In my last post I took issue with Rob Shaw and the Vancouver Sun printing a front page hit piece full of unsubstantiated, ad hominem attacks by the pink shirted Premier Clark. For another take, a little calmer but better I think, head over to Norm’s Place… https://in-sights.ca/2017/03/17/hit-piece-journalism/ .
Now I want to address what should fill the page devoted to the efforts of a Press Gallery member. How about what actually happens during legislative debate or question period? As always, to slag the entire membership of the gallery , or even individual members in a blanket manner would be a disservice. But nevertheless, I believe the Press Gallery has become jaded and largely partisan. Tired after 15 or 20 years watching the theatre over and over, reporters and pundits are mailing it in, convinced that nothing matters except who has the power and who is winning the propaganda war.
As an example, Keith Baldrey tweeted once (paraphrased) “I never cover opposition bills because they never pass!!”.
That’s an astonishing statement about his view of what journalism should be. On the day the great New York columnist Jimmy Breslin’s death was announced, let’s remember his words… “Whatever someone (in power) doesn’t want you to print, is news”. The role of media should be to hold power to account. Opposition MLA’s in a parliamentary system perform the same function. To fail to report what they propose simply because it will be outvoted is to fail to inform the public on potential improvements to public policy and government behaviour.
So what happened in the Legislature this past several weeks? Why did the government cut short the session by two weeks? It’s my firm view the governing party was getting hammered and needed to escape scrutiny. I’ll quote some exchanges from Hansard and I want you to first judge for yourself, and secondly think about where you heard these issues discussed first. Was it here? On social media? In a newspaper? On the 6 PM news? If the opposition asked questions, was the answer adequate? Scroll through to the last few from David Eby to Rich Coleman on the land swaps and mortgage deals hidden from us by BCHousing if you wish….. That said, all of these questions and non-answers are important.
On the suicide of Alex Gervais, a child abandoned in a hotel while he was supposed to be looked after:
M. Mark: I must say, for the record, it sounds like a broken record in this House, when it comes time for the advocacy for our kids in care. The representative’s report made it clear that Alex would have thrived had he been placed in the care of his extended family. My question is for the Premier……Why did she choose to pay a contractor more than $8,000 a month to ignore Alex rather than have him cared for by his extended family?
Hon. C. Clark: The issue with respect to contracted resources is one that the ministry is taking on, because that was clearly a problem for Alex. Alex was not supposed to be alone, and yet he was. So this issue…. Making sure that contractor resources are appropriately hired and managed, that they have the appropriate background checks, that they are there and that they are supervised properly are changes that the ministry is going to be making — part of the response in learning from the tragedy of Alex Gervais’s death.
M. Mark: Alex had a right to be in a home, not a hotel. It wasn’t just Alex’s stepmother who wanted to care for him. His aunt in Quebec also offered to become his guardian.
Alex could have been with his family, where he would have experienced love and stability and access to his Métis culture. That was his right, and it would have saved government thousands of dollars — thousands of dollars that could have been used to help other children in government care.
Given that opportunity, why did this government refuse to place Alex with his family?
Hon. C. Clark: The government, the minister, does not make decisions on those kinds of matters, those issues. Those decisions are made by front-line social workers, who are the experts on these issues. They make the decisions. It is very, very hard work.
Ed. Did Clark just throw social workers under the bus? Running from accountability.
The next day, the NDP presented Bills with the following titles which are self-explanatory. Each one offers improvements in government processes and accountability, but remember, there’s no point in paying attention. A majority government will shut down any attempt to improve itself.
That’s a partial list. Back to Question Period….. On Zero Compliance in Foster Care monitoring. ….
C. James: This government would have put the resources that were requested by the Representative for Children and Youth and the hard-working social workers in this province, who need the resources in the field. That’s what the government would have done if they took this issue seriously. They would have put those resources in place.
Yesterday we raised the fact that this minister has achieved a zero compliance rate for monitoring the safety and well-being of kids’ foster homes in the northwest, in the Kootenays and in the east Fraser Valley. So in three regions of this province, the minister could not or would not ensure that there were enough social workers to make contact with children in care at least once every three months.
My question is to the minister. Can she explain why she is apparently unable to enforce a law that she is directly responsible for?
Hon. S. Cadieux: The member opposite would have you believe that she and the NDP are the only people in this province that care about children. She couldn’t be more wrong.
