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Bob Mackin

Amid a money laundering crisis in British Columbia, the NDP provincial government is giving the gambling regulator a boost of just $200,000 for the next fiscal year.

Meanwhile, an extra $2.4 million is allotted for government advertising that the party called wasteful when it was in opposition. It is also sending another $6 million to the Legislative Assembly, which is under a cloud of corruption and waste. 

That, from the budget for the 2019-2020 fiscal year, tabled Feb. 19 by Finance Minister Carole James. 

Finance Minister Carole James, Feb. 19, 2019 (Hansard)

Clerk Craig James and sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz were suspended Nov. 20 and are under RCMP investigation. A report by speaker Darryl Plecas revealed overspending and corruption. The government plans to eventually add the Legislature to the freedom of information law. But, in the meantime, the budget includes a $6 million increase to $83 million for April 1, 2019 to March 31, 2020. That is driven by $1.87 million more in capital expenditures, almost $1 million more for members’ services, nearly half-a-million for the sergeant-at-arms and a whopping $3.35 million more for Legislative operations. 

“Obviously there is going to be a lot of scrutiny on the Legislative budget over the next while, so I will save my comments, because there will be a number of people speaking to that budget and the specifics,” James said in a news conference before delivering the budget speech in the Legislature. 

The Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch sees a $202,000 bump to its budget, for $19.43 million over the next fiscal year. By comparison, Government Communications and Public Engagement, the central advertising and public relations agency within James’s ministry, is getting a $2.42 million increase to $37.8 million. 

“We are in fact looking at how we modernize our approach to advertising, we’re increasing the number of town halls both online as well as telephone town halls,” James said. “But the other big piece we’re looking at, that’s really why you’ve seen an increase in this budget, is we have, compared to the past government, a number of programs and services for people to apply to, to be able to benefit… we need to ensure the people have that information so they know those programs are available to them, and we make sure that people are applying to them.” 

The budget, which was foreshadowed by the Throne Speech a week earlier, contains no funding for a public inquiry on money laundering related to casinos and the real estate market. James said the government is awaiting two expert reports on real estate and luxury items before determining next steps. It has not ruled out a public inquiry, though Premier John Horgan has expressed a preference to stay the course instead of following the lead of Quebec’s Charbonneau Commission, which examined corruption in the construction industry. 

“It’s important to make sure that we know what we’re funding,” James said. “We won’t know that until we see the reports coming in.”

After the elimination of the government’s operating debt, James said ministers will be free to make budget requests to the Legislature during the fiscal year, under the supplementary estimates regime.  

The budget, James’s third, contains billions of dollars of more spending, but no new tax measures other than those previously announced, such as the April 1 $5 increase to the carbon tax, making it $40 per tonne.

Overall, this year the NDP expects to spend $58.27 billion and bring in $59 billion. James is forecasting a $274 million surplus. But the debt will rise from $67.8 billion to $72.5 billion.

The budget includes $1 billion in new social spending on the B.C. Child Opportunity Benefit, eliminating B.C. student loan interest, and hiking welfare rates.

  • $26 million hike in disability assistance. Rates will be up $50 per month, to $1,800 a year per person;
  • $318 million to end student loan interest. An expected average saving of $2,300;
  • $902 million for the CleanBC climate action program. Includes $41 million for energy efficiency home retrofits, $90 million for incentives to buy electric cars; climate action tax credits of up to $400 per year per family; 
  • $171 million more for forest fire, prevention, recovery and resiliency. Fire management and suppression costs ranged from $47 million in 2006 to a high of $650 million in 2017. The current fiscal year’s forecast is $615 million, while $101 million is budgeted for each of the next three years;
  • The $400 million-a-year B.C. Child Opportunity Benefit kicks in October 2020. A family with two children will receive as much as $2,600 a year, starting October 2020

The budget also includes $20.1 billion in capital spending. More than half of that for transportation infrastructure (such as the Pattullo Bridge and Broadway Subway) and hospitals (Royal Columbian, Royal Inland and the new St. Paul’s).  

