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HomeBusinessHow Horgan’s NDP rode a reporter’s FOI requests to power

How Horgan’s NDP rode a reporter’s FOI requests to power

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Bob Mackin

This is the story of how Freedom of Information-hating Premier John Horgan rode my coattails to power.

Premier John Horgan and his cabinet swearing-in, July 2017 (BC Gov/Flickr)

Since the NDP enacted the transparency law in 1993, there has been no application fee; citizens are entitled to three hours free service per file. In 2021, Horgan wants to change the law so that government ministries, Crown corporations, agencies and municipalities can charge $25 per request, on par with Alberta. There was no hint of this in last year’s election platform.

Under the NDP’s watch, government debt and preventable deaths from a communicable disease, drug overdoses and heat reached all-time highs in B.C.

Horgan’s solution? Make FOIs cost-prohibitive, so that fewer citizens (and reporters) can follow the money and/or find out who knew what and when.

Not only did the NDP have a love affair with FOI while in opposition for 16 years, but, to my surprise, they adapted the result of my digging about a Christy Clark scandal into a 58-second attack ad that contributed to the end of the BC Liberal dynasty in 2017. 

NDP 2017 campaign ad skewered Christy Clark’s taxpayer-funded private jet trips (BC NDP)

My quest started in 2011, when I began to notice in Clark’s calendar a preference to travel on private jets. So I kept track, by using the FOI law to obtain flight manifests and invoices. I tried asking Clark herself about it in the hallways of CKNW where I was producing radio documentaries in 2012. She ignored me and walked into an elevator.

After the 2013 election, Clark lost her Vancouver-Point Grey seat and became the long-distance MLA for a Kelowna riding. That is when her spending really took off.

I was threatened with a fee invoice once for about $100, but the amiable clerk suggested a solution that worked for both government and me, to split the file in two. I eventually got what I wanted. 

As I chronicled for The Tyee, the cost to taxpayers for Clark’s jet set lifestyle hit $335,000 in 2014, then $500,000 early in 2016. That’s when the major media and NDP opposition noticed.

The BC Liberals went into damage control mode. Clark even made a feeble attempt herself, Tweeting a photo from an Air Canada flight to Penticton in July 2016. She sat among the common people! 

During the campaign, on April 24, 2017, I received the NDP news release, along with everyone else, about the Air Christy Clark ad.

“The BC NDP released an online animated advertisement to show the difference between Christy Clark’s B.C and the reality for everyone else,” it said.

“In the ad, a woman is travelling in cramped economy seats on Air Christy Clark, where services are terrible and you have to pay for just about everything. Meanwhile in first class, Christy Clark sips champagne with rich BC Liberal donors and high-flying lobbyists.”

NDP news release about the Air Christy campaign ad (BC NDP)

It wasn’t the only ad in the NDP campaign mix, but it was the one that best-illustrated how the BC Liberals had become greedy and out of touch.

FOI is a quasi-constitutional right for all citizens to use, so we can keep the institutions we own accountable. Government records are public records and we need to access them so we can curb corruption and wasteful spending, and to keep our communities safe and healthy.

An FOI application fee is, as NDP cabinet minister and FOI expert Murray Rankin once said, a “tollgate” on the public’s right to know. 

An exorbitant fee wouldn’t just throw a curveball at a certain reporter who is starting to notice Horgan’s own charter jet spending.

It would hurt all British Columbians, especially students, seniors and the working poor that the NDP claim to represent.

So I am doing whatever I can to draw attention to Horgan’s most-awkward way of celebrating the first anniversary of his pandemic power grab election win.

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