Did Christy Clark and Rich Coleman bend elbows with BC Liberal donors, lobbyists and bidders on public contracts in a B.C. Place Stadium suite during the 2014 Grey Cup game?
British Columbians may never know.
After a two-year investigation, the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner found someone inside the BC Liberal government deleted or destroyed the Nov. 30, 2014 guest list and food and beverage invoice.
According to an April 11 letter, the information and privacy watchdog found Clark’s office broke the section of the Freedom of Information law that requires the government to “make every reasonable effort to assist applicants and to respond openly, accurately, completely and without delay.”
We do know that the premier was there to see the Calgary Stampeders beat the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. She was photographed with late Alberta Premier Jim Prentice in a luxury suite. Coleman, the deputy premier and natural gas minister, was also there, because the B.C. government and Malaysian-owned Pacific NorthWest LNG hosted more than 100 elementary school students from around B.C. at the game. One of the proud co-owners of the Stamps was Alberta oilman and Clark bagman Murray Edwards.
In her findings, OIPC investigator Shannon Hodge wrote that she asked the Premier’s office “how a no records response was possible as it was my understanding that the Premier and Deputy Premier Coleman attended the event.
“[The Office of the Premier] responded and advised me that the invitee/attendance list was coordinated by Government Communications and Public Engagement (GCPE), that it had now reached out to GCPE and had been informed that the records were not retained,” Hodge wrote. “I enquired further and OOP acknowledged its oversight in failing to inform you at the time of your request that GCPE may have had responsive records.”
Hodge wrote that the Premier’s office should have transferred the request to GCPE.
”At the very least, it should have advised you that another public body may have had records responsive to your request. In failing to do so I find that OOP failed to comply with its duty under [section 6] of FIPPA at the time of your request in December 2014.”
Section 6, also known as Duty to Assist, was the same part of the FOI law that officials in Clark’s office and Transport Minister Todd Stone’s office broke multiple times, according to Commissioner Elizabeth Denham’s landmark October 2015 report, “Access Denied.” They tripled deleted documents that should have been released to FOI requesters.
A B.C. Provincial Court judge fined ex-Stone aide George Gretes $2,500 in July 2016 after Gretes pleaded guilty to lying under oath to Denham. Denham investigated after a complaint by whistleblower Tim Duncan, who worked under Gretes.
In a phone interview, Duncan told theBreaker that the deletion or destruction of the Grey Cup guest list and catering invoices corresponded with how the BC Liberal government operated while he was there. Duncan said “anything bad” was deleted. He regretted that the law is so weak, that Gretes and others weren’t prosecuted for deleting records.
“Coming from a different province, coming from a different background, accounting, you do that at any company in Canada, you’re out the door the next day. Not even: you’re out the door same day,” Duncan said.
Duncan, who describes himself as a card-carrying Conservative, had this to say to British Columbians voting in the May 9 election.
“I would take a hard look at the Liberal party. This election should be about whether they have enough integrity to govern,” he said.
Ducking the duty
In the BC Liberals’ 2001 New Era platform, they promised to become Canada’s most open, democratic and accountable government. Clark reiterated the open government promise when she took over from Gordon Campbell in 2011. But Denham caught the Clark administration triple deleting records and running an oral government to avoid public disclosure.
Additionally, BC Liberal campaign director Laura Miller awaits a September breach of trust and mischief trial in Ontario for mass-deleting records while she worked in Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty’s office.
Before she left last summer to become the United Kingdom information and privacy commissioner, Denham urged the Liberal government to enact a duty to document law. But the one the Liberals passed in March got immediate thumbs down from the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association because it is a “law that is entirely discretionary and does not create any duty whatsoever.”
By contrast, the NDP’s proposed Public Records Accountability Act included strict requirements for creating and maintaining full and accurate government records. Anyone caught hiding or destroying government information under the NDP bill would be fined up to $50,000.
Without the list of who Clark and Coleman treated, citizens are left to wonder which friends and insiders they were bending elbows with and how much it cost taxpayers.
Citizens are also left to wonder why Clark’s administration deleted the 2014 guest list only three years after it properly released the one from the 2011 Grey Cup.
Clark took her son Hamish and brother John to see the B.C. Lions win the 2011 championship over the Edmonton Eskimos. She also hosted 25 other guests, including Alberta Premier Alison Redford and her aide Ryan Barbeiro, Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger and Northwest Territories Premier Bob McLeod, federal NDP leader Nicole Turmel, and Abbotsford Conservative MP Ed Fast.
Other suite-goers included Clark’s principal secretary Dimitri Pantazopoulos, outreach directors Pamela Martin and Lorne Mayencourt, sport minister Ida Chong and her aide Matt Stickney. Clark also hosted 10 executives of charities, including the Canadian Cancer Society, Variety Club and United Way, as well as Canadian rugby great Gareth Rees and hotel and spa owner Wendy Lisogar-Cocchia. Clark named Liberal donor Lisogar-Cocchia to the B.C. Lottery Corporation board of directors in late 2013.
B.C. Place hosted the 2014 game after Clark gave Lions’ owner David Braley a $2.7 million taxpayer subsidy before the 2013 election to buy hosting rights from the Canadian Football League. Stadium construction delays made it impossible for Winnipeg to host the game until 2015.