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Bob Mackin

Before and during the wildfire, from the Kirsh cabin camera.

More Nazko Valley residents have serious questions about the performance of the B.C. Wildfire Service, after suffering substantial losses in the massive, half-million-hectare Plateau fire.

Earlier this week, theBreaker reported on retired teachers David and Raynelle McNab.

Their outbuildings and timber were destroyed Aug. 12 and they are demanding answers about the Coquitlam Structural Fire Protection Unit’s failure to protect their property.

Bowing to pressure from Cariboo North BC Liberal MLA Coralee Oakes and questions from theBreaker, Citizens’ Services Minister Jinny Sims stopped Information Access Operations from charging McNab $5,000 for his freedom of information request.

Now trappers Wayne and Leilah Kirsh and hunting guide Stewart Fraser are telling theBreaker about how their ordeals. 

The Kirshes have 50 years of fall-to-spring trapping experience between them and 700 square miles of wildfire-ruined traplines in the Central Cariboo region. In early July, members of the Coquitlam Structural Fire Protection Unit flew to their cabin by helicopter and assessed the situation.

“They basically guaranteed that cabin would never burn with two sprinklers on there, the way it was built and everything else,” Wayne Kirsh said in a phone interview. “We went out there, every time the crew changed and made sure that they knew about it, they kept telling us yep, it’s protected, it’s protected. We weren’t allowed to go in there and go check.” 

A September back-burn near Fraser’s Nazko Valley property. (Stewart Fraser)

The Kirshes, who spend summers farming cattle in Quesnel, got the call from the RCMP in early August — almost a week after the July 28 evacuation order was formally issued — forbidding them from entering the area. Fire eventually consumed the cabin on Aug. 12. and they have images of the blaze from a surveillance camera that survived the disaster. 

“They had over three weeks from when [Coquitlam Structural Fire Protection Unit] went in until the fire hit,” he said. “They never did put any pump or sprinklers on it, they just decided to let it burn.”

Leilah Kirsh said the B.C. Wildfire Service didn’t attack the fire immediately in early July, but instead chose to “monitor” the fire. “That was the word they used, over and over again.”

The couple’s trapping territory is now devastated and their $20,000-a-year income is gone. 

“There is no habitat left, no wildlife left. We have lost not only the traplines, but our income for the next 20 years,” Leilah Kirsh said. “We used trapping to subsidize our income over the last 20 years. It’s basically barren wasteland, not good for anything.”

The Kirsh farm is for sale. The couple originally wanted to live half the year in that cabin to tend their trapline, and travel the rest of the year.

“With us being trappers, we don’t get a lot of sympathy, a lot of people don’t like trappers, they don’t realize what good we do out there. We’re conservationists,” she said. “We’ve been able to bring up the population of fisher, of beaver, by trapping wolves out of the area. We can help increase the moose population.”

She said they helped supply small intestines and bowels from coyotes to scientists studying a deadly European strain of tapeworm three years ago. For two years, they live-trapped fishers for resettlement in Washington state, to help boost the population. The program was cancelled by the fire this year.

The remains of Stewart Fraser’s fire-destroyed ranch house. (Stewart Fraser)

They hope that another trapline might open up somewhere close to home, so they could resume their livelihood.

“We are extremely active people, we have a lot of motivation, we have a lot of ambition,” she said. “We feel like since this has happened, we don’t sleep well at night, our retirement dreams are gone, and you can’t replace that. We’ve been suffering insomnia, stress, stomach issues, all the lovely things that come with when you go through a tragedy like this.” 

Itcha Mountain Outfitters’ proprietor Stewart Fraser said the same Coquitlam outfit originally told him it was unable to put equipment on his buildings due to lack of resources. 

After he moved his horses, and evacuated his wife and son to Kelowna, Fraser got notice that Nazko was being evacuated. He said he spent $2,500 on his own sprinklers, but needed another pump. So he went to ask for one at the B.C. Wildfire Service temporary camp at the Nazko school. Fraser said he was told not to worry, because camp staff told him that “they had my place covered.”

“I said you guys put sprinklers on my ranch? He said yeah, it’s all down. Now I’ve got all this stuff I can use on my other place.”

After the fire roared through and Fraser was able to return, “we went and looked, there was no evidence of anything, no sprinklers on the building.” He lost the buildings on his ranch and 40% of his vast, regional guiding territory. 

“I won’t trust the Cariboo Fire Centre or B.C. Wildfire people again,” Fraser said. “We buy the tenures in good faith hoping the government will look after them in good faith, and they let it burn.”

At least US$100,000 in annual guiding revenue is gone. He said his number one question is why the fire wasn’t fought the day it started, July 7. 

“Somebody in the Cariboo Fire Centre made the decision to not fight the fire,” Fraser said. “It burned for two weeks before anything was done, then it burned out of control.”

