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HomeBusinessB.C. and Washington: neighbours, but so far apart on transparency and privacy 

B.C. and Washington: neighbours, but so far apart on transparency and privacy 

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Bob Mackin

A former Vancouver mayor told officials in Washington Governor Jay Inslee’s office that he was an advisor to Premier David Eby.

Premier David Eby meeting Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and his wife Trudy on March 13, 2023 in Olympia (WA Gov/FOI)

In email obtained under freedom of information, Gregor Robertson contacted Inslee climate policy advisor Becky Kelley on Feb. 27 as a representative of the Cascadia Climate Project.

“Although I’m not attending monthly PCC [Pacific Coast Collaborative] meetings I am advising B.C.’s new Premier David Eby on ambitious climate and energy opportunities. And he’s coming to Seattle on March 13 for a first meeting with your Governor!” wrote Robertson, the Vision Vancouver mayor from 2008 to 2018. “Do either of you have a few minutes asap to talk about possible opportunities for action that align with the PCC and your work in Washington?”

In a subsequent message, Robertson wrote “I need to keep this unofficial for now, the Premier’s [intergovernmental] and scheduling staff are managing the visit and I’m gathering some intel and ideas to share more directly.”

Kelley agreed to set-up an “informal/unofficial” chat with Geoff Potter, Inslee’s international relations and protocol director.

Robertson, the executive vice-president of Vancouver construction materials company Nexii Building Solutions, did not respond to an emailed request for comment. 

Since becoming premier, Eby hired former Victoria mayor Lisa Helps as a housing advisor and the former Robertson-hired Vancouver city manager Penny Ballem as a health advisor. Premier’s office communications director George Smith said Robertson has not been hired by Eby, who he said speaks everyday to “stakeholders, experts as well as everyday British Columbians.”

Robertson’s exchange was among almost 1,000 email, briefing note, calendar entry and text message files that Inslee’s office disclosed free of charge under the Washington State public records law.

The documents detail the planning and execution of the third-term Democrat governor’s March 13 hosting of the new NDP premier for a bilateral meeting and lunch in state capital Olympia.

The B.C. government, by contrast, charged a $10 application fee, disclosed only 18 pages, and withheld four. 

“There is more information that could and should have been available from the premier’s office,” said Jason Woywada, the executive director of the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association. “It’s a shame that they redacted as much as they did, because we have no guarantee that they weren’t being overly cautious with some of that information.”

The B.C. documents show how staff working for the two leaders planned the meeting, but the Washington files show greater detail before, during and after Eby’s first visit with Inslee.

The B.C. file shows Potter’s Jan. 18 email to Nicole Longpre, Eby’s U.S. relations aide, suggesting a March meeting. Almost a month later, on Feb. 17, Potter confirmed March 13 for 90 minutes. By March 1, the meeting was expanded to two hours, including lunch at the Governor’s residence. 

Longpre’s internal email said the two leaders would discuss “housing/homelessness and climate, and particularly on driving sub-national leadership in these areas, with other files discussed as time allows, setting up for a media avail focused on those two areas.”

Gov. Jay Inslee’s staff text during his bilateral news conference with Premier David Eby. (WA Gov/FOI)

The next paragraph was censored because Eby’s office feared it would harm intergovernmental relations. The same reason, along with an exclusion for policy advice, was used to justify withholding the four pages. 

Censorship by Washington, however, was minimal. 

The two-phased disclosure included briefing documents for Inslee that recommended he also discuss high-speed rail, management of the Nooksack River, ending daylight saving time and the legacy of Indigenous boarding schools (Washington had 15, the last of which closed in 1969). Biographical material for Inslee explained that Eby succeeded John Horgan after the party disqualified climate activist Anjali Appadurai “due to alleged improper coordination with outside parties.” 

“Premier David Eby is 6’7”,” Inslee’s briefing material said. “His staff indicated he might be open to shooting a few baskets upon walking to the Legislative Building.” 

Before Eby arrived in Seattle on March 12, an RCMP officer requested an executive protection unit-trained state Washington State Trooper to drive a Suburban SUV containing Eby, deputy minister Silas Brownsey, senior advisor Jessica Smith, deputy chief of staff Aileen Machell and MLA Rick Glumac, Eby’s liaison to the Pacific Northwest Economic Region. Security officers also requested the front doors be closed during Eby’s time in Inslee’s office.

Eby’s staff arranged to bring Inslee a University of B.C. Thunderbirds’ hockey jersey. Inslee reciprocated with a Coast Salish wool blanket by Nooksack Tribe artist Louie Gong. 

Potter received dietary advice from the B.C. side, which he forwarded to the Governor’s mansion to prepare lunch. Eby prefers gluten-free food and is a pescatarian, while Glumac doesn’t eat farmed salmon and prefers to avoid beef. 

Potter’s email also included food allergy information for two members of the B.C. delegation, which Woywada said should have been censored. 

“It’s great to see how transparent they were, also they were probably overly transparent because that could put somebody’s personal health at risk and possibly cause harm,” Woywada said. “In a Canadian context, we try to avoid that. But we also end up with over-redactions, as evidenced by what we’re seeing from the Premier’s office. So it’s kind of a pox on both their houses in this instance and here’s hoping that in the future, they can get it right.”

On a lighter note, the text messages included banter among Inslee’s communications staff during the bilateral news conference. 

After a reporter from Global TV asked Eby a question on behalf of a female Vancouver Sun reporter — in case time ran out and she didn’t get a chance — Inslee’s communications director Jaime Smith typed: “Leave it to a man to ask a question on behalf of a woman… but I digress.”

Press secretary Mike Faulk replied with an animated graphic showing the man who crashed the stage and interrupted five women from The Talk during the 2016 People’s Choice Awards.  

Smith responded with an image of a bemused blonde woman holding a beverage. 

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