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Bob Mackin

If a conflict of interest petition succeeds in ousting a Vancouver Green Party city councillor, the balance of power could tilt away from Mayor Kennedy Stewart. 

Michael Wiebe is the target of an Oct. 26 filing in B.C. Supreme Court by 15 citizens who say he violated the Vancouver Charter’s conflict of interest law.

Coun. Michael Wiebe (Twitter)

The petition says Wiebe should have recused himself instead of voting in May and June on a temporary measure to expand restaurant and bar patios on sidewalks. The Wiebe-owned Eight 1/2 bistro in Mount Pleasant was among the first 14 establishments permitted.

If a judge rules Wiebe must vacate his seat, a by-election would follow. The 15 petitioners include several members of the NPA as well as two who have voted for Green Party candidates. Their lawyer denies this is driven by political ambitions.

“They care about individuals that are in a position of power should not be using it for their personal agendas,” said their lawyer, Wes Mussio. “Whether or not it changes the complexion of council.”

A by-election opens the door to the possibility of an NPA or NPA-allied councillor being elected as the balance of power.

Council is currently split between five members from three centre-left parties and five elected under the NPA banner [Coun. Rebecca Bligh became an independent last year, after Conservative-leaning directors were elected to the NPA board]. Stewart is a former NDP MP who was endorsed in 2018, with Wiebe, by the Vancouver and District Labour Council.

“Councillor Wiebe not only participated in the meetings and voted in favour of the motion, but he was also instrumental in the background to bring the motion before city council,” the petition said.

In text messages reported on by the Vancouver Sun, Wiebe referenced his own restaurant and toasted the expansion with a cheers emoji shown clinking beer glasses.

The petition said Wiebe should have known to recuse himself, because of a Dec. 10, 2018 memo from the city manager, called Protocol for Potential Conflicts of Interest. Wiebe is a rookie city councillor, but no stranger to public office as a parks board commissioner.

In response to a Georgia Straight story, Wiebe claimed in a Tweet that he was “told that I’m not in conflict as the policy is city wide, temporary and doesn’t increase my seating capacity which is still at 50%. It’s a tool that will hopefully help us survive.”

But, in a Sept. 21 interview on CBC Radio, Wiebe said he had received no legal advice prior to voting.

Vancouverite Michael Redmond filed a conflict of interest complaint under the city’s code of conduct. Lawyer Raymond Young was retained by the mayor’s office to investigate.

Young found in September that Wiebe had direct and pecuniary interest in the motion and bylaw and violated the Vancouver Charter. Young recommended Wiebe be disqualified from office and resign his seat.

Mayor Kennedy Stewart and the new city council on Nov. 5 (Mackin)

“His conflict of interest actions cannot be viewed as an error in judgment made in good faith,” Young wrote.

The petition comes at a crucial time in Vancouver. The city is facing a budget bind due to the coronavirus pandemic and spending to solve homeless tent cities. Ratepayers are facing a tax increase next year and even bigger increases in the years to come.

In a report for the Nov. 3 meeting, city staff want to raise $500 million over five year for a so-called “climate emergency action plan.” The taxation measures to fund the program would include a downtown road tax and tax on residential parking permits. 

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20201026 Petition to the Court by Bob Mackin

 

Bob Mackin If a conflict of interest petition

Bob Mackin

White collar crime took centre stage in British Columbia, two days after the province’s snap election ended with an unofficial NDP majority victory.

At the Law Courts in Vancouver, Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou’s battle against the U.S. extradition bid heard its first witness.

Meng Wanzhou at Russia Calling 2014 (RT)

Const. Winston Yep of the RCMP was the first of 10 people called to testify in the B.C. Supreme Court hearings this week and in late November. Meng’s lawyers claim she was the victim of abuse of process when RCMP and Canada Border Service agents arrested her on behalf of the U.S. on Dec. 1, 2018. The U.S. wants to try Meng on bank fraud charges.

Yep was in charge of applying for the arrest warrant from a B.C. judge and eventually arrested Meng after she arrived on a Cathay Pacific flight from Hong Kong.

The U.S. had learned Nov. 29, 2018 that Meng was scheduled to travel through Vancouver to Mexico on Dec. 1, 2018 and asked Canadian authorities to arrested after arriving on Cathay Pacific flight 838. Yep said he knew little about Meng, but was aware of Huawei and that the arrest would generate international attention.

Meng Wanzhou’s CBSA declaration card mugshot on Dec. 1, 2018 (BC Courts)

Meng’s lawyer Richard Peck took issue with the three-hour delay in the arrest, and asked why Yep didn’t arrest her shortly after touchdown. FBI intelligence learned Meng was traveling from Hong Kong with a female companion from Huawei. Yep said he did not know whether she was traveling with others, such as a bodyguard not sitting near her.

