How much did it cost to lock-up the media on the Feb. 21 British Columbia budget day, feed us lunch and ply us with documents?
A real simple question, eh?
First the answer. Then how difficult it was to access.
Documents released June 13 to theBreaker revealed that taxpayers were billed $61,030.20 to rent the Victoria Conference Centre, $21,408.85 for contractor SW Audio Visual, $1,117.33 for pouches, lanyards, badges and tent cards from Grand and Toy and Staples, $882.07 for media and staff catering from Savoury Chef, and $155.30 for lunch for opposition politicians.
The grand total? $85,356.95. See the invoices and receipts below.
A very minuscule amount, compared to the $50 billion taxing and spending plan that BC Liberal Finance Minister Mike de Jong unveiled on the day.
Now for the making of the sausage.
theBreaker filed this Freedom of Information request on Feb. 23:
Regarding the Feb. 21, 2017 budget lockups in Victoria and Vancouver: A list of the costs for the production, manufacture and delivery of printed products and the USB cards; The costs for audio-visual production; The costs for catered food and beverages; The cost for facility rental at the Victoria Convention Centre; A list of the names of suppliers of goods and services and the dollar values of their contracts.
On March 31, Government Communications and Public Engagement responded, with a letter dated March 22:
“The requested records contain information that may affect the business interests or invade the personal privacy of a third party. To assist us in determining whether we may disclose this information, we are giving the third party an opportunity to make representations concerning disclosure… We will notify you of the Ministry’s decision on whether we will disclose the records by May 5, 2017.”
May 5 came and went.
So did the May 9 election. The BC Liberals lost their majority.
On May 11, GCPE wrote:
“After considering all relevant factors the Government Communications and Public Engagement has decided to give you full access to the records you requested. The Third Party has 20 days to request a review with the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC). We will respond to you on June 9, 2017, unless the Third Party has requested a review with the OIPC.”
June 9 came and went.
The records were finally sent June 13.
De Jong is not only the Minister of Finance, but he also oversees the central government FOI office, called Information Access Operations. He has long fashioned himself as a champion for transparency, a claim that some in the Parliamentary Press Gallery believe, but he is really just a censor in sheep’s clothing.
More than anything, on such an innocuous request for information, it demonstrates the system is broken. The Liberals promised better. In their 2001 New Era election platform, they vowed to make B.C. the most open, accountable and democratic province in Canada.
Full disclosure: Yours truly attended the Vancouver lockup in the Premier’s Vancouver Office at the Canada Place World Trade Centre. Notwithstanding the anti-democratic refusal of de Jong to take questions, via speakerphone, from Vancouver-based reporters, I did enjoy one deli sandwich and two beverages during the four hours that I was not allowed to leave. According to the Savoury Chef invoice, that would be worth $12. Staff in the Office of the Premier do read theBreaker, so please contact yours truly as soon as possible so I can arrange to deliver reimbursement to the public treasury, in-person at the Premier’s Vancouver Office.
That is, if you are able to find time between all the document deleting and expense account maxing.