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Bob Mackin

A friendly interview on a podcast hosted by a BC Liberal donor has reignited questions about opposition leader Andrew Wilkinson’s credibility.

Wilkinson’s appearance on the July 31 edition of This Is Vancolour included claims that NDP Premier John Horgan went all the way to Washington, D.C. to pick up a donation cheque from a union and that Speaker Darryl Plecas went to London just to buy a hat.

“One of the last things that John Horgan did before the hammer came down on foreign fundraising was to fly down to Washington, D.C., supposedly to talk to the Americans about softwood lumber,” Wilkinson said on the podcast. “The real purpose was to pick up a cheque for $375,000 US from the head of the United Steelworkers of America.”

Andrew Wilkinson (left) and Mo Amir (Twitter) contacted the BC Liberal caucus office and Wilkinson’s riding office and emailed party president Paul Barbeau to ask for proof of Wilkinson’s allegation about Horgan. None replied.

The Office of the Premier issued an emphatic denial.

That allegation is a complete fabrication,” said Horgan spokesman George Smith. “Premier Horgan went to Washington to stand up for forestry jobs in the softwood lumber dispute, something the BC Liberals never did. He did not ‘pick up’ a cheque.”

Horgan’s official visit to the U.S. capital the week after his swearing-in July 25-27, 2017 did include a meeting with USW president Leo Gerard. But the itinerary also included meetings with Canadian Ambassador David MacNaughton, two congress members from the Pacific Northwest, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.

USW headquarters made one of the biggest donations in B.C. political history of $500,000, but that was on April 7, 2017 when the equivalent sum in U.S. dollars was almost $373,000. USW also donated $10,000 after the campaign on July 19, the day after Horgan’s swearing-in.

Host Mo Amir asked Wilkinson about Plecas, who blew the whistle on corruption and waste in the offices of Clerk Craig James and Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz. Neither Amir nor Wilkinson mentioned the RCMP investigation of James and Lenz or the two special prosecutors assigned to the case.

“[Plecas] took a trip to London to buy a hat, all business class, tens of thousands of dollars,” Wilkinson said.

Amir: “Is that accurate, just to buy a hat?”

Wilkinson: “Yes, that’s entirely accurate.”

In December 2017, Plecas traveled with James and Lenz to London on an itinerary that was arranged by James. While Plecas did buy a ceremonial hat for his duties as Speaker, there were also meetings with officials of the United Kingdom’s MI5 security service and a visit to the Scottish Parliament.

In fact, that was one of the first major trips that led to the Nov. 20, 2018 suspension of James and Lenz, the ongoing police investigation and James’s retirement in disgrace in mid-May.

At the exclusive Ede and Ravenscroft tailor shop, James bought a suit worth almost $1,200 that he billed to the Legislature. In her May report, retired Supreme Court chief justice Beverley McLachlin concluded the suit was for James’s personal use, bought contrary to Legislative Assembly rules and therefore a misconduct. James negotiated his retirement the night before he was destined to be fired in the Legislature. The three house leaders, including BC Liberal Mary Polak, agreed to let James retire without repaying a single penny for his misconducts.

(Dogwood Initiative)

On the same trip in 2017, according to Plecas’s January report to the Legislative Assembly Management Committee, James suggested Plecas lie to customs officers.

“When we were preparing to fly home, I commented that I had bought quite a bit of scotch and that it was likely to cost me a fair sum in duties,” Plecas wrote. “Mr. James replied along the lines of, ‘do as I do – don’t declare anything’. I didn’t take that advice, and I was struck by the brazenness of that comment.”

Neither James nor Lenz addressed the allegation of customs duty avoidance in their February replies to the Plecas report.

Wilkinson also targeted Plecas’s chief of staff, Alan Mullen, saying he was “terminated from his job as a casino security person for being drunk on his job.”

Mullen had been a manager at two Great Canadian Gaming Corp. properties for three years. He later joined Corrections Canada. Mullen sued the casino company for wrongful dismissal in 2007. Reached by on July 31, Mullen said he “categorically denies at any point being intoxicated on the job or that being a reason for departing Great Canadian.”

Amid all of Wilkinson’s misstatements about others in the interview, he took time to criticize an environmental lobby group’s 2017 campaign finance reform ads that targeted him and then-premier Christy Clark near his Dunbar office and the donor-owned house in which Clark lives. The BC Liberals refused to regulate the size and source of donations before the 2017 election which prompted widespread accusations of conflict of interest in the awarding of government contracts and sale of public lands. More than two years ago, the RCMP opened an investigation of political donations by lobbyists. 

“There was a full-size billboard put up by the Dogwood Initiative opposite my campaign office in the 2017 election accusing me of bribery and corruption,” Wilkinson said. “Those are outright lies, they are falsehoods. I could sue them for defamation and win, but it’s not worth the bother.”

Damage control has occupied much of Wilkinson’s time in 2019.

Mo Amir (left) at a November 2015 BC Liberal fundraiser (SPF Precut)

In late February, Wilkinson was slammed for demeaning tenants, when he called renting “kind of a wacky time of life,” and “a fact of life that’s a rite of passage.”