“The issue is that we don’t have any information on Ms. Meng, what she’s capable of, who she is traveling with,” Yep testified. “Say something, if we were to arrest her on the plane and something happened, if she puts up a fight and we maybe end up having to I guess use physical force. We don’t know who she is traveling with, we could be fighting with other people as well. We’re putting other passengers, other people’s safety at risk. Our safety as well.”

Yep also said there was also concern that a Meng might flee inside the airport.

When she was questioned, Yep said she initially objected to being recorded during her interview. He told her it was for accuracy sake and she relented. Another officer translated for her.

“Meng was cooperative, she was surprised at first, she understood what the warrant entailed,” Yep testified. “I read her her Charter rights, I gave her the warning that she could contact a lawyer, a duty counsel would be available to her. She indicated she wanted to contact her company lawyer in Huawei. I asked her if she wanted to contact the Chinese consulate and she indicated she wanted to contact her lawyer first.”

Meng’s hands were eventually cuffed in front of her and driven to the nearby Richmond detachment for a mugshot, fingerprinting and to wait for her appearance in front of a justice of the peace.

She was eventually released on bail Dec. 11, 2018 and lives under curfew in a Shaughnessy mansion.

Meanwhile, the Cullen Commission on money laundering in B.C. entered its long-awaited witness testimony phase, after being delayed two weeks by the provincial election.

BCLC’s Steven Beeksma (left) and lawyer Michael Stephens (Cullen Commission)

A B.C. Lottery Corporation anti-money laundering specialist said he was told by a superior to “cut that shit out” and stop investigating complaints about River Rock Casino Resort.

Steven Beeksma, the first witness, was a surveillance manager at the Great Canadian Gaming flagship casino before joining BCLC. He described how high rollers would bring in bricks of $10,000 secured on both ends with elastic bands, stacked in shopping bags, small pieces of luggage or backpacks. Chinese tourists used private lenders or money service businesses to move cash back and forth, to get around the $50,000-a-year personal limit set by Beijing.

Beeksma mentioned two 2012 incidents when superiors told him not to interview casino patrons. Beeksma testified that BCLC vice-president Terry Towns told him and anti-money laundering director Ross Alderson: “You are not cops.”

“I can only assume that River Rock must’ve lodged a complaint, that they were losing some of their big players due to our actions,” Beeksma said.

Beeksma said a gambler’s $460,000 buy-in in May 2010 was the beginning of a period of significant amounts of dirty money entering River Rock, eventually peaking in summer 2015.

He said he reported suspicious, big cash transactions to the RCMP and the Gaming Policy Enforcement Branch, but neither took action to his knowledge.

The inquiry is scheduled to run through next April.

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Bob Mackin White collar crime took centre stage

For the week of Oct. 25, 2020

Join host Bob Mackin for a special edition on the aftermath of British Columbia’s Coronavirus Pandemic State of Emergency Snap Election 2020.

Hear from the party leaders on election night. Hear from roundtable guests Kash Heed, Mike Klassen Aziz Rajwani and Alex G. Tsakumis. How did it happen and why? What next for the NDP government and opposition BC Liberals?

Highlights from the most unusual campaign.

And hear from Duff Conacher of Democracy Watch explain why he has joined with Wayne Crookes of IntegrityBC to challenge the legality of John Horgan’s snap election call.

Didn’t B.C. have a fixed elections date law? Didn’t the NDP promise the Greens they wouldn’t go to voters without a confidence vote in the Legislature first? 

CLICK BELOW to listen or go to TuneIn or Apple Podcasts.

Now on Spotify!

Have you missed an edition of theBreaker.news Podcast? Go to the archive.

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theBreaker.news Podcast: New mandate for New Democrats in a pandemic
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For the week of Oct. 25, 2020 Join

History in British Columbia on Oct. 24. John Horgan became the first NDP premier to stay in power to win a second term in office.

Join host Bob Mackin and theBreaker.news Podcast election roundtable: ex-BC Liberal solicitor general Kash Heed, commentator Mike Klassen, UBC Sauder School of Business and Langara School of Management’s Aziz Rajwani and ex-broadcaster Alex G. Tsakumis.

CLICK below and SHARE!

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History in British Columbia on Oct. 24.

Bob Mackin

British Columbia’s Coronavirus Pandemic, State of Emergency, Snap Election 2020 is all but over.

But for one more day of voting. And the counting, which could take until mid-November or longer.

All signs point to the NDP remaining in power. But with more power at the expense of the opposition BC Liberals and the NDP’s onetime junior partner, BC Greens. Infighting has begun inside the BC Liberals.

NDP Health Minister Adrian Dix (upper left) and BC Liberal critic Norm Letnick (lower left) on May 11 (BC Gov)

It will be a victory for political maneuvering and marketing. But not for democracy.

The election was supposed to be Oct. 16, 2021, according to the fixed dates law the NDP amended. But the NDP turned the pandemic into an opportunity for itself. As sure as winter follows autumn, governing will not be any easier. 

