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The SNC-Lavalin scandal, also known as #LavScam or PMO-Lavalin, turned a month old on March 7.

How did Prime Minister Justin Trudeau mark the occasion? He held a news conference where he dug himself a deeper hole.

Trudeau did not apologize for how the inner circle of his Liberal government tried to pressure former Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould to let the Montreal engineering and construction giant off the hook. He debuted a new line — “erosion of trust” — and continued to repeat his other line about wanting to save 9,000 SNC-Lavalin jobs. Trudeau admitted nobody sought to verify figures supplied by a company that is legally unable to move from Canada in the foreseeable future.

Meanwhile, ex-principal secretary Gerald Butts testified at the Justice Committee on the same day as Privy Council Clerk Michael Wernick made a return appearance. Treasury Board president Jane Philpott quit cabinet, just a few days after Celina Caesar-Chavannes announced she would not run for a second term.

On this edition of theBreaker.news Podcast, hear the highlights of another week of the scandal. 

Plus Pacific Northwest and Pacific Rim headlines and commentaries.

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theBreaker.news Podcast: Trust in Trudeau erodes, as SNC-Lavalin scandal overshadows Liberal government
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The SNC-Lavalin scandal, also known as #LavScam

Bob Mackin

Another episode in the Meng Wanzhou circus on March 6.

The Huawei Technologies chief financial officer’s latest appearance in Vancouver’s Law Courts was supposed to be for scheduling the hearing to determine whether she would be extradited to face fraud and money laundering charges in New York.

The case was put over to May 8 so that her expanded team of defence lawyers can prepare applications and seek information under the federal access to information law about her arrest and detention on Dec. 1 at Vancouver International Airport. Meng had arrived from Hong Kong, but never made her flight to Mexico, because Canadian officials executed an arrest warrant under a treaty with the United States.

Max Wang protested outside Meng Wanzhou’s March 6 court date (Mackin)

Meng’s lawyer Richard Peck of Peck and Co. told Justice Heather Holmes, the Associate Chief Justice of the B.C. Supreme Court, that it is a rare, dense and complex case. Particularly because of comments made last December by U.S. President Donald Trump, who said that it is “possible [Meng’s case] will be a part of [trade] negotiations.”

Said Peck to the court: “There are serious concerns of a legal and factual nature… concerns not common in the extradition jurisprudence. There are concerns about political characters, political motivation, comments by the U.S. president.”

He said that time is required to “properly identify, isolate and develop these issues before the court.”

The hearing was five days after Meng sued the Canada Border Services Agency and Royal Canadian Mounted Police, alleging unconstitutional arrest, detention and seizure of her mobile devices. Her lawyers from the Gudmundseth Mickelson firm in Vancouver took advantage of a slow news day on March 4, and released the documents to media. The statement of claim was not yet available in the B.C. courts online registry. The actual registry was naturally closed for the weekend. 

In an affidavit filed during her December bail hearing, Meng did not allege that her rights had been violated. She swore that she had to be taken to Richmond Hospital after being detained at the airport because she suffers from hypertension. Her father, Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, had complimented Canadian authorities for their treatment of his daughter when he held rare interviews with foreign reporters in January.

The Huawei global public relations offensive includes a new social media advertising campaign and junkets offered to journalists to visit the company’s Shenzhen headquarters. Another salvo was fired less than 12 hours after Meng’s court appearance. The company held a webcast news conference in Shenzhen to announce it had filed a lawsuit in Plano, Texas, in a bid to overturn the U.S. government’s ban on Huawei equipment. The U.S. government is part of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance that calls Huawei a threat to national security. 

Daniel Coles, a lawyer for several national and international media companies, appeared before Holmes, seeking a judicial order for Meng’s lawyers and the federal Crown to notify media outlets of appearances and applications. Coles’s motion failed. 

Louis Huang protested outside Meng Wanzhou’s March 6 court date (Mackin)

“Apparently there is some public interest,” deadpanned Meng’s lawyer David J. Martin of Martin and Associates. He called Coles “very diligent in representing the fifth (sic) estate.”

Holmes said she would “see how things go.” 

Meng arrived for the short appearance in a black sport utility vehicle and was escorted to courtroom 55 by court sheriffs and members of her private security company, Lions Gate Risk Management Group. She wore a floppy purple hat, purple Teenie Weenie Bear sweatshirt, black yoga pants and a backpack with a stuffed doll attached. She looked more like a foreign student than the chief financial officer of one of the world’s biggest companies that is crucial to China’s strategy to overtake the U.S. as the world’s biggest economy and most-powerful nation.

Meng’s husband Liu Xiaozong arrived with less fanfare, wearing new running shoes and a Fila sweatshirt and pants. He spoke with staff from the People’s Republic of China consulate, who were also casually dressed. 

Outside, the pro-China, pro-Huawei protesters from December were nowhere to be seen. Instead, local human rights and democracy activists caught the eye of reporters. One of them even burned the People’s Republic of China flag. 

Max Wang carried signs urging a boycott of Huawei and extradition of Meng. He even called her a spy for the Chinese Communist Party. Louis Huang held photographs of diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor, the two Canadians that China jailed in retaliation for Meng’s arrest. 

