quoted from a Twitter feed.

“I believe many – if not most – who vote for BC Liberals are not ignorant of consequences re-electing them will have on people like me. If I tell them there are days without food, they will say – ‘budget better’. If I say I budget quite well, they will say ‘don’t smoke’. If I say I don’t smoke, they will say ‘don’t drink’. If I say I don’t drink they will say….

I’ve had these conversations. They have a death grip on their bias. If they have a conscience it’s how they sleep at night. They tuck into a blanket of ‘I would not let that happen to me’ and count tax cuts instead of sheep.

They think just because they worked hard for what they have, there are no people who have worked just as hard and have nothing”

There you have it… To say this is a class struggle, or it’s about fiscal conservatism vs tax and spend, or it’s about who is going to create jobs or chase them away, or about how photogenic a party leader is…. All of these artificial arguments make us look away from government’s responsibility to guard our dignity and the welfare of those who can’t make it on their own.

Our ideals are not about economics. They are about improving lives.. Taxes are a cost to individuals and businesses and there is an ideal harmony to how they are constructed to allow the greatest opportunity.

Yet in my ideal BC and Canada government has a duty of support to those in great need. We’ve never completely lived up to our ideals, but isn’t that one that we share across party lines?

Adrian Dix made a mistake in the 2013 campaign. It was little noticed among his other mistakes. His promise to the disabled was an extra $20/month. It was far too small…. He caught himself in the trap of trying to convince conservative-minded voters that the NDP weren’t fiscally scary .. (Mulcair and the balanced budgets anyone?)..

When it comes to disability rates, this is the wrong frame to think inI want a government that owes a duty of care to the dignity, health, and self-worth of the vulnerable.  It will cost money to go there…. but put it the right way and I think folk will understand. There are many nations and societies that operate without any such concept of collective responsibility.  But I see this as one of the better Canadian ideals, even though it’s historically recent.

It’s really up to us. It’s up to us without the artful divisions of class struggle or team jerseys.

If we don’t “look away” from the wheelchairs lined up outside the soup kitchen , we just might realize it could be us there, waiting for the door to open.

In May, for a host of reasons, we need a new BC government. But it’s up to us to make it happen. We need a government that won’t triple-delete public information or spend four years covering up the cause of Rod MacIsaac’s suicide. We need a government that deals respectfully with teachers and school boards, instead of wasting millions and years on court fights. We need a government that acts to correct an injustice before a bad headline occurs, at least as often as after the headline. We need a government that believes part of its responsibility is regulation of environmental dangers posed by industry.

As individuals and as community members, we have to not look away.

Now back to Cockburn and my despondence over Trump’s win. I can’t think of anyone who embodies selfishness quite like Trump. Put aside the other well documented horrors of his personal history.  Put aside the prospect of chaos or accidental wars at any moment from this unpredictable orangutan.

It seems to me after all these years moving slowly toward a fairer and more just and stable world, we’ve been thrown sharply backward. And there’s a Cockburn lyric I’ll share that expresses the emotion, though I’m taking it out of context.. Maybe I’m just feeling old 🙂 .

Sunset is an angel weeping
Holding out a bloody sword
No matter how I squint I cannot
Make out what it’s pointing toward
Sometimes you feel like you’ve lived too long
Days drip slowly on the page
You catch yourself
Pacing the cage

Read more: Bruce Cockburn – Pacing The Cage Lyrics | MetroLyrics

But progress, as Obama said, is not a straight line.

We have a natural tendency to perceive the current situation as permanent. It isn’t.  So I have hope for us after all 🙂