How did they do it?

In March, they neutralized opponents who put partisanship aside to pass a new $5 billion bailout plan in a day. Throughout spring, NDP ministers were joining hands with B.C. Liberals for town halls, to help flatten the curve. We’re all in this together was the mantra. Dogs and cats were friends. Kumbaya.

BC Liberals paused fundraising and organizing. BC Greens paused their leadership campaign. Both resumed in summer, but the NDP was already miles ahead. Behind closed doors, eyeing a post-Thanksgiving, pre-Halloween majority.

Andrew Wilkinson became the NDP’s second-best asset. Why wait and let the BC Liberals do to Wilkinson what the Ontario PCs did to Patrick Brown on the way to 2018’s election? A new BC Liberal leader without baggage could’ve put Horgan in jeopardy of losing.

Wilkinson was easy to define. A day oner with the Gordon Campbell administration in 2001 who left mid-decade to pursue his law career before returning in 2013 as a Christy Clark cabinet minister. It was laughable when BC Liberal campaigners used words like “fresh” and “new” to describe Wilkinson. The NDP painted him into a corner, as an elite Westsider whose natural habitat is a yacht club, not a neighbourhood pub.

As for the BC Greens, they were faced with choosing an unknown or a leader known to be an adversary of ex-leader Andrew Weaver. They chose the latter. Then Weaver endorsed Horgan instead of Sonia Furstenau.

NDP held online campaign prep seminars in June (NDP)

Contrary to Horgan’s claim that he woke up on the last Saturday of summer and decided to have an election, this was months in the making. While the NDP was patting BC Liberals and Greens on the back in the spring, they were plotting to stab them in the back in fall.

Rewind to the last weeks of spring. From June 9-24, the NDP held digital campaign and fundraising prep seminars on Zoom, under the banner of “Level Up.”

What was taught?

  • Using tools, targeting, and outreach to build a winning voter contact program”
  • Building a powerhouse fundraising plan that’ll help you raise money for your constituency”
  • “Building Facebook ads and digital campaign plans, and upping your social media game”
  • “Using SQL for fun — and profit!”
  • “How to be an incredible volunteer, and how to recruit them.”

The website also said: “In a socially distant election, Facebook advertising will be one of the best ways we can signal boost, extend our reach, and surround people with our core message and ideas they ought to be hearing about.

“Social distancing means phone calls are enjoying a renaissance — and that includes fundraising phone calls. In this session, we’ll learn what makes a compelling fundraising ask over the phone and get comfortable making that call.”

The day after Level Up ended, a series of six telephone town halls began.

Unlike Level Up, the “COVID-19 Recovery Ideas” were handled June 25 to July 16 by the Government Communications and Public Engagement department. Taxpayers footed the bill to build profile for swing riding incumbents who used the exercise to test market their messaging.

Government telephone townhalls showcased NDP MLAs and test marketed messaging (BC Gov)

It also involved the party’s polling and research contractor, Strategic Communications, on a government contract of an undisclosed amount.

The MLAs’ roster included Ronna-Rae Leonard (Courtenay-Comox); Bob D’Eith (Maple Ridge-Mission); Lisa Beare (Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows); Ravi Kahlon (Delta North); George Heyman (Vancouver-Fairview); Bowinn Ma (North Vancouver-Lonsdale); and Jinny Sims (Surrey-Panorama).

Meanwhile, the party advertised jobs for field directors to coordinate campaigns in regions and districts. The contracts would last until November.

The parades and festivals of previous summers were cancelled by the pandemic. Some of those swing riding MLAs found other ways to meet the public. Heyman, Kahlon and Ma set-up tables outside their offices and near transit stations to give away non-medical facemarks branded with their names.

Heyman was giving them away at least until Sept. 18, the Friday before the election was called.

Kahlon took it one step further, and mailed masks with a postcard to constituents. One of them Tweeted that he received his on Sept. 25 — four days after the election call. The postcard was emblazoned with a photo of Kahlon and the party’s “Working for You” slogan.

Heyman, Kahlon and Ma did not respond for comment. The branded mask giveaways were definitely not in the spirit of the Legislature’s Members’ Guide to Policy and Resources. They might even have broken the rules that ban MLAs from printing or mailing at Legislature expense “any material seeking financial support or containing any identification or information of a partisan, political nature.”

NDP MLAs gave away branded masks (Twitter)

Then the campaign began Sept. 21, with Horgan trashing the Confidence and Supply Agreement with the two-member BC Green caucus and the fixed elections date law. Horgan stood in front of two green garbage cans in a Langford cul-de-sac to announce the Oct. 24 election day. It is hard to believe the backdrop was a coincidence. Political handlers are sticklers for visual details.

Furstenau had been leader for only a week. She had a strong debate performance and put the NDP campaign on its heels, but not on its butt. She hasn’t mastered the 10-second soundbite, but did boast of raising more than $830,000 since mid-September.