“We are not worried at all about the rights of Ms. Meng, her rights can be fully protected and respected in our legal system, but we’re really concerned about these two Canadians,” Huang said. 

“I will ask our Prime Minister and Foreign Minister to really focus on these two people, they are suffering right now in China. I’m coming from china, I know what happens, in the court, in the Chinese legal system, there are absolutely no human rights. They can do anything, they can torture you, they can beat you.” 

Meng was released on $10 million bail and curfew conditions Dec. 11. She lives in a $5 million house in Dunbar that is in her husband’s name. They are renovating a $14 million mansion in Shaughnessy, on the same block as the residence of the U.S. consul general.

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Bob Mackin Another episode in the Meng Wanzhou

Bob Mackin

BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson has charged taxpayers more than $44,000 for a digital marketing agency.

Parksville-based Motiontide Media began invoicing Wilkinson’s Vancouver-Quilchena constituency office $2,938.95 per month for a digital marketing plan in July 2017, the month that the BC Liberals relinquished power to the NDP. The price changed to $2,929.50 in February 2018, the month that Wilkinson was elected party leader.

An analysis by theBreaker.news found that Motiontide cost taxpayers $26,431.65 for the year ended March 31, 2018. It billed another $17,577 for the first six months of the current fiscal year. The Legislature has not published receipts for October through December of 2018.

BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson, the Vancouver-Quilchena MLA (BC Liberals)

Why did Wilkinson hire a digital marketing agency and what did Motiontide specifically deliver? Neither Motiontide owner Joel Grenz nor Wilkinson responded for comment. 

Neither NDP Premier John Horgan nor Green leader Andrew Weaver spend constituency office funds on digital marketing agencies. The closest that Horgan comes is the $75 that his office shells out, along with all other NDP MLAs, every quarter to Affinity Bridge of Vancouver for content management and maintenance of MLA websites. 

The money Wilkinson spent on Motiontide far exceeds the figures that he reported in the communications and advertising column on his spending summary. For the year ended March 31, 2018, Wilkinson claimed only $12,460 of his office’s $135,114 expenses was for communications and advertising. But he did show $28,744 under “other office expenses,” which can include fees for contracted services, such as writers and office maintenance workers.

For 2018-2019 so far, Wilkinson claimed $6,831 for communications and advertising and $17,937 for other office expenses. 

Independent watchdog Dermod Travis of IntegrityBC said how MLAs report spending is an area that the Legislative Assembly Management Committee must improve. MLAs, however, need not wait for policy or law changes to be transparent on their own. 

“One of the obligations that goes with the transparency question is to provide copies of the advertising that was undertaken,” Travis told theBreaker.news. “So people can determine whether or not it was stealth advertising, whether it was advertising that was attempting to collect somebody’s name and address and email address, or whether, in fact, it was reporting to his constituents on what he had done in the previous three months, four months, six months in the B.C. Legislature on their behalf — which is what that money has always intended to be for.”

Motiontide’s Joel Grenz (Twitter)

Motiontide describes itself as a full-service digital agency. A BC Liberal Party donor list in 2017 said Grenz donated $7,000 on Feb. 10 of that year. However, the Elections BC database shows only $485 in 2017 from Grenz ($225 on Jan. 7, $250 on March 3, and $10 on Dec. 26).

In 2017, theBreaker.news exclusively reported that Wilkinson spent almost $59,000 on ads for the year ended March 31, 2017. It was the biggest line item on Wilkinson’s $120,482 constituency office cost summary. While Wilkinson was the minister in charge of government advertising and communications, he went on a $30,383.80 ad buying spree on CKNW and CFMI from the end of December 2016 to the start of February 2017. 

“Andrew Wilkinson’s constituency office expenses in general are out of whack,” Travis said. “His advertising expenses, whether digital or otherwise, demonstrates somebody that seems to be spending money on advertising that cuts across constituencies rather than what it’s intended for, which is to speak to his constituents.” 

On Jan. 31, 10 days after the damning report by Speaker Darryl Plecas about waste and corruption in the offices of clerk Craig James and sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz, Wilkinson Tweeted “When we spend taxpayer dollars, the taxpayer should know about it. Period.”

Wilkinson is in damage control mode after he said in the Legislature last week that being a renter was “a wacky time of life… a rite of passage.”

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Bob Mackin BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson has

Jody Wilson-Raybould spoke her truth to the justice committee, about the pressure she felt from various officials, all the way to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, about SNC-Lavalin’s desire to avoid a criminal corruption trial. 

Jody Wilson-Raybould testifying on Feb. 27, 2019 (CPAC)

The Vancouver-Granville Liberal MP, who was Canada’s first indigenous attorney general, explained what went on behind the scenes over a four-month period. The four hours of testimony allowed Canadians to better understand how Wilson-Raybould became the former attorney general. She was asked twice whether she had confidence in Trudeau. Neither time she answered in the affirmative. Former federal and provincial attorneys general have complained to the RCMP, seeking an investigation.

Greg Douglas

On this edition of theBreaker.news Podcast, hear key highlights of Wilson-Raybould’s testimony.  