The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations did not respond for comment about the destruction suffered by the Kirshes and Fraser.

When asked earlier about what happened to the McNabs’ property, ministry spokeswoman Vivian Thomas said “because the B.C. Wildfire Service is currently investigating these issues, no one is available to provide further comment at this time.”

Bob Mackin [caption id="attachment_5086" align="alignright" width="831"] Before and

Bob Mackin

At the end of August, former NDP environment minister and party president Moe Sihota said he wasn’t lobbying anyone for anybody. 

In mid-October, that suddenly changed. 

Reached by theBreaker on Aug. 29, Sihota insisted that Canadian Strategy Group was mistaken for keeping him on their website. He was done with his gig advising the company’s Alberta clients in the wake of Rachel Notley’s rise to power. 

Sihota told theBreaker he was busy running his Four Points by Sheraton Victoria Gateway hotel. 

“If I am going to be lobbying, I’ll register,” Sihota said at the time. “You get all sorts of calls from all sorts of people, but I’m not doing any of that work at this point, so there is no need to register.”

theBreaker has discovered that Sihota got a call from Woodfibre LNG, and he is now registered. 

Sihota began lobbying the NDP government Oct. 16 for the Singapore-owned company , which hopes to build an LNG plant near Squamish despite widespread opposition on both sides of Howe Sound. 

The NDP MLA from 1986 to 2001 listed finance minister Carole James and energy minister Michelle Mungall as target contacts. He is registered through March 26, 2018. 

His intent? “To seek clarity as to new policies, continuation of ex

isting policies, framework of energy pricing, taxation, First Nations consultations, local government issues designed to result in finalization of the company’s plans to construct and operate [an] LNG facility. 

With much fanfare, the BC Liberal-approved Woodfibre LNG announced Nov. 4, 2016 that it was going ahead, because it got a subsidized rate from BC Hydro to power the planned $1.6 billion plant. That was the same day the party’s pre-election convention kicked-off. What a coinkydink! 

With not so much fanfare, Woodfibre LNG revealed Oct. 24 that it was delaying the construction decision. Thanks to the global gas glut. 

Construction was supposed to begin sometime in 2017, which is almost over. It may begin next year, which means it won’t be exporting natural gas through Howe Sound until 2021 at the earliest. 

“We’re definitely moving forward, but the reality is that we still have some issues to resolve before we can say: ‘We’re in and this is actually happening on this timeline,’” spokeswoman Jennifer Siddon told Reuters.

In less than a year, Woodfibre LNG went from green light to amber. After Petronas and CNOOC cancelled their plants, the only hope to kick-start B.C.’s flatlining LNG export industry is in a holding pattern and its key for exacting more favours from Victoria appears to be on Sihota’s shoulders.  

Bob Mackin At the end of August,

Bob Mackin

A who’s who of the B.C. NDP’s past is gathering Oct. 27 to promote the present and future of the governing party’s agenda to lobbyists, just a block away from Premier John Horgan’s Vancouver office. 

Ex-Premier Mike Harcourt, his adman Ron Johnson and former finance and health minister Elizabeth Cull are appearing at the Sue Hammell-fronted, Composite Public Affairs’ “Politics, Policies and Priorities: A Conference on B.C.’s New Horgan Government” at the Vancouver Convention Cenre.

Defeated MLA Jodie Wickens and one-term MLA Jane Shin are also speaking, along with members of Horgan’s transition team, Charley Beresford and lawyers Carmela Allevato and Jim Quail. Tickets are $295 apiece.

Missing from the agenda are the original keynote speakers: Energy Minister Michelle Mungall and Indigenous Relations Minister Scott Fraser.

The government initially defended Mungall and Fraser’s involvement to theBreaker, but then the promoters quietly cancelled them after theBreaker’s story in late August

We will have to wait a little bit longer to get the lowdown. The government told theBreaker on Sept. 29 that it was delaying release of information from Mungall and Fraser’s offices until Nov. 22, pending consultations with a third party or other public body. 

Horgan’s office, meanwhile, said Oct. 5 that it would disclose information by Oct. 31 — four days after the event. Hammell’s daughter, Sage Aaron, is, coincidentally, Horgan’s director of communications.

Though Hammell is the public face of Composite, the company was formed by veteran NDP strategist Lori Winstanley and her husband Ed Presutti, and Kristy Fredericks and Will McMartin, who have worked off-and-on with the B.C. Conservatives. They registered the company on June 27, two days before the BC Liberals fell on a confidence vote and Horgan was tapped to become premier.

Winstanley’s name was removed when she was hired as Mungall’s $94,500-a-year top aide when the government was sworn-in July 18. She was Mungall’s fart catcher when the Site C inquiry was announced and later became top aide to Solicitor General Mike Farnworth. 