In an effort to criticize ICBC rate hikes and lobby for private auto insurance, Wilkinson tried to convince reporters in March that the NDP was to blame for an unnamed Volkswagen driver’s insurance premiums zooming from $3,745 to $8,040 a year.

Wilkinson told The Province: “I don’t know the details.” It turned out the VW driver had been blamed for rear-ending another car.

Wilkinson also had to clean up the mess after bozo eruptions by one of the party’s most senior MLAs. In May, ex-Deputy Premier Rich Coleman compared NDP agricultural land commission reforms to the Holocaust and attended an anti-abortion rally outside the Legislature the next.

Wilkinson’s appearance on the podcast was an apparent move to help the party reach a younger demographic after conceding earlier this year that its caucus and membership had grown old.

The podcast’s host, lumber executive and yoga instructor Mo Amir, began the episode by admitting he is a former card-carrying member of the BC Liberals who sat on a riding association, attended conventions and training sessions, volunteered in communications and “donated thousands of dollars to the party.” But he “quietly stopped all of that in 2013 after Quick Wins,” otherwise known as the ethnic outreach scandal.

The Elections BC database shows $11,370 in contributions between 2011 and 2017 to the BC Liberals from Muhammad Amir (the name the podcast host shares with his father), both individually and from the SPF Precut Lumber company. SPF was a VIP sponsor of BC Liberal MLA Teresa Wat’s November 2015 fundraiser at the River Rock casino’s show theatre, headlined by Premier Christy Clark. 

Mo Amir clarified to that he did not volunteer or renew his membership in the party after 2013, but had involvement in some of his company’s later corporate donations to the party. 

CLICK BELOW AND LISTEN to clips of BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson from the This Is Vancolour podcast.

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Bob Mackin A friendly interview on a podcast

Bob Mackin

The overtime bill for the British Columbia Legislature’s in-house security ballooned by 244% since 2014.

Overtime pay for the 33-member Legislative Assembly Protective Services (LAPS) was almost $327,000 in 2017-2018, but grew to more than $557,000 in the year-ended March 31, 2019, according to the LAPS Expense Analysis report.

LAPS expense analysis report

The report, obtained by, said overtime cost taxpayers $162,000 in 2013-2014.

The cost increases happened under Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz and his recently retired substitute, Randy Ennis. Lenz oversaw LAPS until last Nov. 20 when he was immediately suspended with pay along with Clerk Craig James. The RCMP is investigating both Lenz and James for alleged corruption, but neither has been charged.

Lenz remains on paid leave, but James retired in disgrace in May after he was found in misconduct. Ennis retired at the end of the spring Legislative session in May. Doug LePard, the former Vancouver Police deputy chief and Metro Vancouver Transit Police chief, is conducting an investigation under the Police Act.

The last fiscal year was the first time that LAPS officers’ salary and benefits broke the $4 million mark and the total cost of LAPS hit $5 million. The June report said total salaries and benefits for the new fiscal year already hit $1.44 million, including $180,635 overtime pay. Eighteen constables at the Legislature were listed in the report of salary payments over $75,000.

Craig James (left) and Gary Lenz (Commonwealth Parliamentary Association)

By comparison, the Oak Bay Police Department spent $4.88 million last year, including $167,482 on overtime. Oak Bay has 23 officers covering 10.5 square kilometres and serving 18,000 population. The Legislative Precinct is just 5.05 hectares with no full-time residents.

The Legislature website describes the duties of LAPS as ensuring safety and security for MLAs, staff and the public in the precinct. “Constituency office security, business continuity planning, parking, card-lock access, and emergency first aid services also fall under the purview of LAPS.”

The Victoria and Esquimalt Police Board budgeted $53.9 million to run its 243-constable force in 2018 for 103,000 residents. The overtime bill was $1.96 million.

Meanwhile, the all-party Legislative Assembly Management Committee met July 30 for almost 48 minutes. The meeting was held almost entirely behind closed doors because of a discussion about an unspecified personnel matter.

Deputy Speaker Raj Chouhan chaired the meeting, because Speaker Darryl Plecas was on vacation. Plecas’s chief of staff, Alan Mullen, is completing a tour of various provincial and state legislatures. Mullen is compiling a report aimed at improving B.C. Legislature security policies and procedures.

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Bob Mackin The overtime bill for the British

Bob Mackin (Updated July 30)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would not comment July 29 on the costs of his recent series of trips to West Coast for cash for access party fundraisers and campaign-style spending re-announcements.

Justin Trudeau on July 29 at Kitsilano Coast Guard base (Mackin)

Trudeau has traveled five times to British Columbia since late May and is scheduled to make a sixth trip during the B.C. Day long weekend.

He appeared midday on the last Monday of July at the Kitsilano Coast Guard base at Vancouver’s Vanier Park, which his government reopened in 2016 after its closure cost the Conservatives at the polls in 2015. He stopped at a Davie Street gay bar in late afternoon to sip a beer with Pride festival organizers before ending the day at an evening campaign fundraiser on the University of British Columbia campus. Admission for the party fundraiser, in the Robert H. Lee Alumni building, was $750 to $1,500 per-person.