Also on this edition, host Bob Mackin interviews Greg Douglas about his career in sports media on the west coast. Douglas is the 2019 recipient of the Jack Diamond Personality of the Year award at the annual Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver sports dinner, March 5 at the Hyatt Regency.

Plus Pacific Northwest and Pacific Rim headlines and commentaries.

Click below to listen or go to iTunes (aka Apple Podcasts) and subscribe

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

 

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theBreaker.news Podcast: Speaking truth to power
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Jody Wilson-Raybould spoke her truth to the

Bob Mackin

Ian Aikenhead is hoping that the second try at selling B.C. Place Stadium’s naming rights will be a charm. 

Seven years ago, the BC Liberal government cancelled a deal to rename the 1983-built stadium Telus Park. It would have meant $40 million over 20 years, including the installation and operation of equipment, but for a telecom sponsorship tiff and complaints by bidders for the provincial government’s telecommunications contracts. Bell won the former. Telus the latter. The public eventually compensated Telus $15.2 million for equipment and labour.

“This time around the government wants to do something that is very open,” Aikenhead, the chair of the B.C. Pavilion Corp. board since last August, told theBreaker.news. “One of the criticisms last time was the opportunity was given to one company. With the kind of interest that’s gone around North America with naming rights, the government felt the [request for proposals] has to be an open process.”

Image from PavCo’s naming rights sales pitch (PavCo)

PavCo issued the call for naming rights bidders in early February and hopes to have a deal by mid-summer. It will evaluate bids based on a sponsor’s brand, activation strategy, community engagement plan and, most importantly, fees and term. PavCo enlisted the expertise of sports marketing and branding expert Yoeri Geerits, a former senior vice-president of Nielsen Sports Canada who is now with Calgary-based threesixtythree inc.

“What we’re told is that the general sponsorship naming rights business has increased fairly dramatically in terms of what sponsors are prepared to pay,” Aikenhead said. “There have been some high water marks back east. If we’ve hit the crest of the wave or we’re about to hit it or we’ve gone past it, what the market is prepared to do is unknown at this point.”

That high water mark is in Toronto, where Scotiabank agreed to an $800 million deal with Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment to call the home of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Raptors Scotiabank Arena from 2017 to 2038. 

Closer to home, Rogers took over naming rights of the Canucks’ home from General Motors in 2010 for a reported $60 million over a decade. In Edmonton, Rogers inked a 13-year naming rights agreement. When it was announced in 2013, Oilers’ president Patrick LaForge told reporters who speculated on $1 million a year that the sum was “not even in the ballpark.”

PavCo chair Ian Aikenhead (AMJ Law)

A PavCo sales video seeks bidders who want to “be the jewel in British Columbia’s crown.” The Crown corporation is marketing the stadium as the only venue of its type in Canada that has never had a corporate title sponsor, which means it is a blank slate with no legacy names or nicknames. (Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton remains with its original name, but the field name was sold to the Brick furniture chain.) 

Vancouver is a market of 2.46 million with 10.5 million visitors a year. PavCo says the stadium is passed by 53 million drivers and passengers annually. B.C. Place hosts 17 Whitecaps and 10 B.C. Lions regular season games a year, the wildly successful HSBC Canada Sevens rugby sevens, and large scale concerts and trade shows. In 2018, the Whitecaps averaged 18,211 per game attendance and the Lions 14,769.

“It’s hard to know what attracts a particular naming sponsor, but the location, all the activity, the fact that it’ll be discussed when there are concerts, shows, exhibits, sports teams, that’s what they’re interested in,” Aikenhead said. “To be attached to an iconic stadium that reflects well on their brand. It’s all about branding.”

East Vancouver lawyer Aikenhead’s duty is to lead the turnaround of B.C. Place, which recorded a $12.12 million loss for the year ended March 31, 2018. The figure included a budgeted $8.5 million payment to the Musqueam First Nation under the Parq Casino lands accommodation agreement. PavCo’s other property, the Vancouver Convention Centre, reported a $2.76 million profit.

Aikenhead was the president of the Pacific National Exhibition from 1992 to 2001 and brings the most event hosting experience to the position. Past PavCo chairs have included ex-Grouse Mountain owner Stuart McLaughlin, politician Peter Fassbender, developer David Podmore, executive recruiter Catherine Van Alstine, wholesaler Doris Bradstreet and banker Diana Reid. 

The mandate letter from Tourism Minister Lisa Beare, another new move under the NDP, orders Aikenhead to “maximize private sector revenue” and “explore options for additional revenue streams.”

To that end, the land known as Site 10C, on the east side of the stadium property, could be developed by PavCo, leased or sold. Last year, Vancouver city council approved in principle a 400-foot rental tower on the site. Aikenhead said the government has not made a decision on whether PavCo will develop the property or sell or lease the land. 

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Bob Mackin Ian Aikenhead is hoping that the

Bob Mackin

Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s chief of staff, one of several officials that Jody Wilson-Raybould says wanted her to let SNC-Lavalin off the hook, broke British Columbia’s freedom of information law when he mass-deleted email while working as a senior aide to Christy Clark in 2017. 