Wilkinson made grand promises. A PST holiday for a year. Massey bridge. End the ICBC monopoly. It may have excited the base, but didn’t grow it. Instead, he was busy with damage control for Jane Thornthwaite and Laurie Throness bozo eruptions.

Democracy Watch’s Duff Conacher and IntegrityBC founder Wayne Crookes are contesting the legality of the snap election, but not the results, in B.C. Supreme Court. Conacher said Horgan is acting more like an old dictator than a new democrat. A line that could come back to haunt Horgan during the next four years (or until the next state of emergency snap election, whichever comes first).

The NDP will stay in power for how they exploited the pandemic. The most important decision that opened the door for the campaign was a little-known pivot made early in the state of emergency by the Information and Privacy Commissioner Michael McEvoy.

An aide in the 1990s NDP government, McEvoy decreed that all public bodies in B.C. would be excused from disclosing records to freedom of information requesters for nearly two months. After the blanket holiday was over, he invited bureaucrats to return with case-by-case delay requests for rubber-stamping.

That ensured information about how the government is operating and how much it is spending could be kicked into November and beyond.

John Horgan announces the election in a Langford cul-de-sac (CPAC)

The pandemic also gave the NDP licence to shelve the 2017 promise to reform the FOI law and the 2019 pledge to add the Legislature to the law. They’re not even in the NDP’s snap election platform. Secrecy is that seductive.

The NDP also played good cop, bad cop with the media.

It designated media workers an essential service in the state of emergency orders, then restricted reporters to a single question during March and April news conferences. When it finally loosened up and allowed followup questions, it banned reporters from appearing in-person at government announcements. That lasted all summer long for Horgan and cabinet. Dr. Bonnie Henry maintains the phone-only policy.

The operator has control of the queue and the mute button. And the politicians always have their taking points.

It is an easy formula. Control the message and the flow of information, then you are halfway to victory before the opening face-off.

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Bob Mackin British Columbia’s Coronavirus Pandemic, State of

Bob Mackin

A high-ranking British Columbia Ministry of Health official told regional health authorities in 2007 to build-up a 10-week stockpile of emergency supplies in case of a pandemic.

Michael MacDougall, who was Assistant Deputy Minister and Chief Operating Officer at the time, warned that the two-to-four-week inventories of medical and surgical supplies were insufficient.

Michael MacDougall (LinkedIn)

“It has now been determined that in the event of a pandemic, that British Columbia could experience a shortage of critical medical/surgical supplies, as the supply chain will be unable to meet demand in a timely manner and supply chain disruptions appear probable,” MacDougall wrote to the Pandemic Influenza Management Committee on March 27, 2007.

“In this regard, health authorities are asked to increase their critical supplies inventories to 10 weeks to effectively respond to a pandemic event.”

The letter, obtained by theBreaker.news under the freedom of information laws, was written the year after Canada’s post-SARS, federal pandemic plan. That plan was co-authored by chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam and said provinces should build their own emergency personal protective equipment stockpiles during inter-pandemic periods. Inventory shortages, transportation interruptions and trade embargoes are inevitable during a pandemic, the plan said.

The B.C. NDP government encountered all three in 2020 after failing to replenish supplies. 

MacDougall wrote that time was of the essence for B.C. in 2007, because suppliers were receiving an increase in stockpile orders from various jurisdictions. One of the main suppliers, whose name was not mentioned, indicated that delivery lead-time for pandemic supplies was four to six months.

Yongtao Chen (second from right) with Chinese consul officials on Feb. 12 (WeChat)

“A survey of major suppliers’ stockpile practices indicates they also have about two weeks of inventory in Canada. Many suppliers manufacture offshore and the majority of suppliers do not have pandemic business continuity plans. An outbreak of pandemic influenza typically occurs in one or more waves of approximately six to eight weeks in duration, but can last up to 15 weeks in a large geographic area, such as the entire province of British Columbia,” MacDougall wrote.

theBreaker.news confirmed that the Pandemic Influenza Management Committee did not meet in the second half of 2019. In early 2020, after the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, groups in B.C. affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front embarked on a PPE buying spree at B.C. retailers and wholesalers, for export to China.

A Provincial Health Services Authority supply chain memo last February showed B.C.’s medical equipment stockpiles had fallen from $5.7 million value in mid-2013 under the BC Liberals to $2.07 million at the end of 2019 under the NDP. Most expired or donated inventory was not replenished. Interior Health reported a $0 value stockpile.

“Should a widespread pandemic occur in B.C., the current level of pandemic supplies will likely not meet B.C.’s requirements which may lead to public safety risk,” said the Feb. 13 document, by Melinda Mui, the interim vice-president of PHSA’s supply chain department.

The next month, the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic emergency.