Fraser and Mungall (BC Gov)

Composite’s contract with B.C. Pavilion Corporation says the room rental and food and beverage service for the event will cost $24,890.25 including taxes. 

Another of the speakers is lame duck Vancouver city councillor Andrea Reimer. Reimer won’t run for Vision Vancouver in 2018, ending more than 15 years in civic politics. Hammell invited Reimer in a July 26 email, obtained by theBreaker via freedom of information, to speak on a panel on social, economic and fiscal priorities. 

“The target audience will be the business community,” Hammell wrote. “The purposes will be to look at the current government’s direction through speakers and panels.”

Hammell said the capacity will be 250 and they planned to have “a number of cabinet ministers” attend. 

“Our intention is to move the issues to where people are talking about the choices this government is making and why.”

Speakers from outside the NDP sphere include LNG lobbyist David Keane, Glacier Media vice-president Kirk LaPointe and Stewart Muir, the executive director of the ResourceWorks pro-industry public relations campaign.

Bob Mackin A who’s who of the B.C.

Bob Mackin

If B.C. Pavilion Corporation tries again to sell B.C. Place Stadium’s name to a corporate sponsor, it must consult the Vancouver Whitecaps. 

So says part of a contract between the Crown corporation and the Major League Soccer franchise obtained by theBreaker under freedom of information.

Before the 2017 provincial election campaign formally began in April, PavCo released a version of the contract that was almost entirely blacked out. On Sept. 29, it sent a version to theBreaker that reveals most clauses, but still hides dollar amounts and key terms. theBreaker’s appeal to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner seeking full disclosure remains. An inquiry is imminent.

Bell Pitch signage in B.C. Place (Mackin)

“We have further discussed the matter with the third party, and the revised redaction is made possible at this time by our progress in developing a complementary agreement with our other BC Place licensee,” says the cover letter from PavCo. 

That licensee is not named, but the only other anchor tenant of the taxpayer-owned stadium is the B.C. Lions, whose 2011 contract was made public in 2015. A four-year legal battle with PavCo culminated in an OIPC adjudicator ruling that the contract could not be kept secret

Whitecaps and PavCo originally made a March 10, 2011 rent contract, before the club’s debut MLS season that began at the temporpary Empire Field and ended at the reopened B.C. Place. The Nov. 4, 2016-signed Whitecaps Sponsorship Addendum Agreement says that the club wished “to obtain consent and agreement of [PavCo] for advertising and sponsorship activations in or on the stadium property outside of the inner bowl.”

The parties reached agreement on a variety of issues, including the “clean condition of delivery and return of the stadium and plaza areas on game days.”

By clean, the agreement means areas without sponsorship logos and signage. On game days, the Whitecaps plaster Bell logos around the stadium and on Terry Fox Plaza. Bell remains the sponsor of player jerseys and the club still refers to the field at B.C. Place as “Bell Pitch.”

The contract includes clauses about the number of ads on the Terry Fox Plaza outdoor screen and rules for when and where the Whitecaps can offer free samples of food and drink to fans on game days, while not conflicting with B.C. Place’s roster of sponsors and suppliers.

What PavCo gave theBreaker before the election.

The new contract contemplates the potential for renaming B.C. Place. It was supposed to become Telus Park after the $514 million, 2011 renovation. 

“[PavCo] commits to engaging in naming rights discussions in a collaborative and integrated manner with the licensee,” says the agreement. “If and when [PavCo] is authorized to commence the process of selecting a name sponsor, [PavCo] will provide written notice to the licensee and the parties will thereafter use good faith efforts to agree upon a collaborative, integrated and mutually beneficial process.”

Telus had a 20-year, $40 million naming rights deal that then-Premier Christy Clark and her cabinet scuttled in 2012. 

Clark is a close friend of Whitecaps’ media-shy owner Greg Kerfoot, an $80,000 BC Liberal donor. Bell was one of the unsuccessful bidders for government telecommunications contracts that threatened legal action over the sudden no-bid, omnibus deal announced with Telus in June 2011. The Vancouver-based company, which sponsors the B.C. Lions, made one, big 10-year, $1 billion deal across the government after more than two years of open bidding on nine smaller contracts.

Greg Kerfoot (Santa Ono, Twitter)

The agreement says that PavCo and the Whitecaps will meet annually, on or before Oct. 1, and states that the Whitecaps would pay additional fees at the same time as paying for their level 3 suite. The amount of those fees is censored, so we have no way of knowing whether PavCo is charging as little as $1. The per ticket facility fee that PavCo charges rose to $3.25 and a clause stipulates that there will be a comprehensive review of the levy during 2021. 