The system is not perfect, not by a long shot. There is plenty to do. Quality assurance is one of those areas that we have acknowledged needs more resources, and more have been put in. There is no question that it’s unacceptable when we do an audit and our compliance is not in line. It’s not okay. Then our directors go in and they put in place an action plan with supports to fix those problems.
On an IT disaster in Healthcare. Doctors are refusing to use the system…Did you know?
On Friday afternoon, the minister’s inability to ensure that health care IT systems protect patients was on display yet again. On Friday, the CEO of Island Health told staff at Nanaimo Regional Hospital that they were going to cease using key elements of the minister’s new $50 million IHealth system because physicians said it was putting patients at risk — serious risk.
Can the minister explain why he waited so long to acknowledge that IHealth was putting patients at risk?
Hon. T. Lake: Well, in fact I didn’t wait. I went to Nanaimo. I met with the medical team at Nanaimo. I met with Island Health. We commissioned a report by Dr. Doug Cochrane, a B.C. patient care quality officer, who listed recommendations and a workplan. We set up an oversight committee. But it, despite best efforts…. I will say this, hon. Speaker. The physicians and the medical team at Nanaimo and the people at Island Health in charge of this project all have a common interest in making sure we get a product that delivers a single electronic health record for the people of the Nanaimo Regional General Hospital that keeps patients safe.
There are a number of physicians at Nanaimo, as the member well knows, that still have some concerns, so we are working with them, with Island Health and with the doctors and other medical staff to ensure that this system remains safe for patients while those improvements are taking place.
On two BCLiberal MLA’s announcing $1M funding for a youth centre in Maple Ridge that shut down two years previously:
C. James: Last week the members for Maple Ridge–Mission and Maple Ridge–Pitt Meadows announced $1 million for the Iron Horse youth homeless shelter. The problem? The shelter actually closed two years ago. At that time, the government said no to the mayor’s request for support to keep the doors open.
Hon. R. Coleman: Thanks to the member for her question. She should know, however, that Iron Horse was actually under a federal program when federal walked away from the funding.
We’ve been building a suite of transition housings for youth that were in the market and continue to do. As we came in, they were looking at the issues in and around Maple Ridge–Pitt Meadows. Some of the community people brought this up to us. At that time, we were actually looking for something that might work and thought this particular facility might work. We have the operating dollars for it. So we made the announcement, along with the MLAs.
Can you imagine the ridicule the Press Gallery would shower on an NDP MLA who announced $1 Million real for a centre which didn’t exist ? Crickets except for one piece in the Maple Ridge News local. – MA
Here is Speaker Linda Reid shutting down the first of many questions about party fundraising and the Wild West gong show. It’s my opinion this is a partisan ruling, because government decides the rules or lack of same that political parties follow, or not….
. Horgan: Last spring media reports exposed the B.C. Liberal practice of fundraising at exclusive dinners in people’s homes and in private locations, with large sums to get access to government decision-makers. Most recently we heard from the New York Times that the practices of fundraising here in British Columbia were considered the Wild West by North American standards — quite something when you look at the super PACs that exist in the United States.
Most recently, even though we could have been sitting in this Legislature, in fact, we were not here for over 200 days. We could have been putting forward legislation to ban big money, to make sure that we’re amending our practices so that big money doesn’t distort our politics. But instead of doing that, the fall session was cancelled and the B.C. Liberals were sent off to raise money — so much so that the Minister of Agriculture cancelled a scheduled debate on agriculture issues sponsored by the B.C. Agriculture Council so he could be in his constituency raising money.
This weekend we learned that Elections B.C. is now investigating the practices of the B.C. Liberals. My question to the minister responsible, the Attorney General: if all of this doesn’t provide enough evidence to the government that they should amend their practices, what will?
Madame Speaker: Hon. Members, I will make a comment. Questions addressed to ministers must relate to matters for which those ministers are currently and officially responsible. This is the only basis upon which ministers can be expected to answer questions. Accordingly, the question is out of order.
Now to questions on Real Estate, Bob Rennie, and the 508 Helmcken $40 Million loans…. This is a scandal that could blow up and get very ugly indeed for Rich Coleman…It was handed on a platter weeks ago to the Vancouver Sun by SouthVanParks Society , but so far, not much press…A notable exception is coverage by Steele and Drex on CKNW…
D. Eby: I know the Premier doesn’t want to talk about her cozy relationship with Mr. Rennie and how that led to two years of the opposition trying to get her attention while home prices in Metro Vancouver spiked over $600,000. But we’re going to talk about that, because the Premier’s relationship and her Housing Minister’s relationship with Mr. Rennie, as chief fundraiser, is very clear.