First Nations will get $3 billion in gambling revenue over the next 25 years, including $300 million in the next three years.

The biggest sources of revenue for this budget are personal income tax ($11.05 billion), sales tax ($7.59 billion), and corporate income tax ($4.2 billion). Health ($22.98 billion) and education ($14.6 billion) are the biggest expenses. Property tax revenue is forecast to increase, but property transfer tax is projected to be flat as the real estate market faces a downturn. 

Insurance Corporation of B.C., described famously by Attorney General David Eby in early 2018 as a “dumpster fire,” is forecast to lose $1.18 billion this year and then only $50 million next year. That after the motor vehicle regulator and basic insurance monopoly missed projections by a half-billion-dollars two years ago. The corporation is struggling with higher claims costs and is responding by increasing rates and capping the costs of claims and lawsuits. 

“We’ve ensured there is more money just in case, but I’m feeling pretty confident,” James said. 

The budget assumes a weaker Canadian dollar and more resilient U.S. economy as upside risks. Downside risks include global trade uncertainty, ICBC and BC Hydro fiscal challenges, lower commodity prices and economic challenges in Asia and the European Union. 

James said the greatest threat to B.C.’s economy is a “global economic slowdown.” She said tax and regulatory changes have been focused on weaning the province from its reliance on real estate speculation. 

“There’s still some way to go before people will class housing as affordable in our major urban settings,” she said. 

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Bob Mackin Amid a money laundering crisis in

Jody Wilson-Raybould quit the Trudeau Liberal cabinet as the SNC-Lavalin scandal continued to unwind.

The NDP B.C. government’s third Throne Speech came and went, with no hope that there will ever be a public inquiry into money laundering.

Then the NDP shortlisted SNC-Lavalin for the $1.37 billion Pattullo Bridge replacement between Surrey and New Westminster.

On this edition of theBreaker.news Podcast, host Bob Mackin catches up with independent watchdog Dermod Travis of IntegrityBC.

On money laundering:

“[Premier John Horgan is] extremely tone deaf on the issue and he is going to have to recognize that some of the answers that both the government, regardless of who is in power, and the public want will only be found out through public inquiry.”

On the problem with SNC-Lavalin and Kiewit consistently ending up bidders or winners of B.C. government infrastructure projects.

“This province is seen, potentially, by competitors in the construction industry as someone else’s turf, there’s no point in  bidding… let’s go bid somewhere else. That’s not the image B.C. wants.”

On the dilemma faced by the Legislative Assembly Management Committee, after the B.C. auditor general meddling in its post-Plecas Report plan to find out-of-province help to get to the bottom of overspending by the suspended clerk and sergeant-at-arms:

“It is a mistake for Carol Bellringer to be involved… not for anything that she has done in the past that would suggest some type of partisanship or possibility of sweeping something under the carpet. Rather, that this is going to be a report at the end of the day that the public must feel that all of the issues at the Legislative Assembly have been reviewed, investigated and dealt with properly. If that person conducting that process comes from out of province and has no vested interest… we’re going to have a better product at the end of the day.”

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
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theBreaker.news Podcast: Money and corruption are ruining the land - catching-up with Dermod Travis
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Jody Wilson-Raybould quit the Trudeau Liberal cabinet

Bob Mackin

Are we any closer to a made-in-British Columbia version of the Charbonneau Commission, the Quebec public inquiry that got to the bottom of construction corruption in la Belle Province? 

The short answer is: no. 

The B.C. NDP government’s Feb. 12 throne speech offered no hope for a public inquiry about money laundering. Premier John Horgan said he would rather have experts investigate for short-term reports and take action on their recommendations rather than spend millions of dollars on years of hearings and litanies of lawyers. That did nothing to satisfy those seeking justice for the casino-real estate-fentanyl crisis known as the Vancouver model.

Then, two days later, the shortlist for the new $1.377 billion Pattullo Bridge, which connects NDP-held ridings in New Westminster and Surrey.

Kiewit and Flatiron are in separate groups. They were partners on the massively over-budget Port Mann Bridge. The third group is called “Fraser Crossing Partners,” a joint bid by Spain’s Acciona Infrastructure and SNC-Lavalin.