Stockpile respirators

MacDougall’s 2007 letter said N95 masks should be added to stockpiles under an “all hazards approach.”

“These stockpiles could be used for a number of different disease such as SARS like viruses,” he wrote. “With current concerns growing over supply and demand of these masks, it is prudent to add these to the B.C. stockpile in an effort to strengthen the province’s capacity to respond to infections diseases, or to any incident requiring protective equipment and N95 mask use.”

Coincidentally, on the 13th anniversary of MacDougall’s letter, Premier John Horgan’s deputy minister ordered government workers to hunt for N95 masks in earthquake kits under desks in government offices. Don Wright wanted the masks delivered to the premier’s office for inspection by Horgan, before donating to frontline doctors and nurses.

Even more evidence of B.C.’s PPE shortage came in documents obtained by theBreaker.news. Surrey-headquartered Fraser Health Authority ordered $2.65 million of masks, safety glasses, paper and plastic bags and thermometers on a no-bid contract with Burnaby’s West-Can Auto Parts in March and April.

Dr. Bonnie Henry (left), Premier John Horgan and Health Minister Adrian Dix (Mackin)

In July, Health Minister Adrian Dix said the government spent $114 million on PPE in the first six months of 2020, including $29.55 million on N95 or equivalent respirators. The Ministry has not released how much it spent in 2019, choosing to delay disclosure of the figure until after the election.

At an Oct. 10 campaign stop outside Richmond Hospital, Dix declined to answer about 2019 and earlier. As for playing catch-up in 2020, Dix said, “I think we’ve done well.”

Three days later, at the Oct. 13 leaders debate, Horgan said “none of us anticipated this.”

“We didn’t think about it in 2017, 2018 or 2019. We didn’t think about it in February, when we tabled our balanced budget. We only thought about it in March when it hit us right in the face,” Horgan said.

A scathing Oct. 6 report for the Canadian Federation of Nurses called “Time of Fear: How Canada Failed Our Health Care Workers and Mismanaged COVID-19,” said Canada was woefully unprepared because it largely ignored the lessons of SARS.

“We will never know how many of the more than 21,000 Canadian health care workers infected with COVID‐19 might have been kept safe had there been sufficient stockpiles at a precautionary level,” the report said. “What we do know, as outlined earlier in this report, is that jurisdictions like China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, that took a precautionary approach to worker safety, have significantly lower levels of health worker infections.”

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Bob Mackin A high-ranking British Columbia Ministry of

Bob Mackin

British Columbia’s stockpile of emergency medical supplies was so low under the NDP government, that the province’s biggest health authority spent $2.65 million on a no-bid contract with a Burnaby auto parts company.   

theBreaker.news obtained documents, under the freedom of information law, that show West-Can Auto Parts invoiced Fraser Health Authority for multiple, bulk orders in March and April, including $732,000 for 200,000 level 2 masks and $750,000 for more than 8,000, 1-gallon jugs of hand sanitizer.

Fraser Health’s Brenda Liggett (left) and Hardeep Chaggar (Fraser Health/Twitter)

Between March 27 and April 13, West-Can also invoiced Fraser Health for surgical masks, safety glasses, paper and plastic bags and thermometers during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

Payment for the contract, let under emergency procurement provisions, was approved by Fraser Health chief financial officer Brenda Liggett and executive director of systems optimization Hardeep Chaggar. Neither Liggett nor Chaggar responded for comment.

“The procurement was undertaken to ensure timely access to personal protection equipment for community sites and health care providers in our region,” Fraser Health spokesman Dixon Tam said in a prepared statement to theBreaker.news. “This procurement order was necessary due to the global shortage of PPE at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. We selected West-Can Auto Parts because they had the ability to purchase, store and distribute specific PPE supplies in a very short timeframe.”

Tam said that Fraser Health had not previously bought any goods from West-Can and has not ordered anything since April. “However, the vendor does continue to provide warehousing and distributing services in respect of PPE supplies to our community sites and health care providers in our region,” Tam said.

West-Can co-owner Rajinder Jhaj, whose name is on the invoices, declined comment.

(West-Can Auto Parts/Facebook)

A February Provincial Health Services Authority memo, obtained by theBreaker.news, sounded the alarm about the low stockpiles across the province. PHSA, which already buys $2 billion-a-year in equipment and materials for hospitals, recommended it become the central hub for the pandemic stockpiles.

At the end of 2019, Fraser Health had $611,855 worth of emergency supplies on hand, compared to $1.56 million in July 2013. 

The B.C. government built stockpiles after the SARS and H1N1 pandemics, but stocks were not replenished under the NDP. The PHSA memo said low inventories “will likely not meet B.C.’s requirements which may lead to a public safety risk.”

A month later, the World Health Organization declared the pandemic.