In her Jan. 29 decision, Information and Privacy adjudicator Celia Francis ruled that the Office of the Premier failed to respond “openly, accurately and completely” under the law.

Ben Chin watches Christy Clark at a voting station in Dunbar in May 2017 (Twitter)

Ben Chin was Clark’s executive director of communications when, on April 6, 2017, the Ombudsperson released a damning report about the unjust 2012 firings of drug safety researchers in the health ministry. theBreaker.news asked for all of Chin’s email for a 12-hour period on the day that the report dominated provincial news. But, after the provincial election, Clark’s office released only three pages: an op-ed ghost-written for Clark about softwood lumber exports to the U.S.

In mid-June 2017, theBreaker.news sought Chin’s message-tracking logs. The 17-pages of metadata contained proof that a “recover deleted items” folder included email that should have been disclosed to theBreaker.news. Nobody in Clark’s office searched the folder before its contents were deleted and saved to a backup server. 

On July 18, 2017, the NDP’s John Horgan succeeded Clark as premier. In an awkward twist, Horgan’s staff went to work to defend the conduct of Chin, even though Horgan constantly skewered the BC Liberals for what he called a “culture of deception, a culture of deceit, a culture of delete, delete, delete.” 

Francis noted that the government’s own guide on transitory records directs employees to preserve transitory records that are relevant to an FOI request or legal discovery. In her 2015 report, then-Commissioner Elizabeth Denham wrote that “once a public body receives an access to information request, it must keep all records, including both transitory and non-transitory records, in its custody or under its control. If these records are responsive, the public body must produce them unless specific exemptions to disclosure under FIPPA apply.”

The Office of the Premier argued that Chin properly disposed of the transitory email and, she wrote, “also suggested that the emails would be ‘of little or no value’ to the journalist. However, whether the emails were transitory or valuable to the journalist is irrelevant, in my view. The journalist did not request emails pertaining to a specified subject. He requested all of the Executive Director’s emails for a 12-hour period. As such, all of the Executive Director’s emails for that period were responsive to the request, whether transitory or valuable.”

Chin’s affidavit said that he regularly deleted emails he considered transitory, but would not have searched the recovered deleted items folder because he felt those emails were transitory and properly disposed. 

Though Francis found the Office of the Premier broke the law, she followed the rulings of two previous commissioners and did not order the premier’s office to find the deleted email.

“The Office of the Premier’s evidence has persuaded me that it would be a complex, onerous and costly business to restore the requested emails. In the circumstances of this case, I am satisfied that it is not reasonable to require the Office of the Premier to restore the email backups in order to respond to the journalist’s access request.” 

Chin left the B.C. government with a $159,533 golden parachute after the change of government and found a new job in October 2017 as Morneau’s senior advisor. He was promoted to chief of staff in May 2018. 

Ex-Attorney General Wilson-Raybould testified Feb. 27 to the House of Commons justice committee that Chin contacted officials in her office four times between Sept. 6 and 20, 2018 to talk about SNC-Lavalin’s desire to avoid a trial over the payment of $48 million in bribes to the brutal Gadhafi regime in Libya. Chin’s last contact came the day after Wilson-Raybould told Morneau to leave her alone. 

“[Morneau] again stressed the need to save jobs and I told him that engagements from his office to mine on SNC had to stop, that they were inappropriate,” said Wilson-Raybould.

theBreaker.news sought comment from Chin on both his email purge and Wilson-Raybould’s testimony. Instead of answering, Chin referred the query to Morneau press secretary Pierre-Olivier Herbert, who avoided the question about Chin breaking B.C.’s FOI law.

“It is Minister Morneau’s responsibility to protect and promote the creation of jobs across Canada and he will continue to raise such important issues with all his cabinet colleagues,” Herbert wrote. “At no time did Minister Morneau nor members of his office pressure the former Minister of Justice and Attorney General into making any decision regarding the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin.”

Federal lobbying records show that SNC-Lavalin CEO Neil Bruce communicated with Chin on Sept. 18 and Nov. 19, 2018. Clark hired Chin, the former spinner for Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, in late 2012.  

Meanwhile, British Columbians keep waiting for Horgan to fulfil a 2017 campaign promise to enact a duty to document law and impose fines for those caught deleting or destroying government records.

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Aff #1 Ben Chin Sworn July 27 2018 by BobMackin on Scribd

Order F19-04 by BobMackin on Scribd

Bob Mackin Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s chief of

Bob Mackin

A White Rock youth soccer association has suspended the head coach of an under-17 girls team after allegations surfaced that he bullied and harassed players when he helmed the Vancouver Whitecaps W-League and Canadian junior national teams more than a decade ago.

Coastal FC said it is deeply concerned about the allegations, which were published on former Whitecap and national team player Ciara McCormack’s blog. The club has suspended Bob Birarda pending an investigation. 

“We are seeing this information for the first time,” said a statement on the club’s website. “We were not privy to any of this information at any point during the application and appointment process of the coach in question.” 

Bob Birarda in 2005 (CSA)

Executive director Chris Murphy declined comment. 