Asked by why the Liberal Party of Canada is not paying for his politically-charged, jet fuel-consuming travel, Trudeau pivoted to criticism of his Conservative predecessor, Stephen Harper, and today’s opposition leader, Andrew Scheer.

“I will make no apologies for the fact that we have a big country that is important to get out there and spend time and listening to people and working with them,” said Trudeau, who is a Montreal-area MP. “This is an important part of the job of prime minister. I’m very happy to be here as prime minister in B.C. which is a second home to me.”

Trudeau flies domestically with an entourage and RCMP security detail on a CC-144 Challenger military jet that costs taxpayers more than $14,000 per-flying hour to operate.

A Victoria-based independent watchdog said the frequency of trips and the types of events are signs that the Liberals are worried about losing seats to the Conservatives in the Oct. 21 election. Dermod Travis of IntegrityBC said Trudeau is frantically traveling to B.C. like a politician normally does at the end of a campaign. The official election period is not expected to begin until September.

“That particular tactic is something you generally use at the end of the campaign, because it’s a means to try to get extra media coverage,” Travis said. “He was here, he was there, he was at this place, he was in that province, all within 24 hours kind of thing.”

An analysis by found that Trudeau has logged more than 38,000 kilometres in the air on trips from Ottawa to the West Coast and back in the last two months. Some have been direct round-trips with short turnaround time. Others have featured multiple stops to or from B.C. The five trips represent at least 20 tonnes in carbon emissions for Trudeau, who has imposed a carbon tax on motorists in Ontario, Manitoba, New Brunswick and Saskatchewan.

Trudeau’s July 30 return to Ottawa comes after the latest trip to B.C. included 10 days of what his website called “personal” time. His annual visit to Tofino was sandwiched between two cash for access party fundraisers and two campaign-style spending photo ops.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (right) with area Liberal MPs on July 29 (Mackin)

On May 21, Trudeau flew from Sept-Iles, Que. to Kamloops, B.C. for ex-BC Liberal minister Terry Lake’s nomination meeting. He announced another round of Coast Guard shipbuilding by Seaspan in Vancouver the next morning and stayed in the city to headline lunch and dinner fundraisers attended by movers and shakers of the city’s real estate industry.

The Opus Hotel lunch in Yaletown was $250 to $1,500 a plate, while the dinner at Neptune Palace Chinese Restaurant was $750 to $1,500 a plate. Trudeau and co. made their way back to Ottawa via Meadow Lake, Sask., Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. and Antigonish, N.S.

On June 1, Trudeau arrived from Montreal for glad-handing, baby-kissing and selfie-taking at the Hats Off Day festival in Burnaby, interrupted by a meeting with Burnaby Mayor Mike Hurley, who aired his safety concerns about the Kinder Morgan tank farm on Burnaby Mountain. Trudeau returned to Ottawa for just one day and came back to Vancouver on June 3-4 to speak at the Women Deliver Conference.

“He shouldn’t be doing this Ottawa-to-B.C. routine,” Travis said. “It strikes everybody as being far too political, it’s a contributor to emissions at this time, and it doesn’t make sense to his body clock.”

Trudeau came west again, stopping in Edmonton July 12 and Calgary July 13 before he spent the rest of July 13 in Surrey for a photo op to promote the 2015-launched Canada Child Benefit and speak at a rally in Surrey-Newton Liberal MP Sukh Dhaliwal’s campaign office. He was back in Ottawa on July 14.

Only four days later, on July 18, Trudeau flew from Montreal to Victoria where he joined B.C. Premier John Horgan to re-announce funding for new BC Transit buses before a $100 to $300-per person cash for access fundraiser at the Delta Ocean Pointe Resort.

During his “personal” time on the West Coast, Trudeau took time out for phone calls with French president Emmanuel Macron and new United Kingdom prime minister Boris Johnson.

Trudeau attempted to justify his travel spending by saying he has a responsibility to be prime minister “for all Canadians.”

“It is, in fact, one of the best parts of my job to get out and meet Canadians right across the country, whether it’s town halls where we have an opportunity to take questions from the general public and actually respond to those questions in a way that no other party leader does,” Trudeau said. “Whether it’s coming out for important announcements that demonstrate that the cuts Conservatives consistently put forward end up harming our environment and harming Canadians. These are the kinds of things that make a big difference in people’s lives and that’s why I’m so glad to be back here in B.C.”

Trudeau is scheduled to headline a $500 per-person ($70 for its Laurier Club members) Liberal Party cash for access fundraiser at 5 p.m. Aug. 4 in the Taj Park Convention Centre in Surrey. He is expected to march earlier that day in the annual Vancouver Pride Parade, which received $1 million from taxpayers via the new Trudeau-created “Canadian Experiences Fund.” 

Ultimately, Travis said, Trudeau’s travel spending is another reason why there needs to be a debate about how government resources and caucus budgets can be used for partisan activities leading up to elections and between elections.

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Bob Mackin (Updated July 30) Prime Minister Justin

Toronto Raptors’ assistant coach Alex McKechnie calls Coquitlam, B.C. his off-season home and this summer he brought a special treat to share with everyone.

The Larry O’Brien Trophy.

