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HomeMiscellanyExclusive: BC Liberal caucus joins NDP in wasting taxpayers’ money on partisan radio ads

Exclusive: BC Liberal caucus joins NDP in wasting taxpayers’ money on partisan radio ads

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Bob Mackin

The BC Liberal Opposition Caucus blew an easy chance to one-up the NDP Government Caucus, according to an independent watchdog.

Andrew Wilkinson’s party launched its own taxpayer-funded radio ad on April 8 on CKNW, two weeks after theBreaker.news was first to report how the NDP spent an undisclosed amount of taxpayers’ money on a partisan 30-second radio ad comparing Premier John Horgan to Wilkinson. 

BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson (BC Gov)

“The Liberal party had the opportunity to take the high road, they chose to take the low road,” said Dermod Travis of IntegrityBC. “They could’ve been the official opposition, calling for an end to partisan advertising with taxpayer money. They’ve decided just to join the bandwagon.”

The BC Liberal ad, which you can hear below, says that under Horgan and the NDP, British Columbians are “paying more and getting less.” It refers to higher taxes and ICBC premiums and claims that “Andrew Wilkinson and the BC Liberal MLAs are standing up for you. B.C. can do better, for all of us.” A second ad, that aired April 12 on CKNW, blames the NDP for record high gas prices in B.C.

After hearing the ad, Green Party leader Andrew Weaver told theBreaker.news that the BC Liberals have taken partisan caucus ads to an entirely new level.

“I shake my head,” Weaver said. “Am I surprised? No. Do I think it’s right? No. Do I think the BC Liberals should be paying that back? Yes. Just because the BC NDP did this does not mean it’s right to do.

“This has got to stop.”

BC Liberal caucus communications director Carlie Pochynok did not respond to a request from theBreaker.news for information about the costs and contractors. Likewise, BC Liberal house leader Mary Polak did not respond. Polak is a member of the Legislative Assembly Management Committee, which is scheduled to meet April 9. The NDP caucus refused to release the budget for its ads and the names of its contractors. The NDP caucus radio ad broke the party’s 2017 campaign promise to eliminate partisan government advertising.

Weaver said the actions of the two major provincial parties are precisely what fuels public mistrust of politicians, which leads to low voter turnout.

“They say one thing and they do another,” Weaver said. “For the NDP this is particularly troubling, because they were so vocal in their opposition to the BC Liberals doing the same in previous years.”

B.C. Green Party leader Andrew Weaver (UBCM)

The parties are already benefitting from a new public-subsidized per-vote allowance administered by Elections BC, part of a program that NDP government says will run out in 2022. It is meant to help the parties transition from relying on the now-banned corporate and union donations. The BC Liberals were initially opposed to the subsidy, but the party took in $1.89 million from taxpayers, the NDP $1.88 million, and the Greens $789,000.

Caucus support services cost taxpayers $7.86 million in the year ended March 31, 2018, but details about spending and contracting by the NDP, BC Liberal and Green caucuses are excluded from the freedom of information law because the money is from Legislative Assembly accounts.

In the wake of Speaker Darryl Plecas’s reports exposing waste and corruption in the office of the clerk and sergeant-at-arms, Information and Privacy Commissioner Michael McEvoy co-authored an open letter calling for the Legislature to be added to the list of 2,600 public bodies subject to B.C.’s transparency law. That prompted NDP house leader Mike Farnworth to promise in early February that the government would amend the law to finally cover the Legislature.

Even with the absence of rules forbidding taxpayer-funded partisan ads by caucuses, Travis said the NDP and BC Liberals “can rely on something else: it’s called common sense.”

“They don’t have to wait for the law to be amended, they have the freedom to release [caucus ad costs] at any point in time they choose to,” Travis said. “[BC Liberals] could do it proactively and again seize the high road on this file.”

The NDP radio ads began to air after theBreaker.news revealed how Wilkinson has paid more than $44,000 to the Parksville-based Motiontide digital advertising agency from his Vancouver-Quilchena constituency office account and how Skeena BC Liberal MLA Ellis Ross led all MLAs with more than $20,000 in advertising and communications spending.

Ross’s spending included ads in Terrace and Kitimat newspapers that slammed the NDP and Greens, despite rules forbidding the use of constituency funds for partisan messages. In the year ended March 31, 2017, Wilkinson spent $59,000 on advertising and communications, including a series of one-minute ads on CKNW that cost $199 each.

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