The Housing Minister exchanged multiple emails with Mr. Rennie in which he and Mr. Rennie discussed budget measures related to real estate and the environmental approval process in relation to a major housing development near Squamish that Mr. Rennie surely hoped to market. They also talked about classic cars.
As for the Premier, Mr. Rennie forwarded a proposal for the Metro Vancouver real estate market to Carole Taylor, the Premier’s special adviser, saying: “We need a very visible approach to curbing speculation and the optics of working towards affordability.” That email was forwarded by the Premier’s special adviser to the Premier’s director of policy. Mr. Rennie apparently forgot that he talks to the highest levels in this government about real estate policy.
Will the Premier now admit that Mr. Rennie — major fundraiser, dinner party host, B.C. Liberal Party insider and friend — had it right the first time when he talked to the reporter and said he had advance notice of the foreign buyers tax?
Hon. C. Clark: I’m sure a lot of developers and people in the development industry had a lot of feelings about the foreign tax. What we discovered after we introduced it is that almost to a person, they don’t like it. Just like the NDP, they oppose the foreign buyers tax.
D. Eby: I know the Premier doesn’t want to talk about her relationship with Mr. Rennie. Again, no answer to the question.
But it wasn’t just email access to the highest levels of this government that Mr. Rennie got for being chief fundraiser for the Premier and dinner host. It got him so much more. Mr. Rennie met with the Premier’s special adviser in April of 2016 and again in June of 2016, just weeks before the foreign buyer tax was announced.
Imagine Mr. Rennie’s joy when the Premier formally announced, a few weeks later, that she’d be bringing in a foreign buyer tax but that she’d be exempting the speculation on presale condos. Now, why would Mr. Rennie be happy about that? Well, selling presale condos is why Mr. Rennie is the Condo King. That’s his core competency.
How can the Premier defend giving her chief fundraiser access to the most senior policy members in her office weeks before the foreign buyer tax was introduced and then exempting his core business from that same foreign buyer tax and then, when he told the media that he never talked to the Premier’s office and never talked to her ministers about real estate policy in B.C., not setting the record straight, because it wasn’t true?
Hon. C. Clark: Just like all the members of this House who, on that day when the legislation was introduced, were shocked because they had no advance notice, nor did anyone in the industry have any advance notice that this was going to happen.
D. Eby: In 2015, the Wall Corp., a massive development company in Vancouver, walked in a proposal to B.C. Housing. They bought some land on Hastings Street in the Downtown Eastside where the zoning required them to build rental housing. Just over half of the units were required to be affordable.
Their proposal? B.C. Housing should provide them with an interest-free construction financing of $39½ million. They also proposed that B.C. Housing pay them a 10 percent developer fee worth $3.3 million for the privilege of giving the Wall Corp. interest-free money to build something they had to anyway under the zoning.
My question for the Minister for Housing is simple. Did he agree to provide interest-free financing and a multi-million-dollar fee to a rich developer to build something they would have had to build anyway under the zoning rules in Vancouver?
Hon. R. Coleman: I don’t have the details of that particular project at my fingertips, but I’ll certainly provide them for him. It would be unusual for us to do what the member described, but it is not unusual for us to enter into an agreement to take affordable rental units that we can subsidize in the marketplace for people that need housing in Vancouver or anywhere else in the province of British Columbia.
D. Eby: It’s interesting that the minister forgot about this unusual project, because B.C. Housing also forgot about this unusual project. When we asked them, under freedom of information, for a list of projects where they’d provided construction financing, they sent us a list of non-profit organizations building housing projects worth an average of $3.2 million, for interest rates between 1 and 1¼ percent.
The project they forgot? They forgot to list the project worth ten times their average construction financing. They forgot to list the project where they didn’t charge interest. They forgot to list the project they were financing that is 62 percent for-profit market housing and commercial space.
We didn’t find out about the Wall Corp. project through the Freedom of Information Act. We found out about it because someone leaked the proposal.
So why does the minister charge interest to non-profit organizations building 100 percent affordable housing and not charge interest to a for-profit developer building a building with only 38 percent affordable housing?
Hon. R. Coleman: You usually never have any facts to back up what you’re saying with regards to anything that you do.
I will get the information for the member, and I’ll let you know exactly what happened with that particular proposal.
I do know that we do deals, where we go in…. We will do construction financing on portions of projects that are ours that we’re going to have the benefit — for the public, for affordable housing in British Columbia.