On July 23, McKechnie brought the NBA championship trophy to the British Columbia Sports Hall of Fame at B.C. Place Stadium. An apt location, because the province’s sports shrine contains artifacts from when the Vancouver Whitecaps joined the North American Soccer League in 1974 and McKechnie was on the team’s medical staff.

Since then, the Scottish-Canadian sports science guru, known for “load management,” has worked with some of North America’s top athletes. But winning the NBA championship for a Canadian team is the crowning achievement.

What set the Raptors apart from other championship on which he has worked?

“A real belief, the coaching staff was amazing, there was a belief from the front office, a belief on everything. I think during my Laker years, we had superstars with Shaq and Kobe… there was an expectation of winning and I think in this case it wasn’t really expected ‘Are they for real?’ those are the questions that media would ask. There was a real belief in the group and that just grew and grew and grew. Complete unselfishness within our locker room, a belief from the coaching staff, an ability to empower the players.”

On this edition of Podcast, hear McKechnie talk to reporters about how the Raptors became champions and about his reaction to NBA MVP Kawhi Leonard signing a free agency deal with the Los Angeles Clippers.

McKechnie said he has at least another year with the Raptors and it unofficially begins in August when he will bring eight players to Burnaby for a testing and development camp.

Plus, Pacific Northwest and Pacific Rim headlines and commentaries.

Click below to listen or go to Apple Podcasts and subscribe

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Toronto Raptors’ assistant coach Alex McKechnie

Bob Mackin (Updated July 26) 

The reorganization of SNC-Lavalin has thrown a curveball at two Metro Vancouver infrastructure projects.

On July 22, the troubled Montreal construction and engineering giant announced it would exit so-called lump-sum turnkey contracting and shift its oil, gas and mining and infrastructure construction divisions into separate businesses.

Premier John Horgan at SNC-Lavalin’s Canada Line maintenance facility in Richmond. (BC Gov)

Since then, the company has withdrawn bids for the $2.83 billion Broadway Subway and the $1.4 billion Pattullo Bridge replacement project. The former bid was on its own, the latter with Acciona under the “Fraser River Partners” umbrella.

SNC-Lavalin spokesman Nicolas Ryan confirmed the decision in an email to on July 25. SNC-Lavalin most recently built and operates the 2009-opened Canada Line and the 2016-opened Evergreen Line extension to the Millennium Line. It had been shortlisted for a bridge planned to replace the Massey Tunnel, but the NDP government mothballed the project.

“SNC-Lavalin will fulfil the contractual obligations of its current lump-sum turnkey projects,” Ryan wrote.

The other public private partnerships that SNC-Lavalin withdrew from were the $2.6 billion Edmonton Valley Line West LRT and $1 billion Louis-Hippolyte-Fontaine Tunnel Rehabilitation. The four projects total represented a total $7.43 billion opportunity for the company.

Inframation News showed KPMG was the grantor financial advisor on the Pattullo bid and Aird and Berlis the grantor legal advisor on the Broadway bid.

Acciona and Ghella are partnered in a bid for the Broadway Subway against the Broadway Connect team led by Dragados and Aecon. Pattullo bidders remain Kiewit’s Fraser Community Connectors and the team of Flatiron, Dragados and Carlson.

In hindsight, the bid for the Broadway Subway appeared unstable.

Even with Ryan confirming SNC-Lavalin was out of running for the Pattullo Bridge, the B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure insisted on July 25 that the company was still a candidate.

Aritst’s rendering of the new Pattullo Bridge (TransLink)

“One of the proponent teams is Fraser River Partners which is a joint venture of SNC-Lavalin and Acciona Infrastructure Canada Inc.,” read the statement sent from the ministry’s Jamie Weiss. “There is no change to the pre-qualified bidding teams to report on this project at this time. However, the request for proposals includes a process that allows for potential changes in Proponent team members. Procurement for these important infrastructure projects is confidential and still ongoing.

“We can’t comment on SNC Lavalin’s response to you,” Weiss said, referring back to the prepared statement.

An industry source, who declined to be identified, said SNC-Lavalin has lost staff beyond cyclical variations. Some of the other bidders have picked up ex-SNC-Lavalin workers. The company also no longer wants to take risks on design/build/finance/operate contracts. The source also said that both Trevena and TransLink senior officials have been briefed that only one bidder remains for the Pattullo Bridge. 

Did SNC-Lavalin foreshadow the withdrawal when the Broadway Subway shortlist was revealed in late June? The SNC-Lavalin team was called West 9th Partners, but it had no partners. Only four SNC-Lavalin entities: SNC-Lavalin Capital Inc., SNC-Lavalin Constructors Pacific Inc., SNC-Lavalin Inc. and SNC-Lavalin Group Inc.

SNC-Lavalin is one of the major contractors on the $10.7 billion Site C dam in northern B.C., working with Klohn Crippen Berger to design major civil components of the dam and generating station.

“We continue to maintain a strong business relationship with SNC-Lavalin,” said BC Hydro spokeswoman Tanya Fish. “Should their situation change, we do have contingencies in place to ensure project work and timelines are not impacted. We would seek to retain the expertise and experience of SNC-Lavalin engineers currently working on the project.”

BC Hydro refuses to release the names of the SNC-Lavalin executives and workers on the project, but a list obtained by shows that they are attached to both the Vancouver and Montreal offices.