The name of an arbitrator was censored from the contract. All that can be discrerned is that she is from Kamloops,

Did the Whitecaps get a better deal than the Lions? Be the judge. 

“[PavCo] confirms to the licensee that it has not granted to any other anchor tenant substantially similar rights and privileges to those granted to the licensee in this sponsorship addendum.”

The Whitecaps begin their 2017 MLS Cup playoff campaign Oct. 25 when they host the San Jose Earthquakes at B.C. Place. 

BCPC-499 – Whitecaps Sponsorship Addendum Agreement by BobMackin on Scribd

Bob Mackin If B.C. Pavilion Corporation tries again

Bob Mackin 

B.C. Lottery Corporation’s board of directors is scheduled to meet Oct. 25 in Vancouver. 

In the wake of the casino money laundering scandal, will the NDP government fire and replace any directors of the BC Liberal-appointed board, before or after the meeting? 

The six-member board is chaired by former Social Credit attorney general Bud Smith and includes BC Liberal friends like Dueck auto dealer Moray Keith and Century Plaza hotelier Wendy Lisogar-Cocchia. 

Ex-Premier Christy Clark named Lisogar-Cocchia to the board in late 2013, despite a perceived conflict of interest. Lisogar-Cocchia’s Absolute Spa chain includes a location in the River Rock Casino Resort. 

On Dec. 5, 2016 — five months before the provincial election — the board received a presentation by BCLC’s anti-money laundering director Ross Alderson, under the title “Anti-Money Laundering Training.” theBreaker obtained the below copy via the freedom of information law.

BCLC’s Alderson (LinkedIn)

The minutes for the board meeting said the presentation covered: the stages of money laundering and the difference between money laundering and terrorist financing; the legislative framework for anti-money laundering in Canada; the role of FINTRAC, compliance program requirements; casino reporting requirements; and the due diligence process in relation to high risk customers. 

Alderson’s speaking notes include some interesting insider perspective: 

  • “The previous minister for gaming Rich Coleman once went on record stating that ‘casino staff in B.C. will be trained to report suspicious transactions to the pollice.’ This was a little misinformed as the [Proceeds of Crime, Money Laundering and Terrorirst Financing Act] does not authorize a casino employee to report suspicious transactions to the police. BCLC does do that but only because we have an [information-sharing agreeement] with the police.”
  • “Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, no one comes into a casino in an orange jump suit with a bag of cash smelling of weed or covered in white poweder or wearing an I support Hezbollah T-shirt, so reasonable grounds become very subjective.”
  • “The downside of reporting to FINTRAC’s standard howerever is that paricularly in our sector, [suspicious transaction] reports are still seen by anti-gambling critics, media and even those within government as evidence of money laundering occurring within casinos.”

Substantial portions of Alderson’s presentation were censored under sections of the freedom of information law. BCLC feared disclosure would harm the effectiveness of law enforcement investigative techniques and procedures, and facilitate the commission of an offence under provincial or federal law. 

The BC Liberal government suppressed information about money laundering in B.C. casinos before the election. New Attorney-General David Eby appointed University of B.C. law professor and former Mountie Peter German to investigate money laundering in Metro Vancouver casinos.

2016 BCLC Board AML training by BobMackin on Scribd

Bob Mackin  B.C. Lottery Corporation’s board of directors

Bob Mackin

Dave McNab is one step closer to learning what the B.C. Wildfire Service did at his remote property, 100 kilometres west of Quesnel, after he and wife Raynelle were evacuated in late July. 

The B.C. NDP government had insisted the Nazko Valley resident pay $5,000 for documents via Freedom of Information about the devastating wildfire that roared through on Aug. 12.

The view from the McNabs’ deck (Dave McNab)

Twice in Question Period, Cariboo North BC Liberal MLA Coralee Oakes challenged NDP cabinet ministers to drop the fee and hand over the documents without making him wait for months. 

theBreaker also demanded to know why the NDP government — which was sworn-in July 18, 11 days after the province-wide state of emergency began — put the onerous fee in the way of McNab’s right to know. 

On Oct. 23, Jinny Sims, Minister of Citizens Services, called McNab out of the blue. She told him he would not be charged the exorbitant fee. 

“That was a hugely surprising development,” McNab told theBreaker

Now he waits and wonders about the future. 

The McNabs are retired schoolteachers in their early 60s, previously from Canmore, Alta. They suffered an estimated $350,000 in damage after four outbuildings, and the equipment and machinery inside them— including a sawmill — were destroyed in the massive Plateau wildfire. They also lost the timber on their 320-acre property. 

Their solar-powered house is all that remains, but there is no wood to burn for warmth this winter or to rebuild the structures they lost.

“We have literally burnt sticks around us,” McNab said. “We used to live in a gorgeous spot on the edge of a meadow. We have to readjust our thinking. Now we live in the black forest. It’s silent, windy, no wildlife.”