McCormack did not mention Birarda by name, but referred to the Oct. 9, 2008 news release that announced the Canadian Soccer Association and Birarda had agreed to a mutual parting “in the best interest of both parties.” The Whitecaps and Birarda also split on the same day. He had coached the Whitecaps to the 2006 W-League championship, missed the 2007 playoffs and advanced to the conference finals in 2008. 

McCormack wrote that Birarda, who she called “Coach Billy” on her blog, was “charismatic and charming, and a very, very good coach. In my early 20’s he built a training environment that I often participated in, and loved.”

When he became the Whitecaps and national under-20 coach, things changed. 

“Over time, with this immense amount of power, he started to bully and manipulate people and created a shitty, fearful environment. For those of us on the fringe of the national team, we were also on the Whitecaps, and so we were shuffled back and forth and at Coach Billy’s mercy,” McCormack wrote.

Ciara McCormack (Twitter)

“He reminded us often, that he was the reason we were training with the national team, with the obvious underlying insinuation that he gave us the opportunity and he could also take it away.”

McCormack alleged that Whitecaps’ ownership and senior management mishandled complaints. She recounted a May 8, 2007 meeting with president Bob Lenarduzzi in a North Vancouver coffee shop. McCormack and another player begged Lenarduzzi for both help and anonymity. “We told him we didn’t know where else to turn.”

She wrote that Lenarduzzi failed to keep their complaints confidential, that he told Birarda everything. 

“I was terrified and speechless that he’d put us in this situation when we were already so vulnerable and we’d begged him not to,” she wrote.

McCormack went to play with the Ottawa Fury instead that summer. After blowing the whistle on Birarda, McCormack never played again for Canada. She found a spot with the Irish national team and a club team in Norway, but ex-teammates back in Vancouver continued to complain to her of inappropriate behaviour by Birarda. She said the police should have been involved, but instead the CSA and Whitecaps hired a mediator in 2008 and eventually cut ties with Birarda. 

Bob Lenarduzzi (Whitecaps)

CSA general secretary Peter Montopoli did not respond. Lenarduzzi declined comment, but sent a prepared statement that said the well-being of staff and players is “of paramount importance.”

“As a club, we hold ourselves accountable to a respectful workplace policy of the highest standard and expect the same from our staff and athletes. Any matter arising which may be in contravention to this policy goes through a rigorous assessment and, where appropriate, action is taken.”

Birarda has not responded for comment. 

UPDATE (March 1): Meanwhile, B.C. Soccer Association president Kjeld Brodsgaard posted a statement on the association’s website March 1, after a Feb. 27 emergency meeting of the board of directors. Brodsgaard wrote that the board launched a third-party review to determine “whether there are systemic cultural behaviours affecting the safety of players.”

The outcome and recommendations will be shared with the association’s membership. Brodsgaard also publicized Canada Soccer’s third-party-operated whistleblower hotline (1-800-661-9675 and whistleblower@canadasoccer.com).

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Bob Mackin A White Rock youth soccer association

An all-party committee of the B.C. Legislature took one step closer to splitting for good with the man who bought the infamous wood splitter with public money. 

The wood splitter trailer at Craig James’s house in Saanich (Speaker’s Office)

Speaker Darryl Plecas’s second report on waste and corruption at the seat of government was published Feb. 21 by the Legislative Assembly Management Committee, two weeks after suspended clerk Craig James and sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz replied to Plecas’s bombshell January report.

The new report points to discrepancies and errors in James and Lenz’s submissions, introduces new evidence and cites theBreaker.news reporting on the August 2017 whale watching junket and Seattle Mariners game disguised as an emergency preparation conference. It also includes a photograph of the wood splitter’s trailer parked beside James’s Saanich house last October. 

Host Bob Mackin interviewed Plecas’s chief of staff, Alan Mullen, about next steps.

“Whether these individuals should ultimately have their employment terminated, I think British Columbians are pretty clear in their views,” Mullen said. “But ultimately that is a decision of the House. They are appointed at the pleasure of the House and they must be removed at the pleasure of the House.”

LAMC voted for Plecas to stand back and let a retired judge come in and review the Legislature’s relationship with James and Lenz, who were suspended with pay on Nov. 20. Meanwhile, Plecas and Mullen are continuing to gather evidence for more reports, while the RCMP and two special prosecutors continue their criminal investigation. 

Keala Kennelly (She is the Ocean)

“We have a responsibility to British Columbians to continue to peel back the layers of this onion,” Mullen said. 

Also on this edition: 

The Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival is on until March 3. It includes the Feb. 24 Canadian premiere of She is the Ocean, a documentary on what unites nine women from around the world. Listen to Mackin’s interview with one of those women, Keala Kennelly, a pro surfer, actress and DJ from Hawaii.

She is the Ocean also screens March 1 in Tofino and March 8 in Vancouver. 

Plus Pacific Northwest and Pacific Rim headlines and commentaries.

Click below to listen or go to iTunes (aka Apple Podcasts) and subscribe

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

Support theBreaker.news for as low as $2 a month on Patreon. Find out how. Click here.

 

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An all-party committee of the B.C. Legislature

Bob Mackin

Plecas Report: The Sequel didn’t immediately result in the firing of suspended Clerk Craig James and Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz on Feb. 21.

