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HomeNewsLiberals stacked boards ahead of election, watchdog calls it an affront to democracy

Liberals stacked boards ahead of election, watchdog calls it an affront to democracy

Bob Mackin

Membership has its privileges and the BC Liberals have rewarded some of their most-loyal friends and insiders with recent multi-year board appointments.

A watchdog calls the unbridled cronyism an “affront” to electoral democracy.

“Such appointments should not extend beyond one year of an election cycle,” said IntegrityBC’s Dermod Travis. “Specifically on the basis that an incoming government will want to keep the current system in place until they manage to get their bearings straight.”

In the final year of the current Liberal mandate, cabinet has appointed numerous party donors, aides and ex-cabinet ministers to boards of agencies and Crown corporations. Some of the appointments last until fall 2020, when another election will be a year away. Some of the gigs well, others carry community prestige and the ability to quickly expand business networks. 

Cabinet-ordered board appointments are managed by the Board Resourcing and Development Office, a branch of the Ministry of Finance. Travis said it should instead be up to an independent office, such as the Auditor General, to review applications based on merit and make recommendations. The current system does not encourage service by the best and brightest British Columbians.

Bennett and Clark in 2013 (Twitter)

“The problem is any government likes to control this and the other side of the control is some of these jobs come with pay and nice stipends and it’s a way to reward party insiders and also a way to keep control, and to make certain you don’t have any little opposition centres in the province that are fighting your government policy,” Travis said. 

Who in the “Clark Clique” scored when their leader went on a pre-election appointment spree? The members are a grab bag of Liberal donors, lobbyists and ex-Clark campaign managers. 

Brad Bennett 

The son of ex-Premier Bill Bennett and grandson of ex-Premier W.A.C. Bennett was on Christy Clark’s Debt Free BC bus during the 2013 campaign, more than a year after Clark named him a BC Hydro director. He was promoted the $36,000-a-year chair at the end of September 2015, for a term ending in fall 2020. He is back on Clark’s bus in 2017. He justified it to theBreaker by saying that there were no BC Hydro board meetings scheduled during the same period as the election. 

Barry Penner

The 16-year, ex-Chilliwack MLA was environment and aboriginal relations and attorney general before quitting in 2011 for a short-stint at a law firm in Myanmar. After he returned to B.C., he was appointed a director of the College of Physicians and Surgeons (through Sept. 1, 2019); chair of ICBC (through March 31, 2019) and member of the New West Partnership Trade Agreement tribunal that sorts out interprovincial trade disputes (through Oct. 26, 2020). The ICBC role earns him a $30,000-a-year retainer plus $750 per meeting.

John Les

Penner’s former Fraser Valley caucus cohort spent a dozen years in provincial office, but didn’t run in the 2013 election. He was named $60,000-a-year chair of the B.C. Farm Industry Review Board, an assignment renewed through Nov. 30, 2019. Les has  organized fundraisers in the Fraser Valley for local candidates and Clark. 

Colin Hansen

Hansen was Finance Minister under Gordon Campbell and co-father of the plebiscite-defeated Harmonized Sales Tax. He also didn’t run in the 2013 election. He recently received good news on Family Day when his spot on the Transportation Investment Corporation board was extended for another two years. The Crown corporation behind the Port Mann toll bridge is overseeing the Massey Tunnel Replacement Project; according to documents obtained by the NDP, interest costs will be $8 billion for the bridge between Delta and Richmond. 

Hansen was in the New York Times in the final week of the election for being head of AdvantageBC, a B.C.-funded public-funded agency, beyond the reach of the freedom of information law, that entices companies with lucrative tax breaks. Which companies benefitted from $140 million in tax breaks since 2008 are a government secret. At most, 300 jobs were created. 

Ida Chong

After Clark lost her seat in the 2013 election, the next most-shocking result was Ida Chong losing Victoria-Gordon Head to the Green Party’s Andrew Weaver. The 17-year Liberal MLA occupied multiple cabinet posts and is on the B.C. Emergency Health Services and Provincial Health Services Agency boards through 2017. She is also on the University of Victoria board through July 2019, a volunteer position. 