The cancellation of its bids doesn’t necessarily mean that SNC-Lavalin won’t have a role as a subcontractor or supplier to either project. But it is a major surprise after British Columbia became one of its most important markets.

In 2011, its then-chair, Gwyn Morgan, was a major backer of Christy Clark’s rise to power. Morgan chaired SNC-Lavalin from 2007 to 2013 and donated $285,600 under his own name to the BC Liberals from 2009 to 2018. SNC-Lavalin received billions of dollars of contracts after Clark won the BC Liberal leadership and became premier, such as the Evergreen Line, engineering design on the Site C dam and the contract to build BC Hydro’s John Hart Generating Station in Campbell River.

But SNC-Lavalin’s future is in doubt because it is facing a trial in Quebec on bribery and corruption charges related to work with the Gadhafi regime in Libya. If convicted, it would be blacklisted from federally funded work.

SNC-Lavalin lobbyist Sam Boutziouvis (Twitter)

SNC-Lavalin had lobbied hard for a new remediation law so it could avoid the courts. In 2018, Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould resisted pressure from the Prime Minister’s Office to overrule independent prosecutors who opted to seek a criminal trial. Wilson-Raybould was shuffled out of the Attorney General’s role in January and eventually ejected from Liberal caucus. She will run in Vancouver-Granville for re-election as an independent in October.

SNC-Lavalin also lobbied senior B.C. government officials at the same time as bureacrats were deciding the shortlist for the Pattullo and Broadway, despite tendering rules against lobbying. exclusively reported that SNC-Lavalin’s vice-president of government relations, Sam Boutziouvis, hired Whistler’s Richard Prokopanko last fall to arrange meetings with several deputy ministers and cabinet members. SNC-Lavalin officials met with several bureaucrats, but the only minister who was warm to the idea of meeting was transportation minister Claire Trevena. Boutziouvis and Trevena were scheduled to meet on budget day in February, but the meeting was postponed indefinitely after a death in Boutziouvis’s family.

SNC-Lavalin’s departure could also have ripple effects for the Surrey SkyTrain extension to Langley that is planned instead of a light rail transit system. Latest estimate for the project is $3.12 billion, nearly twice the $1.6 billion that had been earmarked for the LRT system that Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum cancelled after winning a comeback election.

Acciona’s team includes consultant James Burke, the former head of SNC-Lavalin’s B.C. operations and a former member of the SNC-Lavalin president’s office under the disgraced Pierre Duhaime.

Since leaving SNC-Lavalin in 2015, Burke was appointed to the project board for the Capital Regional District’s sewage plant and sat on a PartnershipsBC due diligence panel to review TransLink’s Broadway Subway business case. 

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Bob Mackin (Updated July 26)  The reorganization of

Bob Mackin

Vancouver city hall has seen better days.

If you think the exterior of the 12-storey heritage tower at 12th and Cambie is looking dirty and dingy, and in dire need of a scrub and polish, you are not alone.

Top: the city hall facade, lower rusted mat and copper door, left, green scum under ground floor window. has learned that the edifice has not had a full top-to-bottom wash in almost a decade. And it is only going to get worse after funds were redirected.

“The last time there was a full cleaning of the exterior of city hall was 2010 just before the Olympics,” city hall spokeswoman Gail Pickard said by email. “There was another cleaning in 2012 and at that time a sealer was applied.”

Before the 2010 Winter Olympics, the Vision Vancouver majority city council under Mayor Gregor Robertson spent $2 million on cleaning and renovations at city hall.

The planned 2019 cleaning, during the first year of Kennedy Stewart’s mayoralty, was delayed to 2020, because of other priority work this year: unanticipated electrical work to mitigate risks and safety issues, Pickard said. On May 21, a power outage forced evacuation and temporary closure at city hall. 

The new cleaning date is to be confirmed. It could cost between $100,000 and $200,000. Whenever it happens, Pickard said, it would involve a dry ice process that minimizes wear and tear on the building.

“This process requires significant set up and is costly, therefore we only do it when needed,” she said.

Photographs shot by a reader of on July 23 show:

  • Frame of rust around a doormat and copper door;
  • Grim green stains under a ground floor window next to the memorial plaque for fallen workers;
  • Grime that accentuates the embedded Vancouver City Hall sign and wave icons on the facade;
  • Various green stains and blackened streaks in corners.

Architect Fred Townley designed the art deco/moderne building, which went up in less than a year for $1 million (or $18.7 million in 2019 dollars) and opened Dec. 4, 1936. It gained heritage status on its 40th anniversary in 1976.

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Bob Mackin Vancouver city hall has seen

Bob Mackin

What do the world’s most controversial tech giant, Canada’s most-corrupt company and a former football star charged with paying a premium to send his sons to California universities have in common?

They are all University of British Columbia donors.

China tech giant Huawei donated more than $50,000 to UBC since April 2018, but $6.5 million worth of research projects have yet to begin.

Since 2017, the company has put $7.88 million into UBC, according to figures provided to by the university’s communications and freedom of information offices.