But it attacked their credibility after their error-filled Feb. 7 replies to Speaker Darryl Plecas’s first report about waste and corruption at the Legislature. 

The Legislative Assembly Management Committee released the new report with more allegations of overspending after meeting for two-and-a-half-hours behind closed-doors. A retired B.C. Supreme Court judge will be hired to determine whether to keep James and Lenz on paid leave or fire them. Meanwhile, the RCMP and two special prosecutors continue to investigate. A visit from their lawyer, Fasken’s Mark Andrews, failed to convince the all-party committee to give James and Lenz a sneak peek and chance to reply to the new Plecas Report. 

Plecas (left) and Ryan-Lloyd on Jan. 21 (Mackin)

“The House Leaders need to decide whether confidence in these two officers has been undermined to the point that, regardless of the outcome of the further processes, audits and investigations, Mr. James and Mr. Lenz cannot realistically return to their positions as the senior executives of the Legislative Assembly,” Plecas wrote in the 32-page report. 

James was paid $347,000 last year to be general manager of the Legislature, which ran on a $77 million budget. Lenz was paid $218,000 to be the director of operations and security. Their jobs were to operate and maintain B.C.’s seat of government and organize meetings among lawmakers. Deputy Kate Ryan-Lloyd is the acting clerk and Randy Ennis the acting sergeant-at-arms.

Five pages in the report deal with the August 2017 trip to Seattle and Olympia, Wash. Plecas cites theBreaker.news exclusive Feb. 10 story (“James and Lenz dinged B.C. taxpayers for big league baseball tickets and whale watching tour”) and brands James and Lenz’s explanations  “demonstrably false.”

B.C. taxpayers paid at least $10,352.46 to host a conference for the Legislative Assemblies Business Continuity Network that included a whale watching expedition and trip to a Seattle Mariners’ baseball game. 

“To be clear: Washington State is not a member of LABCoN,” Plecas wrote. “There was no prearranged ‘conference’ which required travel to Washington to attend,” Plecas wrote. “This was an initiative organized by Mr. James and almost entirely paid for by British Columbia taxpayers. It took place in Washington because Mr. James decided the group should visit Washington.”

Lawyers for James and Lenz, in letters that LAMC released Feb. 21, pleaded for them to be reinstated and said they did no wrong. There is no reason why the RCMP investigation cannot be completed with them back in their jobs, the lawyers, from the Fasken law firm, wrote to LAMC. They also called for a further investigation by an independent investigator with fair process afforded to their clients. 

Logo for the controversial 2017 conference.

Meanwhile, another 10 gems from the newn report, in Plecas’s own words.

Booze for Bill Barisoff 

Mr. James says that Mr. Barisoff paid for the liquor that was delivered to him by Mr. James. I asked Financial Services to locate the payment and they have provided me with a copy of a cheque from Mr. Barisoff dated June 26, 2013 for $370 with the memo reading “wine purchase”. That amount of money certainly does not accord with the accounts of two truckloads of alcohol that were loaded into Mr. James’ truck and which included beer and hard liquor – including a recent account I have received that, according to employees who were personally involved, the first load of alcohol included beer and a few wine boxes, and the second load of alcohol included wine and hard liquor. 

Moreover, Mr. James has provided no reasonable explanation as to why it would have been appropriate for the most senior officer of the Legislature to drive up to Penticton to sell wine and deliver a desk and chair to the former Speaker, stay overnight at the Penticton Lakeside Inn, and drive back the next day, billing all of the expenses to the taxpayers along with his very high salary for two days of work – noting as well that the value of the alcohol Mr. Barisoff purchased from the Legislative Assembly was only a fraction of the cost of Mr. James making the trip. To my mind, both as Speaker and as a taxpayer, this is unacceptable. 

Visits with Bill and Christy

Similarly, I cannot fathom what “business of the Legislature” would call for the Clerk to use work days to travel to Vancouver or Penticton to have lunch meetings with the former premier, Christy Clark and dinners with the former Speaker, Bill Barisoff. Mr. James’ explanation in relation to at least one of the trips to Penticton was that Mr. Barisoff – who had ceased to be Speaker and an MLA in 2013 – was continuing in 2017 to “attend to” Legislative Assembly business, four years and three Speakers later, which required an in-person visit from Mr. James to discuss it. That claim is farcical to me. I would like to know what Legislative Assembly business Mr. Barisoff is still, or was in 2017, involved in, if any. Even suspending disbelief and assuming these meetings were for legitimate work purposes, I do not see why they could not have been handled by phone or by email. 

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

Gary threw Craig under the bus 

Mr. Lenz simply does not address his many conversations with Mr. Mullen and me in which Mr. Lenz urged us to force Mr. James to resign by confronting him with his misconduct, or by asking the Premier to step in and tell Mr. James the government was “moving in a different direction.” He also does not address his statements, vehemently expressed to me on a number of occasions, that we did not want an audit or an outside investigation. In various instances, I first became aware of alleged misconduct by Mr. James because Mr. Lenz told me about it. In response, Mr. Lenz does not deny these conversations, but says he has not had the time, and does not “see the purpose” in “dealing with” my detailed recollections of conversations. He says my concerns should be dealt with on the basis of “facts, not hearsay.” But to put it bluntly: the fact of the conversations isn’t “hearsay.” The conversations were between me and Mr. Lenz. He was a party to them. To the extent the conversations included allegations about the Clerk, those allegations came from Mr. Lenz. 