Attorney General Eby (Mackin)

Yes, that is the same SNC-Lavalin whose ex-CEO, Pierre Duhaime, pleaded guilty on Feb. 1 to helping a public servant commit breach of public trust over the McGill University superhospital project. The same SNC-Lavalin that has lobbied the Trudeau government to pay a fine rather than go on trial for corruption over millions of dollars of bribes paid to the Gadhafi regime in Libya. The same controversy that led to Vancouver-Granville Liberal MP Jody Wilson-Raybould becoming ex-attorney general last month and an ex-member of the Trudeau cabinet this week. 

That is also the same SNC-Lavalin that has counted British Columbia as one of its key markets. 

SNC-Lavalin maintains an office in downtown Vancouver, built and operates the Canada Line, is a contractor on the Site C dam and was the 64th sponsor of the Vancouver Olympics, after being the provincial government’s engineer on the Sea-to-Sky Highway project. 

In 2011, its then-chair, Gwyn Morgan, was on the inner circle of newly elected BC Liberal leader Christy Clark’s transition team. Lo and behold, under Clark’s premiership, SNC-Lavalin got contracts to build the Evergreen Line for the Ministry of Transportation and John Hart Generating Station for BC Hydro. 

It wanted to build the bridge to replace the Massey Tunnel, but the NDP cancelled that project. 

It also has its eyes on the SkyTrain extension to Surrey and the SkyTrain subway to the University of B.C. Vancouver city councillor Colleen Hardwick wanted to debate the latter at a city council meeting earlier this week, but Green Coun. Adriane Carr thwarted tabling of Hardwick’s motion.

To learn the entirety of SNC-Lavalin’s history in B.C., read the story I wrote for the Georgia Straight in 2014.  

So, back to this week. 

In the wake of Duhaime’s guilty plea, I had asked Attorney General David Eby whether the NDP government would review its relationship with SNC-Lavalin. There is no evidence that the previous BC Liberal government reviewed any ministry or Crown corporation relationships with SNC-Lavalin, to determine whether any public funds were misspent during construction and operations or whether any bribery or fraud occurred during the procurement stages.

Instead of an answer directly from Eby, his ministry’s communications staff sent a 153-word statement.

It’s government’s responsibility to do extensive due diligence when it comes to procurement and selecting a short-list of companies that can deliver the project on-time and on-budget.

Concerns around risks related to corruption or breach of trust informed, in part, government’s decision to introduce whistleblower legislation for British Columbia that comes into force this year.

Procurements are ongoing. We are using open procurement processes and are dedicated to getting the best value for people in B.C. British Columbia’s contracts include clauses that allow British Columbia to terminate the contract if evidence of illegality on the part of the service provider arises. Any allegations of illegality would be promptly reviewed by the public service and, if appropriate, referred to the police or other regulators.

There are many checkpoints in the procurement process, including the procurement team, project board or steering committees, legal counsel, fairness advisor, and a relationship review committee.

In summary, the answer is no. 

The NDP could do billions of dollars of more business with SNC-Lavalin, without pushing pause to determine whether it is doing enough to protect B.C. taxpayers from a company that Derek Corrigan, the NDP-aligned mayor of Burnaby, called-out in 2014.

Corrigan said SNC-Lavalin is “one of the few Canadian companies who could attain the high goal of being banned for 10 years by the World Bank for corruption. This is a company that is up to its earlobes in corruption in Montreal.”

Did you know?

Alterra Power Corp. hired SNC-Lavalin in 2014 for engineering, procurement and construction management of the Jimmie Creek hydro project, which began operations in August 2016. The run-of-river generation plant in the Toba Valley near Powell River.

In the Feb. 13-released report by Ken Davidson, Zapped, we learned that private power agreements signed under the BC Liberal government cost BC Hydro $16.2 billion over two decades — or $200 per year, per residential ratepayer. 