In July, while he was recovering from hip surgery, officials began to prepare for the worst. The Coquitlam Structural Fire Protection Unit visited three times between July 18 and 26. McNab said they told him that his buildings were “highly defensible.” They pledged to monitor the property and installed a system of pumps and sprinklers that would be activated as the fire approached. Only those who complied with exclusion orders were eligible for structural protection and assistance.

“They assured us everything was fine at our place, pumps were running and being monitored,” McNab said. “The structural fire guys came and put the sprinklers on, they gave us a great deal of confidence. We thought these guys are profesional, they’re going to be on this.”

The McNabs left after the RCMP called July 28 to deliver the area-wide evacuation order.

Machine shed destroyed (Dave McNab)

McNab said for two, long weeks there were only frustrating conversations with tight-lipped fire information officers. Rumours were rampant in the community. His first try to return on a Cariboo Regional District-issued access permit Aug. 13 was thwarted because of a fire along the route. He tried again two days later without a permit. RCMP officers turned him away at a barricade. 

When he finally got a permit on Aug. 16, he arrived to find fire hoses burned beyond recognition. He said the pump installed in a creek and sprinklers around the house had been removed. Sprinklers that had been installed atop the other structures were on the ground. McNab found no evidence of a fireguard, no evidence of water bombing or bombing with fire retardant, or helicopter waterbucketing. He said there was no evidence the sprinkler system was started before fire passed through, though there was evidence a helicopter landed after the fire. 

“Our house was standing, miraculously, but all of our outbuildlings had been destroyed,” McNab said.

Public information held ransom

When he wanted answers, he said fire information officers told him the only way he’d get any was by filing a Freedom of Information request. 

He asked the government for the structural protection triage map for Nazko, the structural protection plan documents for his property, and the dates and times that any forestry staff, firefighters, structural protection staff, police or any other government representatives visited his property between July 16 and Aug. 18. 

McNab was shocked when he got the letter from the government on Sept. 6, demanding $5,000. (It could have been reduced, the letter said, if he didn’t ask for documents from the B.C. Wildfire Service’s air division.) 

McNab’s land, before the fire (Dave McNab)

There was no way McNab was sending the government $5,000 after what he had been through. He needs every dollar to fix his sawmill, which wasn’t insured. The only insurer that McNab could find to cover the off-the-grid house and buildings wanted $42,000 for the previous six years before it would issue a policy. Disaster relief funds won’t cover the damage, either. 

The evacuation order was finally lifted Sept. 10 and the McNabs moved back two days later, while fires smoldered along their access road.

Now, without the excessive fee in the way, McNab is optimistic he may get some answers. “The bottom line is we feel incredibly betrayed that the forest service lied to us this whole time and then after the fact no one wants to be accountable or even cooperative about what went on in our place.”

theBreaker asked to interview B.C. Wildfire Service officials about what happened at McNab’s property. Vivian Thomas, spokeswoman for the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations said, by email: “Because the B.C. Wildfire Service is currently investigating these issues, no one is available to provide further comment at this time.”

Last week, McNab made a trip to Abbotsford, where a woman whose husband passed away six months ago gave him a garage full of construction tools to help him rebuild.

“It’s quite devastating for them,” said Nazko cattle farmer and trapper Leilah Kirsh. “To get insurance it’s almost impossible. Being told that your place is protected and then it’s not. The visual impact they’re going to have for the next 20 years is devastating. Pretty dismal to live out your retirement in that situation.”

Bob Mackin Dave McNab is one step closer

Bob Mackin

B.C.’s lobbyist watchdog slapped the head of the non-union construction lobby with a $1,000 fine.

The Sept. 13 Office of the Registrar of Lobbyists investigation report was finally published Oct. 23 after Speaker Darryl Plecas tabled it in the Legislature.

Investigator Trevor Presley cited Chris Gardner, former principal secretary to ex-Premier Christy Clark, for failing to update the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association’s lobbying registration within 30 days of becoming president. 

Chris Gardner (right) with Tory leader Andrew Scheer (Twitter)

Gardner succeeded Gord Stewart on Feb. 7 and became the designated filer and in-house lobbyist for the ICBA under the lobbying law. 

Presley’s report said ORL tried to contact Stewart, whose name was still in the registry, on May 3, but he did not respond. Five days later, on May 8, ORL emailed Gardner asking him to change the designated filer. 

“The new president did not respond and did not update the designated filer,” said the report.

On May 19, Gardner told the ORL that he did not have the password for the government website on which to update the registration. Gardner had still not updated the registration by the time it expired June 7. 

“The designated filer for ICBA responded on June 6, advising that ICBA failed to update the registration within 30 days owing to the transition that occurred following his appointment as president of ICBA on Feb. 7,” Presley wrote.