UBC President Santa Ono and Huawei Canada Research President Christian Chua (Huawei)

Yet to start are a $3 million joint lab research program under electrical and computer engineering Prof. Andre Ivanov, $2 million software engineering research program agreement under Asst. Prof. Julia Rubin and $1.5 million data science institute research program under Prof. Raymond Ng.

UBC says the funds from Huawei are in the university’s account, but each project needs approval on a case-by-case basis, as per contracts.

Huawei granted $219,750 in 2019 for 5G-related projects, after its chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou was arrested last December at the request of the United States, which wants her extradited to face fraud charges in New York. That is small potatoes compared to the $7.38 million sent to UBC last year.

Four 2018 projects, worth $420,450, were under Assoc. Prof. Ivan Beschastnikh, including one for decentralized machine learning on the blockchain. Rubin’s other 2018 project, configuration management for microservice-based applications, received a $65,520 grant from Huawei Sweden. All other UBC projects are listed as Huawei Tech Canada or Huawei Tech.

SNC-Lavalin on the UBC Leading Lights Pillars (Mackin)

UBC says it retains joint ownership of intellectual property rights flowing from research, which will engage 20 undergraduate, graduate and post-doctoral students.

Huawei Canada vice-president Alykhan Velshi did not respond for comment.

Before she was granted bail last December, Meng’s lawyer David Martin mused in court that she wanted to apply to study for a doctorate at the UBC Sauder School of Business. 

In January, Oxford University indefinitely banned grants and donations from Huawei.

The company has also made four donations — three last year and one this year — totalling $50,500 to the Faculty of Science, including sponsorship of the computer science department’s 50th anniversary, scholarships, research funding and a programming team support fund.

Huawei promoted a three-year, $2.5 million to $3 million, three-year research commitment in an Oct. 13, 2017 news release that included a photograph of UBC president Santa Ono shaking hands with Christian Chua. It included support of “ongoing research initiatives in 5G-related project areas.”

Meanwhile, the university released a spreadsheet via freedom of information showing $628,750 in donations from scandal-ridden SNC-Lavalin since 1985.

Thunderbird Stadium’s field is named for David Sidoo (Mackin)

The biggest of the 45 donations was $100,000 in January 2012 for the SNC-Lavalin Civil Assistant Professor Fund. From 2011 to 2018, the Montreal company gave $200,000 to the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sport Centre.

Others receiving money included the steel bridge design team fund, pipeline integrity institute and civil student activities fund. There is also a $30,000 donation in April 2018 to a health and safety award in memory of Tyler Rudderham, a Maple Ridge Ironworker who died on a job site in August 2017. UBC refuses to release correspondence with SNC-Lavalin about 10 donations, unless $1,863.60 is paid up front. 

UBC also refuses to show how much David Sidoo and his family donated over the years and it is demanding $1,449.90 payment to release correspondence about 15 donations.

Sidoo has pleaded not guilty to fraud and money laundering charges in the United States, where he is accused of paying an imposter $200,000 to write university entrance exams for his sons, who graduated from University of Southern California and University of California Berkeley. wanted to know about all donations from David Sidoo, his wife Manjy and sons Dylan and Jordan, including the dollar amounts and programs or departments that received the donations.

David Sidoo was a star on the UBC Thunderbirds 1982 Vanier Cup winning team and was later an appointee to the board of governors by the BC Liberals, to whom he donated $166,000 from 2005 to 2017.

A 34-line spreadsheet shows Sidoo made 18 donations under his name and three from Sidoo Family Foundation. The other 13 lines are censored for privacy. The visible donations total $77,500 from the Sidoo Family Foundation and $55,000 from Sidoo himself.

Four donations are under the category “football stadium renovations,” but the dollar amounts are censored. The field at Thunderbird Stadium was renamed for Sidoo. In 2015, UBC announced the Sidoo-backed 13th Man Foundation donated $800,000 to build a classroom and meeting space at the stadium.

The family foundation gave $75,000 between 2007 and 2009 to the Millennium Scholarship Breakfast while Sidoo and his wife gave $30,000 from 2015 to 2017 to the Allard School of Law for the Many and David Sidoo Entrance Award.

The names of David, Manjy, Dylan and Jordan Sidoo appear on the same three-sided Leading Lights Pillar as SNC-Lavalin and Affiliated Companies in the donor recognition sculpture park outside the Robert H. Lee Alumni Centre at Point Grey.

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Bob Mackin What do the world's most controversial

Bob Mackin

The Conservatives are distancing themselves from former public safety and international trade minister Stockwell Day, who took to Twitter on July 23 to praise the father of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou.

Stockwell Day (left) and Ren Zhengfei (Twitter)

Met with Huawei founder/CEO Ren Zhengfei at their HQ in Shenzen,” Day wrote. “A story that should be heard: As a small start-up years ago took on large state owned China companies and survived. Now almost 200,000 employees in about 160 countries, including Canada. Already doing 5G in many.”

Leader Andrew Scheer’s associate director of communications Simon Jeffries told that the party has no comment on Day’s Tweet and that his involvement in any local Conservative campaign is as a “personal volunteer.”

“Mr. Scheer has made his views as leader of the Conservative Party on Huawei clear,” Jeffries said by email.

