A government accountability advocate says B.C.’s auditor general and conflict of interest commissioner should both investigate Premier John Horgan for giving a no-bid contract to the NDP’s executive director.
Raj Sihota was hired for $15,080 to work on Horgan’s post-election transition team in November. Sihota left party headquarters in December and joined the Vancouver office of Seattle-headquartered lobbying firm Strategies 360 as a vice-president in January.
DemocracyWatch co-founder Duff Conacher called the contract for Sihota and her subsequent registration to lobby the Office of the Premier “unethical.” Sihota represents the Vancouver Art Gallery Association’s campaign to convince NDP cabinet ministers to subsidize the proposed $355 million new gallery.
“She’s lobbying for a very specific interest and because she worked on the transition team, I don’t think Horgan or anyone in his cabinet can deal with the request that her client is making,” Conacher told theBreaker.news.
Sihota did not respond to email and phone requests for comment.
B.C. has a two-year ban on lobbying by former public office holders, but it does not cover contractors. Sihota has reported meeting Jan. 29 with Melanie Mark, the new Minister of Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport. Her other target is the Ministry of Finance.
Sihota wasn’t the only party worker on the transition team: Emily Rose White was contracted for $13,008.
Lawyer Roshan Danesh ($8,500) and former federal NDP candidate Bob Chamberlin ($2,500) rounded out the list of almost $40,000 in direct-awarded contracts on a list obtained by theBreaker.news. Chamberlin is the chief of the Alert Bay-based Kwikwasutinuxw Haxwa’mis First Nation and lobbies against salmon farms with the First Nations Wild Salmon Alliance.
Conacher said Horgan handing a contract to the party executive director so soon after the election appears to further his own private interest. Even if special favours for a campaigner and fundraiser aren’t ruled out of bounds, Conacher says the transition team was “a waste of the public’s money.”
Chamberlin, Danesh and White did not respond.
theBreaker.news wanted to know about the contractors’ roles and responsibilities and what they were required to deliver under their contracts.
Instead of providing details, the Office of the Premier sent a statement.
“After every election, regardless of the party that forms government, there is a transition from the caretaker mode to a new cabinet appointed with new mandate letters. Those hired for the transition period provide support in preparations for the new government,” said a prepared statement sent by Horgan’s deputy communications director George Smith.
A transition team is generally hired when there is a change of party holding power or a change of leader. Horgan led the NDP to a 57-seat majority in the snap election, despite amending the fixed elections date law for a fixed October 2021 voting date.
The NDP spent more than $295,000 in the summer of 2017 on 30 contractors when the Horgan administration took over from Christy Clark’s BC Liberals.
After the spring 2017 election, Clark remained in power, albeit with a minority government. No transition team was hired, but Clark spent $12,000 on an advisor and a speechwriter for what came to be known as the ill-fated “clone speech.”
Elections BC filings show Chamberlin donated $888 in 2020 to the NDP, while a Raj Trina Sihota donated $100-a-month from January to October 2020.
Since winning the election, which was not required by law until October 2021, B.C. experienced a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic. The NDP government has faced criticism for not delivering small business relief and pandemic pay to frontline workers. The NDP delayed the next provincial budget by two months until April 20, because of the snap election.
In May 2020, theBreaker.news revealed that Horgan’s former speechwriter, Danielle Dalzell, had joined Earnscliffe Strategy Group and used a loophole in the NDP-amended lobbying laws to become a registered lobbyist.
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