Davidson concluded that BC Hydro bought too much energy and energy with the wrong profile; paid too much for the energy it bought; and undertook these actions at the direction of the BC Liberal government.

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Bob Mackin Are we any closer to a

Bob Mackin

Skeena BC Liberal Ellis Ross leads all 87 members of the legislature in the category of advertising and communications. 

The ex-chief councillor of the Haisla Nation racked-up $20,135 in spin spending for the six months ended Sept. 30, 2018, according to a summary on the Legislative Assembly website. That is almost four times more than the average $5,400 spent by the rest of B.C.’s MLAs on advertising and communications and almost three times more than the $7,067 that Ross spent for his first 10 months in office after winning the northwest coast riding in the 2017 provincial election.

Ross is a regular advertiser in Black Press’s Northern Sentinel (Kitimat) and Terrace Standard newspapers. His office was invoiced more than $7,000 during the six-month period. Rather than a traditional summary of riding office services, community events and achievements in the Legislature, Ross uses his taxpayer-funded column as a soapbox critical of the NDP government and its Green allies. Here are some examples:

Taxpayer-funded ads from newspapers in Terrace and Kitimat (Black Press)

  • On Jan. 10, 2019, under the headline “NDP ignores the rule of law,” Ross wrote: [Forests Minister Doug] Donaldson is reminding British Columbians that the NDP is still very much an activist party unwilling to defend the province as a whole.
  • “Get ready to pay more in 2019” (Nov. 29, 2018): The new government in Victoria is throwing a wrench into the works by blindly following everything contained in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People without defining it.
  • “Play fair on proportional representation” (May 10, 2018): This is a government that wants to install a system of government that will concentrate the power in the lower mainland where all the NDP and Green seats are located.
  • “LNG is the pathway to a greener future” (April 26, 2018): Quite simply the Green Party refuses to recognize that LNG is a pathway to a greener economy.

Invoices also show taxpayers were charged $4,500 for more than 300 of Ross’s radio and TV ads, mainly from June through August. The 30-second spots appeared on Bell Media’s ez ROCK and CJFW stations. His two-minute long “MLA Minute” spots aired during CTV affiliate CFTK TV newscasts. Silvertip Signs and Frozen North Developments charged a combined $7,000 to create and host a billboard ad by Highway 37, the route between Kitimat and Terrace. 

Ross did not respond to interview requests, but his spending garnered at least one complaint. In a Facebook message last Dec. 10, Ross wrote: “Somebody in Prince Rupert is complaining that my articles in our local newspaper are political so the Legislature is looking into me. Someone wants me to be a bit quieter.” 

IntegrityBC’s Dermod Travis said government funds for MLAs are not intended to replace party funds. 

“If he is going to use these funds in a way to sponsor his communications with constituents, he should ensure those communications are non-partisan and focus specifically on government programs in a fair and balanced manner,” Travis said. “And not use it as a vehicle to promote his BC Liberal candidacy and his Liberal ties.”

MLAs regulate themselves: clerk’s office

Advertising spending is likely to come under the microscope in the wake of Speaker Darryl Plecas’s Jan. 21-released report on corruption at the Legislature. The Legislative Assembly Management Committee supported Plecas’s call for forensic audits. Its next meeting is Feb. 21. The agenda has not been released, but the all-party committee is expected to discuss the status of suspended clerk Craig James and sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz, who are also under RCMP investigation.

The rules are clear: Content of constituency advertisements, according to the Members’ Guide to Policy and Resources, “is restricted to outlining constituency office activities, and the role played by the Member in the legislative process. Members may not print or mail, at the expense of the Legislative Assembly, any material seeking financial support or containing any identification or information of a partisan, political nature.”

A 2014 photo of Andrew Wilkinson (left), Ellis Ross, Haisla hereditary chief Sammy Robinson and Christy Clark, announcing the sale of Kitimat hospital lands to the Haisla. (BC Gov)

However, nobody on staff in the Clerk’s office is looking out for taxpayers when it comes to partisan-flavoured ad spending.

theBreaker.news sought comment from acting clerk Kate Ryan-Lloyd and executive financial officer Hilary Woodward. They did not respond. Another official, who asked not to be named in print, told theBreaker.news that responsibility for compliance with Legislature advertising rules rests with MLAs, their constituency office staff, and their respective caucuses. 