Meng is living on strict bail conditions in a Vancouver mansion while fighting extradition to the U.S. where she is wanted on fraud charges. Since her December arrest at Vancouver International Airport, China retaliated by jailing Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig and stopped buying Canola and meat. On Twitter, Day claimed that he asked Ren about Spavor and Kovrig. “Top of agenda,” he wrote.

Scheer vowed to ban Huawei from building Canada’s 5G network if the Conservatives form government after October’s election. U.S., Australia and New Zealand have already banned Huawei over national security fears. The Trudeau Liberals delayed a decision until after the election.

“We looked the other way as the allure of China’s market was too powerful to ignore,” Scheer said during a May 7 foreign policy speech in Montreal. “However, so long as China is willing to hold our exports hostage, all while committing human rights violations, we have no choice as Canadians but to consider other trade partners.”

Wai Young and Coalition Vancouver candidates on Sept. 22 at the Canada Wenzhou Friendship Society in Richmond (Coalition Vancouver)

Former Conservative MP Day is on the executive board of the Canada China Business Council and a member of the board of directors of Telus, a Huawei customer and partner in a research and development lab. He was scheduled to appear at an evening event in support of Vancouver South Conservative candidate Wai Young on July 23.

On July 22, Washington Post reported that Huawei secretly worked on North Korea’s 3G network. Radio Praha reported the same day that Huawei client information was discussed at the Chinese embassy in the Czech Republic.

At an Ottawa event to promote Huawei’s work on a 4G network in Northern Canada, vice-president Alykhan Velshi, a former aide to Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, tried to downplay security concerns about the company’s Canadian offices: “This perception that it’s sort of Dr. Evil’s lair and we’re toiling away at the latest world-ending scheme is false.”

One-term MP Young is trying to regain the Vancouver South seat from Liberal defence minister Harjit Sajjan, who won in 2015. She took to the Chinese social media platform WeChat to promote the July 23 event with Day at the Fraserview Hall “to discuss how a change in Ottawa will restore business confidence and rebuild our international trade.”

Young finished fourth in the Vancouver 2018 mayoral election with her Coalition Vancouver party. Supporters included allies of the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front foreign influence campaign, such as Chen Yongtao of the Canadian Alliance of Chinese Associations and the Wenzhou Friendship Society. Chen attended Chinese government meetings earlier this year as a guest delegate. The Wenzhou Friendship Society was accused of vote-buying for offering a $20 transportation subsidy to encourage WeChat members to vote for a slate of endorsed candidates in Vancouver, Richmond and Burnaby. No charges were laid.

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Bob Mackin The Conservatives are distancing themselves from

Bob Mackin

Will Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart vote on two matters involving campaign donors?

The July 23 city council agenda includes rubber-stamping development on one side of the Onni Group-owned Pearson-Dogwood site in Marpole and a proposal to turn a strata building in its first phase into a rental.

Mayor Kennedy Stewart (Mackin)

Stewart’s successful independent campaign received $7,200 in donations from four members of the De Cotiis family, including $1,200 from the founder of Onni Group, Innocenzo De Cotiis (Oct. 5, 2018), and $2,400 from president Rossano De Cotiis (Oct. 5, 2018 and Feb. 21, 2019).

On Jan. 18, Stewart met at city hall with Onni vice-president Chris Evans and chief of staff Duncan Wlodarczak, the former deputy executive director of Vision Vancouver. On Jan. 22, Amacon’s Marcello De Cotiis and business development director Stepan Vdovine met Stewart.

The NDP government banned corporate and union donations in 2017 and capped individual donations to $1,200, but it hasn’t stopped developers from donating in their own name.

Stewart’s press secretary, Alvin Singh, did not respond for comment.

The city hall code of conduct says that council officials, staff, and advisory board members “are to be free from undue influence and not act or appear to act in order to gain financial or other benefits for themselves, family, friends, or business interests.

“A conflict exists when an individual is, or could be, influenced, or appear to be influenced, by a personal interest, financial (pecuniary) or otherwise, when carrying out their public duty. Personal interest can include direct or indirect pecuniary interest, bias, pre-judgment, close mindedness or undue influence.”

Despite the 2017 big money ban, developer donations remain an issue in B.C.

Artist rendering of Pearson Dogwood (IBI Group)

At a mid-June District of North Vancouver council meeting, Coun. Jim Hanson tabled a motion aimed at discouraging politicians from taking donations from developers and to force them to recuse themselves from votes involving applications from developers who donated. Rather than adopting the motion, council voted 5-2 to refer the motion to a workshop. Hanson and Coun. Barry Forbes were opposed.

In September 2017, Democracy Watch’s Duff Conacher told that the $1,200 limit was still higher than what an average B.C. voter could afford.

“Such a high limit for donations from individuals will obscure, not stop, the influence of big money in B.C. politics, as it will be easy for any business to have, for example, 10 executives and their spouses each give the maximum, which will add up to a $100,000 donation,” Conacher said. “The media and the public will have difficulty tracing those donations back to the business, especially if the executives have common names or their spouses have different last names or are not publicly known.”

Conacher suggested B.C. follow Quebec, where the donation limit is $100 a year provincially. Quebec political donors must also disclose their employer as a safeguard to prevent a company or union from using executives and workers to make donations in exchange for reimbursement.