In the May memo, PHSA supply chain vice-president Melinda Mui informed CEO Benoit Morin that some goods Fraser Health bought from West-Can failed at Chilliwack General Hospital. Specifically, the nose bridge wire on FFG disposable 3-layer masks did not stay molded to the bridge of the nose, causing fogging of goggles. “Very hard to work with,” said the report.

“Supply chain [department] was not involved in the purchasing process and as such did not issue any purchase order for the purchase,” Mui wrote. “Any purchase initiated by Supply Chain would have a purchase order for the vendor.”

Mui declined comment because she said she was retiring. She referred theBreaker.news to the PHSA communications department, which did not respond.

theBreaker.news exclusively revealed how, in late March, Premier John Horgan’s deputy minister ordered government workers to hunt for N95 masks in earthquake kits under desks in offices across the province. The masks were earmarked for frontline doctors and nurses.

In July, theBreaker.news and CTV News Vancouver jointly reported that B.C.’s pandemic stockpiles had lost two-thirds of their value since 2013. On the heels of that story, Health Minister Adrian Dix said the B.C. health system had spent more than $114 million on PPE during the first six months of 2020, including $29.55 million on N95 or equivalent respirators. His ministry has refused to release the amount it spent in 2019.

Melinda Mui of PHSA (LinkedIn)

During the Oct. 13 leaders debate, Premier John Horgan said “none of us anticipated this.”

“We didn’t think about it in 2017, 2018 or 2019,” NDP leader Horgan said. “We didn’t think about it in February, when we tabled our balanced budget. We only thought about it in March when it hit us right in the face.”

A scathing Oct. 6 report for the Canadian Federation of Nurses called “Time of Fear: How Canada Failed Our Health Care Workers and Mismanaged COVID-19,” said Canada was woefully unprepared because it largely ignored the lessons of SARS.

“We will never know how many of the more than 21,000 Canadian health care workers infected with COVID‐19 might have been kept safe had there been sufficient stockpiles at a precautionary level,” the report said. “What we do know, as outlined earlier in this report, is that jurisdictions like China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, that took a precautionary approach to worker safety, have significantly lower levels of health worker infections.”

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Bob Mackin British Columbia’s stockpile of emergency

Bob Mackin

Until Premier John Horgan called a snap election, Dr. Bonnie Henry was British Columbia’s highest-profile public official of 2020.

Behind the scenes, the folk song-inspiring, Fluevog-wearing provincial health officer has her own spin doctor, who billed taxpayers more than $84,000 during four months earlier this year.

Nicola Lambrechts (NLK Strategies)

Nicola Lambrechts of NLK Strategies in North Vancouver was originally contracted by the Ministry of Health on an $8,000, no-bid contract to assist Henry with media relations, issues management, strategy, writing and messaging related to the coronavirus outbreak. The contract was awarded under emergency provisions of government procurement rules, but later increased to a maximum $149,900 through March 2021. 

Documents obtained by theBreaker.news under the freedom of information law show NLK billed $8,400 for 40 hours in February and then averaged more than $25,000 a month from March through May. The government was supposed to release more-recent invoices on Oct. 6, but decided to delay until after the election.

Lambrechts is a former executive at National Public Relations and Longview Communications who was registered as a lobbyist for clients such as B.C. Maritime Employers Association, Coal Alliance and Westshore Terminals. Her public relations clients have also included Blackcomb Helicopters and developer Wall Financial.

Neither Henry nor Lambrechts responded for comment. Likewise, the Ministry of Health communications office did not reply to questions about the amount billed since June, why NLK was chosen for the assignment and why the job was not handled in-house.

Dr. Bonnie Henry (CPRS/YouTube)

In February’s budget, the NDP government allocated $28.3 million to Government Communications and Public Engagement, the arm of the Finance Ministry that plans, coordinates and delivers communications programs, policies, research and services across government.

The Ministry of Health communications office inside GCPE boasts a roster of 16 employees, including three managers, a director, a coordinator and 11 public affairs officers.

The fact that Henry sought assistance is not a surprise, based on what she told the B.C. Medical Journal’s October 2018 edition.

Asked for her biggest regret, Henry answered: “Not being a better communicator to my patients, colleagues, family, and friends.”

In July, the Canadian Public Relations Society gave Henry its 2020 President’s award for outstanding public relations and communications management. Oddly, Henry’s YouTube acceptance speech did not include credit to Lambrechts.

Henry’s Back to School campaign ad (BC Gov)

Since July, however, Henry’s communications strategy has come under fire from various corners.

The Nuu-chah-nulth, Heiltsuk and Tsilhqot’in first nations, the B.C. Teachers Federation, B.C. Nurses Union and parents at Caulfield Elementary school in West Vancouver have gone public, demanding better, quicker and more transparent public health communication.

An Oct. 5 report for the Canadian Federation of Nurses singled out B.C.’s NDP government for hiding too much information and putting the health of frontline nurses at risk. 