Say what?

Mr. James’ explanation as to why the taxpayers should have purchased $500 Bose headphones is that he has an ear condition relating to sound and pressure.This is news to me, and is not noted on the claim form. Since my Preliminary Report, I have seen an expense claim Mr. James submitted on December 22, 2011, also for Bose noise cancelling headphones at a cost to taxpayers of $447.99. While noise cancelling headphones may address sound issues, I am unaware of them being effective for cabin pressure as they don’t create a seal of any kind on the ear that would alleviate pressure. In fact, an internet search offers a great many articles in which people complain that noise cancelling headphones cause ear pain. In any event, it is unclear to me how these two sets of expensive headphones are not a personal expense unless they are a form of medical accommodation for a disability, in which case they would be approved as such. 

That woodsplitter again

Mr. James says he stored the wood splitter and trailer at his “strata”, which he adds is “not a rural property.”  This implies he lives in a condominium and has no wood to split there. His property may technically be a strata-titled development, but it not a condominium. Instead it is a 3,600 square foot freestanding house on a 10,500 square foot lot with large trees behind the house.

Mr. James writes that he was frustrated storing the trailer at his property and arranged to have it stored at an RV facility. I note, however, that in front of Mr. James’ house is a recently constructed paved pad on which he had been storing the Legislature’s trailer until he apparently returned it. A photo of the storage location at his house from Google maps, and a more recent photo of the new pad with the Legislature’s trailer parked on it, are reproduced below. 

Where the wood splitter was located on the property is not known to me, but Mr. Mullen viewed it after it was removed and he advises me that it showed obvious signs of use. That a committee on which Mr. Lenz and Mr. James sat approved the recommended expenditure as part of purported disaster planning is not, in my view, an answer. Committees generally place their trust in senior management that expenditures are appropriate and necessary, until that trust is brought into question, or broken. 

Leg-room Lenz

Photos from the exterior of James’s Saanich house (Plecas Report)

In the executive summary and in paragraph 44 of his response, Mr. Lenz says that his practice and policy is to fly economy class. It has been brought to my attention that when Mr. Lenz travelled to London, England, from December 4 – 9, 2011, Mr. Lenz flew Executive First Class between YVR and Heathrow. Including the connecting flights to Victoria, the flights cost the taxpayers $8,074.94. Added to these were flight-related expenses for “Holiday House Travel” and “Intair Transit” which, together with travel insurance and a TASF charge brought the total cost of his flights for the trip to $11,103.94. Evidently, Mr. Lenz did not always fly economy class. 

The boys and their baggage

Mr. James has said that his expensing of the $800 Victorinox “Maverick” watch from the Hong Kong airport was in error and that he instead meant to expense the $600 piece of luggage that he purchased. If it was an innocent mistake (despite the attention that appears to have been devoted to the receipt submitted), it still leaves open the question of how it was appropriate to be expensing luggage at all. For the limited period of my review of expenses (April 2017 – November 2018), it was not just the laptop backpack ($432.80) and the $645.00 carry-on piece of luggage ($645.04) purchased in Hong Kong; luggage was also purchased in Heathrow ($743.92) and in Edinburgh ($253.61) and expensed to taxpayers. No MLA that I have talked to was aware of any policy whereby the Clerk’s office was maintaining a set of “loaner luggage”. 

Lastly, Mr. James has not addressed the obvious question of why, even if this was a legitimate or justifiable policy, luggage was not purchased by the Legislature’s staff directly as inventory and at reasonable prices. You can buy perfectly good luggage for $150 from the Bay in Victoria. No one who respects taxpayer money would purchase a $645 piece of carry-on luggage in an overseas airport boutique, whatever the purpose. 

Everything but a snow globe

Mr. Lenz and Mr. James say that all the shopping that was done in the gift stores was to purchase “precedents or merchandise for display or sale” in BC’s Legislature” gift shop, gifts for other people or as “protocol gifts” does not make sense. Mr. James appears to suggest that he was purchasing items in England for future sale in British Columbia’s Legislative Assembly gift shop. Even if that or the other justifications given were true, why are the taxpayers of British Columbia paying the high salaries of these senior executives to go shopping all over the world for small gifts? 

Who, for example, received the mustard, the “Quotable Churchill” book, the royal wedding memorabilia, the satirical books about Brexit, and the “Winter King” fantasy novel? 

Mr. Lenz’s trip to London in December 2011… There he attended the House of Lords Gift Shop on two occasions on December 8, 2011 and purchased such items as a Christmas pudding, a spirit decanter, cufflinks, a towel, a guidebook, an umbrella, playing cards, mint tins, dictionaries, computer mouse mats, along with various other things. The total cost of these items expensed to the Legislature, and the taxpayers, was $1,084.01. 

iClerk

No satisfactory response has been provided regarding the purchase of the wide array of Apple devices by Mr. James and Mr. Lenz. 

