Buried in the middle of the Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training minister’s 622-page, 2016 budget binder are eight pages rife with bureaucratic word salad about controversial patronage appointee Gordon Wilson’s job to flog B.C.’s going-nowhere LNG export industry.
The former BC Liberal leader and his wife, Judi Tyabji, were facing financial and legal struggles when he endorsed Premier Christy Clark in the May 2013 election. Clark rewarded him in October that year with a $50,000, four-month contract as the “Buy B.C. LNG Advocate.” The Clark cabinet renewed Wilson’s gig twice and expanded it twice. By the time he was fired Aug. 1 by the new NDP government, Wilson had been paid more than $550,000.
The briefing notes for then-Minister Shirley Bond claim that Wilson had “great success connecting communities and companies with the LNG Buy B.C. program” because Wilson “engaged 200 businesses during 22 community visits and 16 presentations.”
The briefing notes contain no list of names, dates or places for Wilson’s engaging, visiting and presenting. But they do shed more light on the expensive program, which cost taxpayers $567,841 for the 2015-2016 fiscal year alone.
Besides Wilson’s $150,000 salary, $32,000 in travel expenses (down from $35,730 the previous year) and $1,200 cell phone bill, there were two-full time workers and a co-op student assigned. Their names were not disclosed. The office spent $45,100 on workshops, $21,000 on a “local benefits dashboard project” and $18,000 on an “aboriginal business development project.” The other $300,000 was deemed an “inter-ministry cost share with [Ministry of International Trade] for systems support.”
“A good example of the advocate’s work is his efforts to encourage industry to follow the leadership example of FortisBC in tracking and reporting on local participation in their Tilbury LNG expansion project,” said the briefing notes. “FortisBC leveraged the LNG Buy B.C. program and is using their dashboard to help local communities see how benefits from the project are flowing to local businesses.”
Bond’s successor, Bruce Ralston, said the NDP government could find no reports or evidence of deliverables. Indeed, freedom of information-released documents provided to theBreaker by a reader earlier this year showed that the only reports Wilson filed were expense reports. Wilson, who was paid $600 a day, claimed in media interviews that he was not hired to write reports. Wilson is a former community college economics and geography instructor who also boasts two university degrees.
theBreaker issued a public challenge to Wilson via Twitter on Aug. 1 to deliver a report (maximum 3,000 words, deadline Friday, Aug. 4 at 5 p.m.) to answer key questions about what he actually achieved in his well-paying job. Who did Wilson meet? When and where? What was discussed? What were the outcomes?
Though theBreaker would not pay the already well-compensated Wilson anything, it would give Wilson a chance to explain, in detail, what exactly he did for all that public money he received after endorsing Clark and the BC Liberals in the 2013 election.
UPDATE (Aug. 8): Wilson never did respond to theBreaker’s #ReportToThePublic challenge. Instead, he threatened to sue Premier John Horgan and Jobs minister Bruce Ralston for defamation for comments made after firing him, about the paucity of reports. They both did apologize, but that wasn’t good enough for Wilson, who may still sue.
A report released under FOI by the previous BC Liberal government to the NDP could be the most-expensive in B.C. history. It is apparently the only report made public about Wilson’s activities.
That report was filed in early 2014, near the end of Wilson’s first three-month appointment. In it, Wilson told then-Minister Shirley Bond what anyone reading business media websites already knew — that Russia, Qatar and Australia were leading the way in the LNG industry — and included the key recommendation to launch an interactive website. When that website was launched in 2016, it cost $1 million and it contained no LNG job or contract opportunities.
UPDATE (Aug. 12): On Facebook, Ralston published an apology and retraction to Wilson, stating “Mr. Wilson did provide reports setting out what he had done to earn the money that he was paid.” Ralston claimed that he was provided “incorrect information” before originally claiming the NDP government was unable to locate any written reports by Wilson.
The NDP government wants to turn the page on “Flip” Wilson, but theBreaker is determined to get the goods for taxpayers who were dinged for Wilson’s patronage job.
On Aug. 9, theBreaker filed five FOI requests about Wilson’s activities. Specifically, theBreaker applied for: a copy of the review and related correspondence that led to Wilson’s firing; activity reports and expense reports that Wilson filed since Nov. 1, 2016; a list of the “more than 200 businesses, during 22 community visits and 16 presentations” that Wilson met with (including the names and dates) in the 2015-2016 fiscal year; and any correspondence between Wilson and his son, Mathew Wilson, during the tenure of his patronage job.
BC Liberal Mathew Wilson unsuccessfully challenged NDP incumbent Nicholas Simons for the Powell River-Sunshine Coast seat in the May 9 election. The junior Wilson works as a lawyer for Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada. His duties have included strategic partnerships on west coast energy and policy analysis of oil, gas and pipeline development.
In July 2013, Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham recommended the government proactively publish calendars and expense reports for “ministers, deputy ministers and senior executives or equivalent.” In 2016, the BC Liberal government finally began publishing calendars and expense reports for ministers and deputy ministers, but not for those like Wilson, who fall under the “senior executives or equivalent” category.
Denham also recommended the government proactively release “final reports or audits on the performance or efficiency of their policies, programs or activities.” Likewise, the BC Liberals did not act on that recommendation.
Had the BC Liberals followed Denham’s instructions, there would be no mystery about the quality or quantity of Wilson’s work.
One more thing…
History can sometimes be amusing. Very amusing, if you thumb through Hansard transcripts.
In 1993, as leader of the official opposition, Wilson and his fellow caucus member and future wife, Judi Tyabji spoke out in the Legislature against NDP government patronage.
On April 6, 1993, Wilson said this:
“There is no question that what the people wanted when they elected a new government was significant change. They wanted reform and an opportunity to know that their tax dollars were going to be wisely spent. Instead, we see an ever-increasing growth in government through patronage appointments and in those who seek to serve government through various committees and reporting agencies — all of whom have an expense account on a daily basis. Yet the delivery of service to the public is lacking.”
On April 14, 1993, Tyabji said this:
“…get your priorities straight. Rein in government spending, stop the patronage treadmill by cutting back on some of the $100,000-a-year or $120,000-a-year patronage appointments, and feed the people.”
Politicians. They say and do the darnedest things, don’t they?