Gardner responded on June 28 with a letter that said: “Prior to my current role, I have had no occasion to file a registration under the Lobbyists Registration Act and was unaware of the requirement to amend ICBA’s existing registration. I say that not as an excuse but as a candid explanation for the cause of the delay that you are reviewing.” 

Presley found Gardner’s delay the result of human error and there was no economic benefit derived from the contravention. He could have fined Gardner as much as $5,000, but opted for a $1,000 penalty. 

“It is in the designated filer’s favour that he was honest and forthright with the ORL and sought to immediately correct the error,” Presley wrote. 

“The ICBA overlooked its LRA obligations during the succession process. However, this is a large and sophisticated organization that regularly lobbies government. Therefore, they should have been aware of their obligations under the LRA.”

ICBA spokesman Jordan Bateman called it a “pretty simple administrative issue” and said Gardner has paid the fine.

“Chris was unaware that the designated filer information had to be updated,” Bateman told theBreaker.

“Once he was informed by the registrar, he attempted to update it. Unfortunately, all of the details regarding our BCeID log-in and password were lost during that transition, which were needed to change the registration. It took the government agency weeks to allow us to reset that, and we missed the deadline to change the designated filer by a few days.”

Gardner was executive vice-president of the school and construction site portable manufacturer Britco for nine years before joining Clark’s office for a year.  He took the job at ICBA after more than a year-and-a-half as senior vice-president with workforce accommodation logistics company Civeo. 

ICBA has donated more than $441,000 to the BC Liberals since 2005. Of that, $79,400 came between March 9 and May 5 of this year.

After the BC Liberals lost their majority in the May 9 election, Gardner spearheaded an ICBA campaign supporting BC Hydro’s nearly $9 billion Site C dam, which won’t be completed on time or on budget, if the NDP government decides to continue the project. 

Bob Mackin B.C.’s lobbyist watchdog slapped the head

Bob Mackin

During a two-and-a-half-year span, Mayor Gregor Robertson sent only two letters to senior federal and B.C. politicians seeking action on property flipping and tax evasion in the Vancouver real estate market. 

None of the letters or replies mentioned money laundering, nor did they cite Chinese foreign investment as the biggest market influencer.  

Robertson and the Mayor of Shanghai, Ying Yong (PRC)

theBreaker asked, under freedom of information, for copies of correspondence from Jan. 1, 2015 to July 24, 2017 between the Office of the Mayor and senior officials in Ottawa and Victoria, about real estate regulation and taxation, foreign demand, market manipulation and real estate-related crime, including money laundering. City hall finally released the documents Oct. 18. 

Robertson’s May 22, 2015 letter to then-Premier Christy Clark said the “world’s wealthiest citizens” were affecting the market. 

“Housing should not be a speculative commodity that can be left empty in the expectation of automatic gains,” Robertson wrote.

In her June 4, 2015 response, Clark downplayed foreign investment (she, too, didn’t mention China) and claimed using taxes to control prices would hurt homeowners’ equity. Clark suggested the city do more on its own, such as cutting fees and levies on condo projects.

“Finally beyond any new taxes to curb demand, there is also the option of increasing supply through better land use planning,” read Clark’s letter. 

A year later, with her BC Liberal party suffering in opinion polls, Clark imposed a 15% tax on residential purchases by foreigners (condominium pre-sales were exempted) and agreed to Robertson’s proposed 1% tax on houses left empty in the City of Vancouver. At the time, Clark and Robertson’s parties shared the same bagman, real estate marketer Bob “The Condo King” Rennie. 

Robertson wrote June 1 of this year to federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau about high housing prices, and combatting tax evasion and speculation in Vancouver real estate. 

“While your recent actions to provide greater oversight on issues of capital gains are greatly valued, I often hear from residents who are concerned about fraudulent practices connected to home purchases in Vancouver,” Robertson wrote. 

In a July 24 reply, Morneau mentioned that Canada Revenue Agency increased its compliance and enforcement efforts, but he misspelled the province twice.  

“With regards to housing vulnerabilities and affordability challenges in the GVA [Greater Vancouver Area], I encourage continued engagement of the City of Vancouver with the new provincial government in British Colombia (sic) in the federal-provincial-municipal working group on housing,” Morneau wrote. 

Saving face amid housing furor

The Mayor’s office released the June 1 letter to at least two media outlets, the Globe and Mail and Vancouver Sun, which reported on it June 16 without mentioning how they obtained the letter. 

Chief of staff Quinlan (Twitter)

Email shows that Robertson’s chief of staff intended all along to release the letter to the media. Just two minutes after Robertson aide Connie Pavone emailed the letter to Morneau on June 2, Kevin Quinlan wrote to Amanda Campbell in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office. 