“What is constituted as partisan or political may sometimes be subjective and open to the interpretation, and the decision is made at the discretion and judgment of the Member,” said the prepared statement. “Legislative Assembly administrative support staff do not have a review role in this regard, but do provide interpretive guidance if a Member or their staff asks for advice on what may be permissible for communications paid by constituency office funds.”

Only five other ridings have fewer registered voters than Skeena and its 20,002. Ross succeeded three-term NDP MLA Robin Austin, who did not run again. The Green-supported NDP toppled the BC Liberal dynasty in the historic June 29, 2017 confidence vote, two weeks after Ross became the Minister of Natural Gas Development and Responsible for Housing.

BC Liberal MLAs were the top five biggest ad spenders during the year ended March 31, 2018: Coralee Oakes ($27,558); Linda Reid ($26,558); Jane Thornthwaite ($24,174); Greg Kyllo ($23,409); and Simon Gibson ($21,617).

None, however, could compare with 2018-elected leader Andrew Wilkinson. theBreaker.news exclusively reported in 2017 that the Vancouver Quilchena MLA spent a whopping $58,692 on spin before the 2017 election. He blew more than half the money ($30,383.80) on a late-December 2016 to early-February 2017 ad blitz on CKNW and CFMI. Wilkinson used the ads to promote a government website about housing programs at the same time as his own Advanced Education ministry was spending millions of dollars buying pre-election ads for the government’s loan scheme for first time buyers. The NDP has yet to fulfil promises to control government advertising.

Travis said newspapers and newsletters are the best advertising vehicles for MLAs. An urban MLA that buys radio or TV spots ends up buying more audience outside the riding than inside the riding. 

“That is, in essence, pouring money down the drain,” Travis said. “If you do the ad in such a way so that it benefits your colleagues, then you’ve obviously just acknowledged that this is a partisan ad. So it should be paid for by the party, not the taxpayers.”

MLAs spent a combined $5.2 million on their office operations in the first six months of 2018, including $483,002 on ads. 

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Bob Mackin Skeena BC Liberal Ellis Ross leads

Bob Mackin

More transparency is coming to the British Columbia government, but don’t hold your breath for a public inquiry into the money laundering epidemic.

In the wake of the Plecas Report about corruption at the B.C. Legislature, the last page of Lt. Gov. Janet Austin’s 14-page address finally offers hope to those waiting for the NDP to fulfil 2017 election promises to reform the freedom of information laws. 

The throne speech, to open the fourth session of B.C.’s 45th parliament, says Premier John Horgan’s NDP government “values transparency and takes very seriously its responsibility to maintain the integrity of our public institutions.” 

On Feb. 6, government house leader and solicitor general Mike Farnworth pledged to expand the FOI laws to the Legislature, implement merit-based hiring for senior officials and extend whistleblower protection to Legislature employees. Farnworth was reacting to a joint call for reform by the Information and Privacy Commissioner, Merit Commissioner and Ombudsperson. 

Lt. Gov. Janet Austin, Feb. 12, 2019 (Mackin)

“The strength of this Legislature does not come from stone, slate, marble or granite,” said the speech, delivered on a snowy Feb. 12 in Victoria. “It comes from a foundation of public trust. That trust was recently shaken.”

How far the reforms go and when they will be tabled and passed into law was not mentioned. Throne speeches tend to be vague. The NDP promised various reforms in 2017, including a duty to document law and fines for the deliberate deletion and destruction of public records. 

However, don’t expect a public inquiry into money laundering and corruption yet. 

The speech referred to two independent reviews underway into the role of money laundering in B.C. real estate and pledged ongoing work with federal partners. “British Columbians are rightly outraged by the possibility that our province’s unacceptably high housing prices are fuelled by the profits of crime, both at home and abroad.

“Your government will identify the structural causes of money laundering to hold accountable those who are responsible.” 

