In midday on March 1, Premier Christy Clark and members of her caucus left the Legislature — while they’re paid by British Columbians to govern — for a campaign photo op at a Victoria construction site with members of the Local 97. (The campaign for the May 9 election isn’t scheduled to officially begin until April 11.)
Doug Parton, the business manager of the 1,800-member union, threw Local 97’s support behind Clark and the Liberals. Clark stood by with a smile under her hardhat as Parton called-out NDP leader John Horgan for siding with Metro Vancouver mayors, who would rather have a subway in Vancouver and light rail in Surrey than a $3.5 billion bridge replace the tunnel from Richmond to Delta.
“In our budget, we’ve got about 24-and-a-half-billion dollars, including Site C, devoted to infrastructure development,” Clark said. “Ironworkers are gonna be a big part of making sure that happens.”
So, how did this union endorsement of a corporate party come about? How much have the BC Liberals promised Local 97?
theBreaker emailed Local 97 president Cecil Damery on March 2 hoping to find out. No reply, so theBreaker called Damery on March 3.
Here is how it went.
theBreaker: “I was hoping to find out more about how the endorsement came about?”
Damery: “No. We’re not going to comment to newspapers.”
theBreaker: “I was wondering if there was a vote done by the general membership or if it was the executive committee that made the decision?
Damery: “That’s none of your business. Are you a member here?”
theBreaker: “No. I’m a reporter.”
Damery: “No. I said no comment.”
theBreaker: “When did you start talking to the BC Liberals? When was the decision made?”
Damery: “Is that any of your business?”
theBreaker: “It’s a reasonable question.”
Damery: “No comment.” (click)
At the meeting, four Vision Vancouver candidates, including two city councillors, made their case for votes and donations from the 1,600-member CUPE Local 1004. If re-elected, they promised not to contract-out work. Later in the meeting, the three-dozen or so union members in attendance voted to donate $34,000 to Vision, which would automatically be matched by CUPE’s B.C. and national headquarters. The ensuing controversy became one of the dominant issues of the election.
Ironically, in 1997, the BC Liberals successfully defended themselves against a defamation lawsuit by Local 97.
The party was in opposition, under leader Gordon Campbell, when it issued a news release in May 1994 headlined “B.C. Liberals Reveal Another NDP Kick Back Scheme” in reference to donations to the NDP by unionized workers on the Island Highway project.
“The official opposition (indeed, any member of an opposition party) and its leader have both a duty and an interest to investigate and expose any impropriety or irregularity in the management of government monies by the government of the day, and to communicate their findings to the electorate. The electorate has a corresponding interest in receiving such information,” wrote Justice B.D. Macdonald in his verdict.