“We don’t plan to make it public for a while and will check in with you before we do,” Quinlan wrote. 

On June 14, Quinlan told Campbell that “we’re planning to give this letter to some media… to highlight the Mayor’s efforts focusing on housing affordability and the concerns around money laundering/tax evasion in Vancouver. I sent it over a week ago to Ally Chalke and Ian Foucher in [Morneau’s] office so they know it’s been sent. Any concerns let me know.” 

In 2017, Robertson’s pet cause, the environment, has taken a back seat to the housing crisis. Critics blame Vision Vancouver for failing to fulfil a 2008 promise to solve homelessness. Instead, the Vision-led city council has rubber-stamped luxury towers built by party donors who regularly pre-sell condos to buyers in China. Voters are showing signs of impatience. The Vision candidate in an Oct. 14 by-election to replace Geoff Meggs finished fifth. Quinlan, in his first full year after succeeding Mike Magee as chief of staff, took a night school course at Simon Fraser University in real estate development in 2015.

Robertson’s latest gimmick was to ask city staff to study ways and means of encouraging developers to market new condos to local residents and workers before offering them to buyers elsewhere. 

Housing is expected to remain the hot topic on the way to the Oct. 20, 2018 municipal election. Housing affordability played a role in the NDP ascending to power after the May 9 provincial election. New Premier John Horgan’s party won six of nine Surrey seats and knocked-off Liberal incumbents in Burnaby, North Vancouver and South Vancouver. 

Robertson is also feeling pressure about relations with China. 

In July, Robertson’s staff admitted he broke-up with Chinese singer girlfriend Wanting Qu. Her mother, former Harbin government official Qu Zhang Mingjie, is facing real estate corruption charges in China. In September, Robertson made an unannounced trade mission to Beijing and Shanghai. His staff finally admitted he was in China, meeting government officials and business executives, the day before his final day there. 

City hall did not hold a flag-raising ceremony to mark China’s Oct. 1 national day. The ceremonial flagpole was allegedly removed for maintenance, after a 2016 event drew protests from citizens concerned about China’s history of human rights violations. 

Robertson Letters 286 by BobMackin on Scribd

Bob Mackin During a two-and-a-half-year span, Mayor Gregor

Bob Mackin

A former deputy minister appointed by the NDP government to the ICBC board of directors in late August was paid $38,526 to be a senior member of Premier John Horgan’s transition team in July. 

Doug Allen held five portfolios during a 15-year career in the B.C. government. In 2015, the management consultant was the $30,000-a-month CEO of TransLink when voters rejected a sales tax increase to fund Metro Vancouver transit expansion. 

TransLink’s 2015 interim CEO Doug Allen (Mackin)

Allen’s company, 1034 Tokyo Resources, could have billed the Office of the Premier up to $61,000 for his 17-day contract — the largest of 35 no-bid transition contracts that could have cost taxpayers a combined $812,800.

A spreadsheet released by the Office of the Premier showed a total $295,479.40 was paid to 30 contractors. Five contractors — Horgan’s deputy minister Don Wright, CUPE, Malahat Solutions Consulting, Samuel Stephenson and Lucy Watson — did not bill for their services. 

“Transition costs are a normal expense by any incoming government, and our new government had a lot of work to do after 16 years of BC Liberal neglect,” said Horgan spokeswoman Jen Holmwood in a prepared statement. “Our highly qualified transition team helped us hit the ground running on key initiatives like removing tolls, cutting MSP, and working to get schools ready for our kids in September.” 

No one collected the full amount to which they were contracted. Darwin Sauer, a Vancity vice-president on leave, came closest by billing $23,859.43 of his $25,000 contract through Sept. 1.

The Office of the Premier’s proactively published direct awards list for July showed 28 contractors were hired for up to three weeks after the Green-supported NDP toppled the 16-year BC Liberal dynasty in a June 29 confidence vote. Seven did not appear on the list for unspecified administrative issues, but they will be included in the next listing. 

Other payments included $29,441.19 to former Manitoba NDP politician and lobbyist Eugene Koystra, $18,026.77 to Cavanagh Strategy Group and $14,938.20 to former deputy transportation minister Blair Redlin. Cavanagh’s principal, Judy Cavanagh, became Horgan’s executive director of operations. 

Visionista Jang (Vision)

Horgan’s chief of staff Geoff Meggs billed $13,827.98 on his $25,000 contract. The Meggs contract was dated July 4, the same day he Vancouver city council with more than a year left on his term to take the $195,000 job in Horgan’s office. 

Another Vision Vancouver councillor, Kerry Jang, was paid $4,000. By email, Jang told theBreaker that he was hired to prepare a briefing note to the new Ministry of Health and Addictions “on steps to take on the opioid overdose crisis.” Jang is also a University of B.C. psychiatry professor. 

