A friendly interview on a podcast hosted by a BC Liberal donor has reignited questions about opposition leader Andrew Wilkinson’s credibility.
Wilkinson’s appearance on the July 31 edition of This Is Vancolour included claims that NDP Premier John Horgan went all the way to Washington, D.C. to pick up a donation cheque from a union and that Speaker Darryl Plecas went to London just to buy a hat.
“One of the last things that John Horgan did before the hammer came down on foreign fundraising was to fly down to Washington, D.C., supposedly to talk to the Americans about softwood lumber,” Wilkinson said on the podcast. “The real purpose was to pick up a cheque for $375,000 US from the head of the United Steelworkers of America.”
theBreaker.news contacted the BC Liberal caucus office and Wilkinson’s riding office and emailed party president Paul Barbeau to ask for proof of Wilkinson’s allegation about Horgan. None replied.
The Office of the Premier issued an emphatic denial.
“That allegation is a complete fabrication,” said Horgan spokesman George Smith. “Premier Horgan went to Washington to stand up for forestry jobs in the softwood lumber dispute, something the BC Liberals never did. He did not ‘pick up’ a cheque.”
Horgan’s official visit to the U.S. capital the week after his swearing-in July 25-27, 2017 did include a meeting with USW president Leo Gerard. But the itinerary also included meetings with Canadian Ambassador David MacNaughton, two congress members from the Pacific Northwest, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.
USW headquarters made one of the biggest donations in B.C. political history of $500,000, but that was on April 7, 2017 when the equivalent sum in U.S. dollars was almost $373,000. USW also donated $10,000 after the campaign on July 19, the day after Horgan’s swearing-in.
Host Mo Amir asked Wilkinson about Plecas, who blew the whistle on corruption and waste in the offices of Clerk Craig James and Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz. Neither Amir nor Wilkinson mentioned the RCMP investigation of James and Lenz or the two special prosecutors assigned to the case.
“[Plecas] took a trip to London to buy a hat, all business class, tens of thousands of dollars,” Wilkinson said.
Amir: “Is that accurate, just to buy a hat?”
Wilkinson: “Yes, that’s entirely accurate.”
In December 2017, Plecas traveled with James and Lenz to London on an itinerary that was arranged by James. While Plecas did buy a ceremonial hat for his duties as Speaker, there were also meetings with officials of the United Kingdom’s MI5 security service and a visit to the Scottish Parliament.
In fact, that was one of the first major trips that led to the Nov. 20, 2018 suspension of James and Lenz, the ongoing police investigation and James’s retirement in disgrace in mid-May.
At the exclusive Ede and Ravenscroft tailor shop, James bought a suit worth almost $1,200 that he billed to the Legislature. In her May report, retired Supreme Court chief justice Beverley McLachlin concluded the suit was for James’s personal use, bought contrary to Legislative Assembly rules and therefore a misconduct. James negotiated his retirement the night before he was destined to be fired in the Legislature. The three house leaders, including BC Liberal Mary Polak, agreed to let James retire without repaying a single penny for his misconducts.
On the same trip in 2017, according to Plecas’s January report to the Legislative Assembly Management Committee, James suggested Plecas lie to customs officers.
“When we were preparing to fly home, I commented that I had bought quite a bit of scotch and that it was likely to cost me a fair sum in duties,” Plecas wrote. “Mr. James replied along the lines of, ‘do as I do – don’t declare anything’. I didn’t take that advice, and I was struck by the brazenness of that comment.”
Neither James nor Lenz addressed the allegation of customs duty avoidance in their February replies to the Plecas report.
Wilkinson also targeted Plecas’s chief of staff, Alan Mullen, saying he was “terminated from his job as a casino security person for being drunk on his job.”
Mullen had been a manager at two Great Canadian Gaming Corp. properties for three years. He later joined Corrections Canada. Mullen sued the casino company for wrongful dismissal in 2007. Reached by theBreaker.news on July 31, Mullen said he “categorically denies at any point being intoxicated on the job or that being a reason for departing Great Canadian.”
Amid all of Wilkinson’s misstatements about others in the interview, he took time to criticize an environmental lobby group’s 2017 campaign finance reform ads that targeted him and then-premier Christy Clark near his Dunbar office and the donor-owned house in which Clark lives. The BC Liberals refused to regulate the size and source of donations before the 2017 election which prompted widespread accusations of conflict of interest in the awarding of government contracts and sale of public lands. More than two years ago, the RCMP opened an investigation of political donations by lobbyists.
“There was a full-size billboard put up by the Dogwood Initiative opposite my campaign office in the 2017 election accusing me of bribery and corruption,” Wilkinson said. “Those are outright lies, they are falsehoods. I could sue them for defamation and win, but it’s not worth the bother.”
Damage control has occupied much of Wilkinson’s time in 2019.
In late February, Wilkinson was slammed for demeaning tenants, when he called renting “kind of a wacky time of life,” and “a fact of life that’s a rite of passage.”
In an effort to criticize ICBC rate hikes and lobby for private auto insurance, Wilkinson tried to convince reporters in March that the NDP was to blame for an unnamed Volkswagen driver’s insurance premiums zooming from $3,745 to $8,040 a year.
Wilkinson told The Province: “I don’t know the details.” It turned out the VW driver had been blamed for rear-ending another car.
Wilkinson also had to clean up the mess after bozo eruptions by one of the party’s most senior MLAs. In May, ex-Deputy Premier Rich Coleman compared NDP agricultural land commission reforms to the Holocaust and attended an anti-abortion rally outside the Legislature the next.
Wilkinson’s appearance on the podcast was an apparent move to help the party reach a younger demographic after conceding earlier this year that its caucus and membership had grown old.
The podcast’s host, lumber executive and yoga instructor Mo Amir, began the episode by admitting he is a former card-carrying member of the BC Liberals who sat on a riding association, attended conventions and training sessions, volunteered in communications and “donated thousands of dollars to the party.” But he “quietly stopped all of that in 2013 after Quick Wins,” otherwise known as the ethnic outreach scandal.
The Elections BC database shows $11,370 in contributions between 2011 and 2017 to the BC Liberals from Muhammad Amir (the name the podcast host shares with his father), both individually and from the SPF Precut Lumber company. SPF was a VIP sponsor of BC Liberal MLA Teresa Wat’s November 2015 fundraiser at the River Rock casino’s show theatre, headlined by Premier Christy Clark.
Mo Amir clarified to theBreaker.news that he did not volunteer or renew his membership in the party after 2013, but had involvement in some of his company’s later corporate donations to the party.
CLICK BELOW AND LISTEN to clips of BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson from the This Is Vancolour podcast.
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