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HomeBusinessAnalysis: Three years on, Horgan disavows duty to document

Analysis: Three years on, Horgan disavows duty to document


Bob Mackin

Half a world away, on March 11, the Geneva-based World Health Organization was declaring the Wuhan-originated novel coronavirus a pandemic. A worldwide emergency.

Horgan’s swearing-in July 18, 2017 (BC Gov)

In British Columbia, Premier John Horgan was meeting with his cabinet in a 90-minute session about the COVID-19 health and economic crises.

After he gave the customary First Nations land acknowledgment, Horgan ceded the floor to Health Minister Adrian Dix, who proceeded with verbal updates on the approach to communications and plans to minimize the spread of the virus, economic impacts and impact on workers. The deputy ministers of health and emergency management were on hand.

But no minutes were kept from the verbal briefing.

Same for the March 19 COVID Committee, the day after B.C.’s state of emergency had been declared. Education Minister Rob Fleming, Deputy Health Minister Stephen Brown, Cabinet Secretary Don Wright and Horgan spoke.

Manager of cabinet operations Zita Baumann’s note confirming no minutes were taken is also attached to the agendas released to under the freedom of information law.

Historians in 2035, the year when today’s cabinet records automatically become public domain, will be puzzled.

Two of the most-important meetings for any B.C. cabinet since World War II were not documented. To whom do we assign credit or blame for big decisions? 

Horgan was sworn-in as B.C.’s 36th premier three years ago, on July 18, 2017, after an inconclusive election led to the Green-supported NDP defeating the BC Liberals on the June 29, 2017 confidence vote. Judith Guichon, the lieutenant-governor, asked Horgan to form a new government instead of accepting Christy Clark’s pitch for another election. 

Fast forward to 2020. In February, the NDP projected a third straight balanced budget. In July, a whole different story. Brace yourselves for a $12.5 billion deficit. 

Horgan ran on a platform in 2017 that included a promise to enact a duty to document law. He sold voters on the accountability plan to require the government to record decision-making and punish unauthorized destruction of records, with fines up to $50,000.

It was a popular idea after Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham found mass triple-deleting in Clark’s own office and the offices of several cabinet ministers. After Denham’s scathing report in October 2015, Horgan justifiably attacked the BC Liberals for their secrecy and pledged the NDP would be both different and better.

“A culture of deception, a culture of deceit, a culture of delete, delete, delete,” said Horgan in Question Period on Oct. 22, 2015.

“I thought, most people on this side of the house and the independents on this side of the house, felt that we came here to do public service, not to cover up for misdeeds in the government of British Columbia.” 

Premier John Horgan with chief of staff Geoff Meggs on a February 2019 trip to Washington State (BC Gov)

A lot of voters took Horgan for his word. But he has not fulfilled the promised duty to document law. No bill introduced in the Legislature. And now proof that no minutes were kept at two pivotal cabinet meetings.

His party gave B.C. the freedom of information law in 1993 but has done nothing to reform B.C.’s aging information and privacy code, despite grand plans to do so while occupying the opposition benches.

The first hint Horgan would break his promise came two weeks before swearing-in, when he made Geoff Meggs his chief of staff. Meggs was the former card-carrying communist and ex-communications director for NDP Premier Glen Clark. More recently, Meggs was an architect of Vancouver city hall’s descent into diabolical secrecy as a three-term Vision Vancouver city councillor. 

On March 18, current information and privacy commissioner Michael McEvoy (who has an NDP pedigree) bowed to the government’s request to effectively suspend the FOI law until the end of April. McEvoy renewed the extraordinary state of emergency measure until mid-May. Bureaucrats and their political masters, all seduced by secrecy, have asked for more time to delay disclosures, on a case-by-case basis. To their delight, McEvoy’s staff have said yes.

Now has proof that Horgan and his cabinet did not take minutes at two crucial meetings. Maybe the most-important meetings of Horgan’s career. Certainly in the costliest year in B.C. history.

A cover up.

We can only pray there were no misdeeds.

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OOP-2020-03324 by Bob Mackin on Scribd