“The most problematic jurisdiction may be British Columbia. Its publicly disclosed data has been incomplete, inconsistent and on occasion, seemingly contradictory,” wrote Mario Possamai in A Time of Fear: How Canada Failed Our Health Care Workers and Mismanaged Covid‐19.

On Oct. 19, Henry declared B.C. is in the second wave of the pandemic. Two days later, the government announced a record single-day new case count of 203. More than a third of all new B.C. cases have been announced since Horgan called the snap election on Sept. 21.

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Bob Mackin Until Premier John Horgan called a

Bob Mackin

It is not going away.

The question about the propriety of Premier John Horgan’s snap election in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic state of emergency was predicted by Horgan’s inner circle to have a one-week shelf life.

Green leader Sonia Furstenau with West Vancouver-Sea-to-Sky candidate Jeremy Valeriote (Mackin)

It subsided in the middle of the campaign, but it is back again just days before Oct. 24 election day, driven by DemocracyWatch, which is going to B.C. Supreme Court to ask a judge to declare the election illegal.

The watchdog’s intent is not to cancel the election, but to prevent another Premier of B.C., or any other province, from ignoring fixed election date laws in order to call an unjustified snap election. Horgan did not seek a confidence vote before going to Lt. Gov. Janet Austin on Sept. 21 and he broke the Confidence and Supply Agreement with the Greens.

DemocracyWatch co-founder Duff Conacher says Horgan’s action is more like an old dictator than a new democrat. Horgan has stuck with the same talking points, but never denied that he broke the NDP-amended law that set Oct. 16, 2021 as the date of the next election.

When Horgan was in North Vancouver, I asked if taxpayers, instead of the NDP, would be dinged with the cost to defend against the DemocracyWatch lawsuit.

“I don’t believe that this case is warranted,” Horgan said. “And I don’t believe that the cost will be significant. I’ll certainly take a look at that when it concludes, but it would be premature to talk about a case that’s not before the courts.”

BC Greens leader Sonia Furstenau, at ta campaign stop in the Troller Ale House in Horseshoe Bay, said it is important that we limit the capacity for political parties to act this way.

“As DemocracyWatch is pointing out, what their hope is is that no government will do this again in the future,” Furstenau said. “They recognize that this election is underway, the choices were made by the NDP to contravene our agreement, the Confidence and Supply Agreement, and also to break the fixed election date legislation that they themselves amended and brought forward and passed in 2017.”

Would the Greens seek intervenor status?

“I think right now we’re very much focused on this election campaign, that would be a decision we would make after the election,” Furstenau said, standing beside West Vancouver-Sea-to-Sky candidate Jeremy Valeriote.

Meanwhile, BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson was in Surrey at a farm and alleged the NDP designed the election during the pandemic to decrease turnout.

“They’re taking a very passive approach. In an election, everybody’s task is to encourage voting,” Wilkinson said.

NDP HQ at 34 W. 7th (Colliers)

The BC Liberals have complained to Elections BC, asking for an investigation into the NDP-controlled shell company that owns the party’s headquarters.

West 7th Avenue Property Society bought strata units in Chard Developments’ 34 W. 7th last year for $5.2 million. Directors include officials from BC Federation of Labour (Sussane Skidmore), BC Building Trades (Brynn Bourke), CUPE BC (Paul Faoro), Health Sciences Association (Jaime Matten) and the Broadbent Institute (Maria Dobrinkskaya).

The BC Liberals suggest the investigation could begin by looking at whether the mortgage from Community Savings Credit Union is a permissible loan or guarantee under the Election Act.

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Bob Mackin It is not going away. The question

Bob Mackin

The BC Liberal candidate hoping to succeed the retiring Ralph Sultan in the Oct. 24 election was at the centre of a conflict of interest scandal when she headed a Crown corporation during Christy Clark’s premiership.

Karin Kirkpatrick and Murray Campbell (BC Liberals)

From 2011 to 2014, West Vancouver-Capilano candidate Karin Kirkpatrick was the CEO and registrar of the Private Career Training Institutions Agency of B.C. The now-defunct agency regulated private colleges on behalf of the Ministry of Advanced Education.

In 2012, PCTIA hired the downtown law firm where Kirkpatrick’s husband was partner. Lawson Lundell was chosen without competition to represent PCTIA against companies that ran afoul of their licences to offer career training courses. Only after an adjudicator’s order did Kirkpatrick reveal how much Lawson Lundell billed PCTIA. 

Kirkpatrick did not respond to interview requests. When theBreaker.news contacted her campaign manager, Jack Welsh initially said by email “unfortunately we won’t be able to accommodate the interview in the schedule.”

When theBreaker.news emphasized the nature of the query was about Kirkpatrick’s background with PCTIA, Welsh changed his tune: “It’s not something we’re interested in participating in.”

At the time of the controversy, David Eby was the NDP’s critic for advanced education.