The staff report to Vancouver city council recommends council add more floors to proposals to redevelop the Oakridge Transit Centre and Pearson-Dogwood sites, both former public land. The measure, formally called “Intensification of Large Sites to include Moderate Income Rental Housing,” also contemplates China-owned Modern Green Development Corp. seeking to add 125,000 square feet to its 13.8 acre site. Onni Group wants to convert a phase one building from strata to rental on the 25.4 acre site.

“Combined these two sites offer a unique opportunity to potentially secure approximately 300,000 sq.ft. for moderate income rental housing, based on the considerations outlined in this report, which could yield 350-400 units depending on unit size and composition. The proposed buildings are located in early phases of project development and could be delivered in the near term (2-5 years).”

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Bob Mackin Will Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart

Bob Mackin

A critic of the British Columbia coastal salmon farming industry says the latest efforts by two major players to fight sea lice are all for show.

Biologist Alexandra Morton says Cermaq’s $12 million hydrolicer barge and MOWI’s $30 million delousing ship Aqua Tromoy failed to make a difference in Scandinavia and they won’t make a difference on Canada’s West Coast.

Cermaq’s hydrolicer barge (Cermaq Canada)

“They’re saying it’s a one billion [dollar] with a b problem, and they don’t know how to stop it, they don’t know how to control the lice,” Morton said in an interview. “This is the equipment in Norway that didn’t work, they’re sending it here to make it look like they’re diligent and spending a lot of money.”

Morton quoted a June story in trade publication IntraFish that said sea lice costs the industry close to $1 billion a year. The IntraFish story quoted MOWI Southern Norway production manager Bernhard Ostebovok’s concession: “We must admit that the louse is there and will always be there. As long as we farm in open cages in the sea, we must live with lice.”

IntraFish’s latest detailed sea lice report said B.C. produces two-thirds of Canada’s farmed salmon, mostly Atlantic salmon, and mentioned the spring 2018 major sea lice outbreak in Clayoquot Sound that affected both farmed and wild juvenile salmon.

Alexandra Morton (Rolf Hicker/Facebook)

Cermaq spokeswoman Amy Jonsson said the company is “excited” about the custom built barge for imminent use at farm sites around Tofino. The purpose-built hydrolicer barge uses no medication or pesticide. For a farm of up to a million fish, it takes two to three days to delouse them all.

Jonsson said Cermaq is seeing very low numbers of sea lice at farms in Clayoquot Sound. Fish were treated as smolts with Lufenuron, the active ingredient of flea medication for dogs and cats. Lufenuron is only available through a case-by-case, emergency drug release permit from the Veterinarian Drug Directorate of Health Canada. It protects salmon for six to 10 months and is administered in freshwater hatcheries.

MOWI did not respond.

The industry is facing political pressure, but Morton is not sure how effective it will be after meeting with Fisheries and Oceans Minister Jonathan Wilkinson in early June.

“He wants to do these things, but he has no idea what he’s up against with his senior bureaucracy, particularly in the aquaculture management division,” Morton said. “They work with the aquaculture industry, the aquaculture management division of DFO, their master really is the aquaculture industry.”

Smolt with lice (Salmon Confidential)

Wilkinson appeared July 10 by the site of the 2014 Seymour River rockslide, where a salmon run is being restored. He told reporters that he wanted to “move this conversation about aquaculture beyond this almost futile debate that’s been going on the last number of decades.”

“We will be more fully implementing the precautionary principle, more area-based management, moving farms away from areas of wild salmon migration,” he said. “We’ve required now testing a range of viruses that were not required to be tested before. We have said, in part as a result of the conversation I had with Alexandra, that we will be more forcefully enforcing the regulations with respect to sea lice going forward.”

Wilkinson said that the way conditions of licence had been constructed for some farmers, DFO had difficulty enforcing regulations.

Fisheries and Oceans Minister Jonathan Wilkinson on July 10 (Mackin)

“We will be changing that to make sure we can enforce that on a go forward basis and make sure that they are in compliance with all the regulations.”

Morton and others, however, have long advocated for shutting down the open net farm system and moving to land-based fish farms.

In Washington State, coastal fish farms will be banned by 2022 from raising non-native fish. The decision came after a Cooke Aquaculture net pen containing 305,000 Atlantic salmon collapsed in summer 2017 near Cypress Island. An estimated 243,000 to 263,000 fish escaped, of which 57,000 were recovered. Between 186,000 and 206,000 remained unaccounted for as of the January 2018 report.

Cooke Aquaculture originally blamed tides related to the solar eclipse, but a state report said the Aug. 21 event did not alter the normal pattern of seasonal tidal strength.

The report blamed insufficient cleaning that led to excessive bio fuelling by mussels and other marine organisms and caused breakdowns in net cleaning machines. Ultimately, on Aug. 19, “some combination of anchor dragging, failure of mooring attachment points, and failure of structural members of the net pen framing resulted in the collapse of the net pen.”

Updated permits require increased underwater video monitoring, regular inspections of net pen structures, better maintenance and cleaning, and site-specific escape response plans. 

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Bob Mackin A critic of the British Columbia