These expenses are embarrassing to the Legislature. Here is how one staff member explained the genesis of the program: 

“Craig and Gary decided that they wanted an iPhone, and the legislative comptroller said no, and the Computer Services said, “No, we don’t support that. You have the BlackBerry and that’s what you get.” So, they created a special project and started just buying them outright on their credit card… 

When it first started it was just Craig and Gary, and then it became Craig and Gary and Randy. And by the time I was fired, almost everybody had both an iPhone and an iPad. I was supporting all of them, setting them up, teaching how to use them. They were taking them all over the world racking up these huge roaming charges watching movies on these things because they refused to use wifi [on the basis that] it was too slow. So, we at one point had a bill for one of Craig’s trips that was thousands of dollars and had to try to dispute it with Rogers.” 

Why not Buy B.C.?

Lastly, it seems to me that if the Clerk was buying a suit as a new uniform for the BC Legislature that BC taxpayers are going to pay for, it ought to be purchased in BC so that a BC men’s clothing store and its employees would benefit from the purchase. 

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Plecas Report Feb 20 (1) by on Scribd

 

 

Bob Mackin Plecas Report: The Sequel didn't immediately result

Bob Mackin

An independent watchdog is hoping the Legislative Assembly Management Committee puts an end to the golden parachute entitlements for political staffers in the B.C. government. 

More than 130 BC Liberal appointees were laid-off by cabinet order July 17, 2017, on the eve of the NDP government’s swearing-in, costing taxpayers at least $11.3 million in severance payments.

“Severance is intended to tide you over, it’s not intended to act as a super-inflated bonus package, which seems to have been the practice with the change in government in 2017,” said Dermod Travis of IntegrityBC. “When you have a situation where the severance policies for staffers are more generous than the severance policies for MLAs, the transition allowance, you have a serious problem.”

Evan Southern, the BC Liberals’ operations director in 2017 (Twitter)

The all-party LAMC meets Feb. 21 to receive another report from its chair, Speaker Darryl Plecas, about corruption and waste in the Legislature. Clerk Craig James and Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz were suspended Nov. 20 and are under RCMP investigation.

The $73,777 that Evan Southern scored was a fraction of the $540,955 given to public service head Kim Henderson or the $474,552.51 paid to deputy finance minister and longtime Christy Clark confidante Athana Mentzelopoulos in July 2017. 

Southern, however, took leave of absence in November 2015 from his full-time job as Clark’s director of issues management after the triple delete scandal. He worked in the BC Liberal headquarters through the May 2017 provincial election as the director of operations and returned to Clark’s office just long enough to qualify for the severance. 

Southern did not respond to requests for comment from theBreaker.news.

According to a statement from the Public Service Agency, “The employee was employed by the government in the public service as director of issues management in the Office of the Premier in July of 2017. Public service employees whose employment concludes without cause and without notice are entitled to severance in compliance with the Employment Termination Standards regulation.”

You wouldn’t know that by looking at Southern’s LinkedIn profile. His online resume says that he worked as director of operations for the BC Liberals from December 2015 to July 2017, but it makes no mention of his brief 2017 return to the Office of the Premier, which he originally joined in June 2014. Southern’s name does not appear in an archived copy of the government directory for July 2017 from the Legislature Library.  

Said Travis: “The BC Liberal Party, as his last employer, should be the party responsible for paying out the severance package.”

Southern was paid $102,902 in the 2014-2015 fiscal year, his last full-year in government. He originally joined the BC Liberal government in April 2011 as executive assistant for the Minister of Forests and Lands and later worked as chief of staff for the Attorney General from July 2012 to June 2014.

While working in the premier’s office, Southern’s duties included handling freedom of information requests. His job, but not name, was mentioned in the Information and Privacy Commissioner’s October 2015 investigation of triple deleting in cabinet ministers’ offices. Rather than a computer, Southern used Post-it Notes to keep track of freedom of information requests to the premier’s office.

“The Office of the Premier has put the FOI coordinator in a difficult situation,” Elizabeth Denham wrote. “I believe he is not adequately positioned to determine the Executive Branch’s access to information process. It is surprising that the executive branch of the Office of the Premier would conclude that not writing anything down about the processing of an access request, apart from a temporarily retained sticky note, is appropriate.”

Southern’s transfer to the party office, to become director of operations, was announced at the end of the next month in a memo from party executive director Laura Miller. 

“We’ve managed to pry him away from 501 Belleville Street [the address of the Legislature] where he’s worked the past six years in government, most recently as the Premier’s director of issues management,” Miller wrote Nov. 27, 2015. “Hard-working, well-organized, and highly-motivated, Evan will be an exceptional addition to our team.”

In December 2017, Southern joined the $765 million Capital Regional District sewage treatment project as director of communications and engagement.

Last fall, the NDP cabinet rubber-stamped Southern’s appointment to the Victoria-Esquimalt Police Board, after he was nominated by the Esquimalt council headed by Mayor Barb Desjardins. 

Desjardins ran unsuccessfully for the BC Liberals in 2017, while Southern was director of operations.  

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Bob Mackin An independent watchdog is hoping the