D. Eby: B.C. Housing gave a $40 million loan to a private developer to finance the presale marketing of condos that start at $1.6 million each. Who was on the board of B.C. Housing when this loan was approved? Bob Rennie, the Premier’s fundraiser-in-chief, the man who made the Premier’s extra $300,000 in salary possible by raising millions in big money for the B.C. Liberals.
How did Bob Rennie get on the B.C. Housing board? Well, he was put on the board by his friend the Deputy Premier through order-in-council. And who was the lead real estate agent on this condo development “designed for daily luxury”? Why, yes, it was Bob Rennie.
Why did the Premier allow tax dollars intended to build housing for the poorest of the poor go to financing a presale condo marketing campaign by her chief fundraiser?
Hon. R. Coleman: To the member opposite: I notice that you didn’t go out after last week’s question period and repeat what you said in this House, because you knew you’d probably be sued for what you said in here simply because you didn’t have the right information. You accused the government of financing a project where we financed the affordable rental units that we built as part of a mixed-use project.
This one’s a bit more complicated. Not only did we step up and make a deal work, where we actually doubled the amount and number of social housing units in a project on redevelopment; we’ve put more affordable housing in the city of Vancouver. We had no involvement whatsoever in the marketing of the market units in the project.
. Eby: In the minister’s own mortgage for this property, it says: “Give us updates on the presale condo progress. How well are you selling presale condos?” So I’m not sure this minister has any idea what he’s talking about. Not only that, but I was absolutely right about everything that I said about the last project this minister did, where they provided interest-free money to a major donor to build a project that the donor had to build anyway. And not only that, but they provided them with a fat developer fee as well.
The minister says this is such a good deal for taxpayers that B.C. Housing forgot to put it on the FOI list. They forgot to put it on the freedom-of-information list that they sent to us of projects that this government funded. Somehow they forgot the $39 million loan. They also forgot that same project, that Wall development corporation project on Hastings Street. They didn’t disclose that one either.
So my question to the Premier is: how many secret loans are there to B.C. Liberal major donors?
Hon. R. Coleman: I know there’s one word in this House that we can’t use with regards to whether you’re telling the truth or not. I will say it to the media when I get out of here, because I can’t say it in here.
But you’re wrong. What you are saying isn’t true. There was no interest-free loan, none whatsoever. As a matter of fact, we got a number of units out of this project for affordable rental. A whole bunch of them, 50-ish, were all for core need at $375 a month. We actually went into a partnership to develop a project to make the numbers work so we could create more affordable rental housing in the city of Vancouver.
(Why wasn’t the loan disclosed through FOI Rich? It seem there was roughly 1.5% interest, not zero, but why wasn’t this loan disclosed?- MA)
D. Eby: Thank you, hon. Speaker. I did. I withdraw.
We’ve been asking questions about two major B.C. Housing financing initiatives worth about $80 million in public money for buildings connected closely to two major B.C. Liberal donors, including the Premier’s fundraiser-in-chief, Bob Rennie. To all of our questions, the Housing Minister has repeatedly suggested that we’re just making stuff up. He’s even threatened lawsuits. Yet even though we’ve been asking for these documents for five days, he’s produced not a single document to show that we are, in his more polite moments, as he describes it, wrong.
Now, it’s not unusual that the opposition has to wait for a freedom-of-information request or estimate or someone to leak to get the information on a story. But
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when even the media can’t get the information they need from the minister, you know there’s trouble. Five days have passed since media asked for details on a public loan to a private luxury condo building marketed by the Premier’s fundraiser-in-chief, and neither B.C. Housing nor this minister has given them the information they’re asking for.
To the Housing Minister: if everybody is wrong, where are the documents; where are the numbers; what happened on this deal?
Hon. R. Coleman: Madame Speaker, through you to the member, I at no time said that I was interested in suing the member. I said he should go take the comments and the accusations he said in this House and gladly take it outside and say the same thing — which I, by the way, have noted has not happened.
Um, not true Rich. Mr. Eby was on CKNW talking about this very thing….ma
D. Eby: Beyond the facts that the mortgage was registered on an entirely different property, that it asked for updates on the sale of presale condos, that it was registered the month after the social housing was built, the minister’s numbers simply don’t add up. The city owned the land. It set it aside for social housing. The city put in $30.6 million in community amenity contributions to build the project. Then B.C. Housing loaned $15.1 million to the society to lease the finished building from the city.