Mark Reder

The vice-president of lobbying firm FleishmanHillard counts Kinder Morgan and Transcanada Pipelines among his clients. He was Vancouver-Fairview candidate Gabe Garfinkel’s boss after Garfinkel quit Clark’s office to become a lobbyist in 2014. Reder has also been active in the West Vancouver-Capilano BC Liberal riding association. He was reappointed chair of the Transit Police Board through the end of 2019, which paid almost $9,800 in 2015.  

Spencer Sproule 

The former Clark aide is now the spokesman for Pacific NorthWest LNG, the Petronas-owned B.C. LNG play. While that project awaits a much-delayed final investment decision from the Malaysian state-owned oil company, Sproule was appointed to the New West Partnership Trade Agreement tribunal through March 31, 2018. 

Alan Shuster

Clark’s campaign manager in her old riding, Vancouver-Point Grey, is getting a second term on the board of governors at the University of B.C., through Feb. 27, 2020. Like UVic, it only reimburses expenses. Shuster is a former executive vice-president at the Blast Radius digital ad agency. 

Phil Hochstein 

The former spokesman for the province’s non-union construction lobby and big Liberal donor, the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association, was named chair of the B.C. Turkey Marketing Board (through Jan. 14, 2018) and later a provincial appointee to the Port of Vancouver board (through May 18, 2019). The latter pays a $15,000 retainer, $6,000 to $8,000 more to chair a committee, plus $1,250 per regular board meeting and $750 for ad hoc meetings. 

Jim Cessford and Steven Puhallo 

Two Liberal hopefuls lost bids to run for the party in the 2017 election, but are kept busy with appointments. Cessford retired from the Delta Police as chief in 2015 and was appointed to WorkSafeBC. When he lost the Delta nomination to municipal councillor Ian Paton, he got two more years on WorkSafeBC to Dec. 1, 2018. Not long after Kamloops Mayor Peter Milobar got the nod to take over from Terry Lake in the election, Lake named Puhallo, a former aide to high-volume bloviator and ex-MLA Kevin Krueger, to the local patient care quality review board to Hallowe’en 2019. 

Dave Teixeira

Clark and friend Dave Teixeira (Twitter)

A longtime traveler in the Clark Clique, Teixeira spent two-and-a-half years as constituency assistant for former Burnaby MLA Harry Bloy, the only caucus member who supported her 2011 leadership run. Teixeira was appointed to a one-year term to the Douglas College board of governors in 2015 and then re-upped last July for a two-year term through July 2018, which comes with a $2,000 honorarium.

His bio says he co-founded the Pink Shirt Anti-Bullying Day that Clark made famous in B.C., as part of a personal brand-building exercise before her run for the premiership. (Clark has further centralized power in the Office of the Premier, rather than relaxing the archaic system of party discipline, which some call institutionalized bullying.)

Teixeira is now vice-president of marketing, public relations and communications for Dominion Lending Centres and was among the first to publicly congratulate Clark, minutes after she announced the interest-free, second mortgage scheme for first-time home buyers last December.

 

Michael Hillman

Before the 2017 election, there was one story after another about patients dying after visits to Fraser Health hospitals or being stuck on beds in hallways of overcrowded emergency rooms for days on end. 

The beleaguered board is stacked with friends of the government. One is Ernst and Young partner John Bethel, an assistant deputy minister under Mike de Jong in the Health ministry before the health firings scandal got out of control. 

Another director is Michael Hillman, who was reappointed through the end of 2018. His history with Clark goes way back. In 2005, Hillman managed her ill-fated bid to become Vancouver’s NPA mayoral candidate. Sam Sullivan got the nod instead. Hillman has also managed numerous federal and BC Liberal campaigns. In 2013, he helped veteran ad man and Langley mayor Peter Fassbender get by on a 200-vote margin in Surrey-Fleetwood.