Other contractors included Romar Communications, a company co-owned by campaign adviser and veteran ad agency executive Marie Della Mattia ($13,787.10),  lobbyist David Perry ($7,600), Neil Monckton of Hospital Employees’ Union ($6,212.72) and Keith Reynolds of CUPE ($5,600). 

In Question Period on Oct. 17, ex-Liberal jobs minister Shirley Bond called rewarding party friends with contracts “the NDP version of a jobs plan.” 

Said Horgan: “She may well remember 16 years ago, when the government last changed, there was a transition process. There was a transition process, where people that are working with the government to make the change from one to the other come into place. This is standard procedure. Nothing to see here.”

When Christy Clark succeeded Gordon Campbell as BC Liberal premier in 2011, her transition team included ex-MLA Roger Harris, ex-Premier Bill Bennett’s son Brad Bennett, future party president Sharon White, future chief of staff Mike McDonald, assistant deputy health minister John Bethel, veteran BC Liberal strategist/lobbyist Patrick Kinsella and then-SNC-Lavalin chair Gwyn Morgan. 

Clark fired 13 deputy ministers, political aides and bureaucrats, costing taxpayers $2.4 million in severance payments. Public Affairs Bureau head Ron Norman’s settlement was worth $324,000 alone. 

In January 2013, Clark’s government gave SNC-Lavalin the contract to build the $1.43 billion Evergreen Line SkyTrain extention.

Morgan retired in May 2013 from SNC-Lavalin after CEO Pierre Duhaime’s arrest for fraud and the World Bank blacklisted the company for bidding on its development projects over allegations of corruption in Southeast Asia.

Horgan Transition Contracts by BobMackin on Scribd

Bob Mackin A former deputy minister appointed by

Bob Mackin

B.C. Lottery Corporation and its casino operators were planning a public relations campaign to combat increased scrutiny over money laundering by gamblers with ties to China. 

An undated document released by BCLC under freedom of information on Sept. 25 to theBreaker said the Crown gambling monopoly and the B.C. Gaming Industry Association had plans to jointly “communicate the B.C. gambling industry’s commitment and actions to deter money laundering.”

They wanted to stage a media tour and security walk-through at a casino, where a reporter would be given $10,000 cash and shown “what happens when they buy in, the questions asked, forms completed. Walk reporter through various scenarios such as attempting to cash out after limited play and requesting a cheque.”

The four-page plan also suggested developing a composite of a large cash gambler, based on BCLC data, “in order to dispel the myths around the use of cash and high dollar value buy-ins.” BCGIA’s executive director, former Great Canadian Gaming executive Peter Goudron, was to receive media training, to “leverage the industry’s unhampered ability to speak.”

Richmond’s River Rock casino (GCG)

BCLC and BCGIA also contemplated holding a news conference with the Joint Illegal Gaming Investigation Team to unveil signs at casinos to warn gamblers that police will investigate suspicious transactions. They wanted to create an internal campaign to remind and re-energize service providers “on their role in preventing money laundering and preventing facilities from being targeted.” 

The document said BCLC and its casino operators are “united in their goal” of safety in casinos and fulfilling anti-money laundering duties, but “there seems to be a lack of acceptance and trust from the public and media that the industry is committed to playing its role in AML.”

“A further challenge is that authorities conflate money laundering with spending laundered funds. BCLC has a comprehensive anti-money laundering program in place to detect and deter both however, money laundering is much easier for a business to watch for, detect and report than the spending of proceeds that have been already been laundered through the financial sector.”

BCLC must report to FINTRAC large cash transactions, payments to customers $10,000 and up, and suspicious transactions “or attempted transactions of any dollar amount and in any form that are suspicious.” The latter are also sent to the RCMP and JIGIT. Casino service providers must report unusual financial transactions to Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch. All BCLC and casino workers receive formal training on how to spot suspicious transactions. 

Despite touting various safeguards, a Sept. 22-released MNP report from July 2016, that the previous BC Liberal government suppressed, indicated money laundering was rampant at Great Canadian’s River Rock Casino Resort in Richmond. River Rock was flooded with $13.5 million in $20 bills in July 2015. High rollers, mainly from China, were using underground banks to access large amounts of cash from suspected illicit activities. It also said high rollers were receiving shipments of cash to the casino or just off the property late at night. Some of the high rollers were also investing in high-end real estate in West Vancouver and Richmond.

Attorney General David Eby appointed Peter German, a law professor and former head of the RCMP in Western Canada, to investigate money laundering at Lower Mainland casinos. 

17-044 BCLC BCGIA Media Plan by BobMackin on Scribd

MNP

Bob Mackin B.C. Lottery Corporation and its casino