“This is the way that people hire lawyers in their private lives, somebody is related to a lawyer, knows somebody who works at a law firm,” Eby told The Tyee in February 2014. “That’s not an acceptable process for a public agency, because it does raise questions of conflict of interest and who benefits from that contract.”

Kirkpatrick claimed PCTIA was not required to seek competitive bids, but would only seek quotes or issue a formal tender call for contracts $30,000 and up. PCTIA paid Lawson Lundell $39,631.57 during the fiscal year that ended March 31, 2013. Kirkpatrick kept that sum secret until she was ordered to disclose it after an inquiry by an Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner adjudicator.

Kirkpatrick claimed that she verbally disclosed her relationship to Lawson Lundell partner Murray Campbell at a board meeting, but “it was not formally documented,” she said by email. The only relevant email that PCTIA did release under the freedom of information law was a February 2012 message from Kirkpatrick to board chair Kelly Rainsforth.

BC Liberal candidate Kirkpatrick (BC Liberals)

″[PCTIA in-house lawyer] Luce (Lafontaine) has found another lawyer with regulatory and board experience,” Kirkpatrick wrote in the email. “I let her make this selection using her own experience and judgment. She has gone with a fellow named Michael Lee (unless I hear otherwise) whom she has worked with previously and from Lawson Lundell,” she wrote.

“Now — just in case there is a perception of conflict — I wanted you to be aware that my soon-to-be husband is a partner at Lawson Lundell. Let me know if you have any concerns.”

(Lee, coincidentally, is the 2017-elected, BC Liberal incumbent in Vancouver-Langara. Lafontaine was a Kirkpatrick hire in 2011.)

The Advanced Education ministry conducted an internal review of PCTIA legal procurement practices in February 2013. Acting assistant deputy minister Joe Thompson’s report was heavily censored and only two of three recommendations were visible in the version released: formalize-in-writing the procurement and purchasing policies “to reflect an open, fair and transparent process” and to “ensure clear guidelines are available to the board and staff.”

PCTIA logo

“The Crown Agency Resource Office, the organization responsible for providing ongoing expertise, advice, information and support to ministries and Crown corporations to promote good governance, accountability and continuous improvement, has advised that Crown corporations, such as PCTIA, are encouraged but not required to follow government’s procurement policies and procedures on (request for proposals) or (requests for quotes). PCTIA uses RFPs and RFQs to solicit competitive bids on larger projects,” Thompson wrote.

Said Eby: “I’m concerned that a government agency like this could fail to see the importance of this issue and the need to be fully transparent about what they’ve done to fix what appears to be a serious problem with procurement.”

PCTIA amended its policy to require annual board approval for the list of legal vendors.

Kirkpatrick’s years at PCTIA were also the subject of an investigation by Ombudsperson Kim Carter. In 2015, after Kirkpatrick had resigned and PCTIA dissolved, Carter called for a students’ bill of rights because PCTIA failed to protect students and failed to properly enforce regulations and laws. PCTIA’s successor is the Private Training Institutions Branch.

Carter also found systemic conflict of interest, because the cabinet-appointed board members came from private training institutions that PCTIA was supposed to regulate.

Kirkpatrick was a volunteer and $500 donor to Clark’s winning 2011 leadership campaign. She was rewarded with a patronage appointment to the Judicial Council of the Provincial Court.

Jane Thornthwaite amused Karin Kirkpatrick during Sultan roast (BC Liberals/Zoom)

Last July, she was appointed to run for the BC Liberals in West Vancouver-Capilano without a competitive process. The last time the seat was up for grabs was March 2001, when almost 1,700 members signed-up to decide the replacement for Jeremy Dalton. Economist Sultan beat six others in a hotly contested, six-round vote in March 2001. Sultan, 87, was elected four more times.

Kirkpatrick was CEO of the Family Services of Greater Vancouver for the past three years. Prior to PCTIA, she was CEO of the Real Estate Foundation of B.C. and assistant dean at the Sauder School of Business. During the 2015 federal election, she was North Vancouver winner Jonathan Wilkinson’s financial agent.

Kirkpatrick’s introduction to many local voters was in the scandalous Zoom roast of Sultan, which was leaked Oct. 10. While North Vancouver-Seymour incumbent Jane Thornthwaite insulted the NDP’s Bowinn Ma in the Sept. 17 fundraiser, Kirkpatrick was seen violently laughing in the top row centre square.

Kirkpatrick claimed in a series of apologetic Tweets on Oct. 13 that she was surprised and caught off-guard, despite appearing to be very amused by Thornthwaite’s zingers that critics labelled sexist.

“Frankly, in the moment, I didn’t know what to say or do,” Kirkpatrick Tweeted, nearly a month after the leaked Zoom fundraiser took place.

“To anybody that feels I let them down by staying silent during the event, I sincerely apologize and will do better.”

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Bob Mackin The BC Liberal candidate hoping to