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HomeNewsLawsuit aims to stop taxpayer-funded Liberal election ads and force party to reimburse treasury

Lawsuit aims to stop taxpayer-funded Liberal election ads and force party to reimburse treasury


Bob Mackin

With 50 days until the May 9 provincial election, the legal problems are piling up for the B.C. Liberals. 

The RCMP is investigating the party’s cash for access and pay to play campaign fundraising after the Globe and Mail reported on indirect donations via lobbyists. 

Democracy Watch wants the Court of Appeal to order a new conflict of interest investigation of Premier Christy Clark after she received $300,000 in fundraising bonuses. Democracy Watch says B.C.’s conflict of interest commissioner, Paul Fraser, is in conflict of interest himself. His son is the Clark-appointed Deputy Minister of Government Communications and evidence points to Paul Fraser making donations to the Liberals before he was appointed in 2007. 

Slogan from the Liberals’ taxpayer-funded pre-election ad campaign.

In a separate application, Democracy Watch wants a B.C. Supreme Court judge to deem Clark in conflict of interest for accepting $560,000 in donations from Kinder Morgan and its allies before her Liberal cabinet approved the pipeline twinning. 

The latest? On March 20, two Vancouver lawyers filed a lawsuit in B.C. Supreme Court that says the B.C. Liberals are breaking the law with their $15 million-plus, taxpayer-funded, pre-election ad campaign. The lawsuit (see below) is aimed at forcing the B.C. Liberals to reimburse taxpayers for the Our Opportunity Is Here ad campaign. Paul Doroshenko and David Fai’s class action application, on behalf of David Trapp, also seeks a court order to stop the campaign. 

Trapp, a 63-year-old, retired TransLink network analyst, was diagnosed with cancer in November 2015 and underwent surgery in August 2016, the legal document says. 

“Just two days after his surgery, the plaintiff was released from hospital,” reads the notice of claim. “Only one followup was provided. The plaintiff concluded on the basis of his experience in the B.C. health care system that B.C.’s health care system is in great need of further provincial government funding to improve health care services for British Columbians.”

Outside the Law Courts in Vancouver on March 20, Trapp said the B.C. government should be spending public money on “real doctors, not spin doctors.”

The notice of claim argues that the Liberals have raised enough money on their own — $12.5 million in 2016 and $32.6 million since the 2013 election — that they don’t need to spend taxpayers’ money. 

Lawyer Doroshenko

The notice of claim takes issue with ads branded with the B.C. Jobs Plan, B.C’s LNG industry, WorkBC and Our Opportunity Is Here slogans. It cites a December 2008 directive by the Gordon Campbell Liberal administration that banned non-essential ads for a four-month period before the May 2009 election. Clark did not follow Campbell’s lead. 

“The defendant government as led by the defendant party has distorted the electoral process by using taxpayer money to fund an election campaign,” the statement of claim ends. “The defendant government has breached their fiduciary duty to the plaintiff and the proposed class and continues to breach this duty.”

For Doroshenko, NDP advertising waste in the 1990s was the catalyst for his work to help Campbell and the Liberals win the 2001 election. In 2017, Doroshenko says he sees no difference in the strategy employed by the NDP then and the Liberals now.

“The straw that broke the camel’s back for me was the then-NDP government spending tax money in advance of the election just to enhance their chances of success in the election, runnning ads that just say ‘B.C. is great,’ to make pepole think well of the the government they’ve got,” Doroshenko told theBreaker.

Doroshenko said every government has a fiduciary duty to taxpayers to spend their money to benefit the taxpayers, not the party. 

“This money that they’re spending is for the benefit of the B.C. Liberal Party, it’s money the B.C. Liberal Party doesn’t have to spend,” he said. “It’s our taxpayer money they’re spending, that’s a breach of fiduciary duty. They’re advertising because it works.”

The B.C. Liberals have only owned-up to a $15 million pre-election ad budget. Minister Andrew Wilkinson has refused to be interviewed by theBreaker and his staff have refused to say how much they are spending on the politically motivated WorkBC advertising. 

Our Opportunity Is Here launched Nov. 19, 2015, hours after the fall sitting of the Legislature ended. Vizeum Canada is the media buyer on the campaigns and St. Bernadine Mission the creative agency. Kimbo Design (online) and Response Advertising (ethnic) are owned by longtime Clark friends Kim Pickett and Jatinder Rai. Pickett is the party’s logo designer. Clark appointed Rai to the B.C. Pavilion Corporation board of directors last fall and he is a regular attendee of campaign planning meetings at the $3.7 million Dunbar house Clark allegedly rents from a close associate of Vancouver Whitecaps’ owner Greg Kerfoot. 

None of the advertising contracts was awarded through an open, public tendering process. Instead, the government created a “preferred suppliers list” after the 2013 election when Athana Mentzelopoulos, one of Clark’s closest confidantes, was deputy minister of the propaganda department. The Social Credit government in the 1980s, the NDP in the 1990s and the Liberals since 2001 all shamelessly rewarded their message-making friends in the advertising business. 

Last July, the B.C. government disclosed that it spent $12.45 million on advertising for the year-ended March 31, 2016, an increase from $5.67 million spent the year before. In 2012-2013, before the previous election, the government spent $16.6 million on a B.C. Jobs Plan ad campaign.

The NDP’s Banning Publicly-Funded Campaign Advertisements bill proposed legislating a moratorium similar to Campbell’s 2008 order. It was not passed, like all bills tabled by the NDP, Greens and independent Vicki Huntington in the March 16-ended Legislature sitting.

When the NDP was in power, Clark didn’t fool anyone. She was an outspoken foe of government advertising waste and attacked then-Finance Minister Joy MacPhail in Question Period on April 1, 1999.

Watch the archival video below and ask: how many hospital beds, firefighters, police officers are not on the streets because Clark is spending more than $15 million on her ad campaign? 

Trapp vs. Province of B.C. and B.C. Liberal Party by BobMackin on Scribd