The 162 units were built. That puts the cost per unit at a high but reasonable $288,000 each, on average, where the city provided the land. But if we believe this minister, this deal never would have been done unless B.C. Housing gave a $39 million loan to a luxury housing developer to help that developer market presale condos marketed by the Premier’s fundraiser-in-chief, who was on the B.C. Housing board when this deal got approved. The explanation makes no sense.
Again to the minister: if everybody else is wrong, where are the documents; where are the minutes from B.C. Housing; where are the numbers on the project?
Hon. R. Coleman: Just so you’re clear, B.C. Housing had no involvement in the financing, construction or marketing of the market housing, relative to the land swap that took place on this. Our involvement was to finance the project to get 162 new units of affordable housing in downtown Vancouver, in a partnership with the city and a developer.
It was the city and the developer that worked out the idea of a land swap. We came in as a partner on this because we thought it was a good idea to add additional low-rental housing, affordable to people in Vancouver, by doing a partnership — that this would work. But on the market side, at no time were we involved.
I know that the member likes to make the other accusation with regards to the person that marketed this project. I can tell the member this. When this project came before the board of B.C. Housing, the individual recused themselves.
D. Eby: One piece missing in that answer was whether the minister was going to release the documents, release the numbers, release the minutes from B.C. Housing. And just like with Mr. Rennie’s luxury condo project for
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the 288 Hastings Street project, the minister also said we were wrong. He said there was no construction financing, no loan, nothing like that for the B.C. Liberal donor, but let’s look at what we know.
We know that B.C. Housing bought land at 288 East Hastings from Wall Financial, a major B.C. Liberal donor. When choosing a developer, we know that B.C. Housing didn’t put the contract out for tender. Instead, Wall Financial, a major B.C. Liberal donor who gave $400,000 to this party just last year, was hired directly to build a $33 million project. Now a public city of Vancouver report makes it clear that B.C. Housing plans to sell the finished market rental housing units on that site directly to the same major B.C. Liberal donor. Again, no bids, no public process, just a direct sale.
We also know that not a single unit beyond the bare requirements of the local city of Vancouver zoning was added through this arrangement. Less than 40 percent of the square footage of this building is affordable rental housing.
If it’s not construction financing, can the minister explain why B.C. Housing issued an untendered contract worth tens of millions of dollars, then agreed to sell completed rental units worth more than $10 million to a major B.C. Liberal donor with no public process?
Hon. R. Coleman: Again, the other day when the member brought this question to the House, he accused the government of giving a zero-percent-interest loan to a developer to build a building in Vancouver, which was not true. The construction financing on a combined project is not unusual — to be financed with cooperation of your partners. You do that. It has takeout mortgages when they’re taken out, and what happens is you end up with a project.
Now, just so the member knows…. I know he lives in Vancouver, but just so he understands, this area of Vancouver has been designated by the city of Vancouver as requiring 60 percent non-market and 40 percent market housing for rental. It makes projects difficult to deliver affordable rental housing in Vancouver, but we were successful in this particular case.
Just so the member knows, the building is going to provide 104 new units of rental affordable housing in Vancouver, which now takes the total up to almost 180 units by two projects, a product that wouldn’t get built in Vancouver if there wasn’t a partnership between B.C. Housing and the city of Vancouver and whoever is developing the project, along with a non-profit. We do not hold financing. We did not finance the market units. We financed the social housing units, 104 units, which are in the market today, are being built in the market so that people have affordable housing in Vancouver.
Of course, there were a range of other issues canvassed:… Seniors Care Homes 97% out of compliance for staffing levels. Seniors with broken hips waiting in hospital hallways for days. Sewage spills into the water supply in Spallumcheen.. Mary Polak’s refusal to acknowledge what a court has said on the Shawnigan Waste dump, namely that Active Earth Engineering lied and covered up its profit sharing deal withCobble Hill Holdings.
But Minister Coleman has carried the housing file with him wherever he goes for over a decade. Why is BCHousing helping rich developers (Brenhill, Wall) and Pre-sale condo marketers (Rennie) with multi-million dollar loans to simply comply with Vancouver bylaws on affordable rental units? Did the public know this was how BCHousing operated? As a mortgage slush fund ?
BCHousing promises to release some documents this week after redacting, er, vetting for privacy. But why did those loans come to the NDP via a leak, rather than through FOI?
If there’s one thing the press should be all over, it’s this story, and I haven’t seen much (with apologies to Steele and Drex, and “MetroVancouver”. Instead, we have the Vancouver Sun wasting space with printing Christy Clark’s ad hominem attacks on John Horgan. It isn’t good enough.
So why did the Legislature shut two weeks early without passing the government’s own “priority” bills?