In a news conference outside the chamber, Premier John Horgan said an inquiry would lead to “years and years of hearings and mountains and mountains of legal bills.”

Premier John Horgan (Mackin)

Some of the loudest voices lobbying for a public inquiry are from within the NDP: the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union, which represents workers at several casinos, and Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West. Horgan was asked whether he was reluctant to call a public inquiry because of the possibility that his chief of staff, Geoff Meggs, and members of the former Vision Vancouver city council would have to testify or because of his own past as a consultant who worked on a campaign to lift a moratorium on slot machines in Vancouver.

“I tend to go for incompetence before I jump right to conspiracy,” Horgan said. “I usually find that conspiracy takes a lot of organizational skills and quite often that’s not apparent in these situations.”

Horgan said the former BC Liberal government was in power when the money laundering problem mushroomed, he does not support gambling and “what I did as a consultant 15 years ago has no bearing on the situation today.”

He did say that if reports coming this spring by former RCMP deputy commissioner Peter German and former deputy attorney-general Maureen Maloney conclude that more work needs to be done, Horgan said, “a public inquiry will help us with that, I have zero problem with going in that direction nor does the attorney general.” 

“When it comes to money laundering, this is a real and present danger to our economy and our people,” Horgan said.

Meanwhile, a number of consumer protection measures are on the way.

The NDP is taking a page out of the old Harper Conservative federal government’s playbook, pledging to tackle the high cost of mobile phone fees and data. 

“Consumers deserve to know the true costs of the services they buy. This year your government will take action to improve billing transparency, beginning with a consultation and legislative review.” 

Also on the way, a bill for new rules about live ticket sales, including a ban on mass ticket-buying software, or bots, and more transparency for all companies selling tickets to live events. 

The NDP says it also will cap fees for cashing government cheques and adding oversight for instalment loans and improving consumer education. 

And, Uber and Lyft could finally be coming to streets near you. 

“This year, riding haling will enter the market, giving passengers options and flexibility, while making sure people are safe.” 

The speech reiterated a commitment to keeping ICBC afloat and continuing to offer “universally available, high-quality public auto insurance coverage at the lowest possible cost.” 

The government is also nearing the end of the first phase of its review of BC Hydro. 

Also in the throne speech:

  • A poverty reduction strategy to help half-a-million British Columbians living under the poverty line;
  • More relief to students paying back loans;
  • Speeding up approvals for rental housing development;
  • Improvements to the Royal B.C. Museum.

The Feb. 12 throne speech was the third since Horgan and the NDP formed government in July 2017, under an alliance with Andrew Weaver’s Green party. Previous Lt. Gov. Judith Guichon read the legislative blueprints on Sept. 8, 2017 and Feb. 13, 2018.

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Bob Mackin More transparency is coming to the

Bob Mackin

The BC Liberals spent an extra $12,000 of taxpayers’ money on two familiar faces for the creation of their ill-fated throne speech in June 2017. 

And it took the NDP government until a year-and-a-half later to find and disclose what the two contractors were paid to deliver. 

Staff in then-Premier Christy Clark’s office hired a University of British Columbia business professor under the banner of “policy advice related to innovation and clean technologies.” 

Tansey and Clark in Manila (BC Gov)

James Tansey invoiced $4,777.50 (including GST) through his One Ton Consulting for 26 hours of work, including advice about the carbon tax and a “disaster check” on three paragraphs about housing from a draft of the ill-fated, post-election throne speech. In May 2016, Tansey, in his role as the executive director of the UBC University Sustainability Initiative, was in Manila for meetings with Philippines-based real estate and development giant Ayala Corporation during Clark’s trade mission. Clark was photographed with Tansey at the signing of a letter of intent for Ayala to develop research and training with UBC.

“No obvious disasters,” Tansey replied on June 14, 2017 to an email from deputy minister of corporate priorities Neil Sweeney. 

Chief of staff Mike McDonald sent Tansey confidential draft material on June 11, 2017. The seven pages sent to Tansey, however, were deemed policy advice or recommendations, one of the sections of the law that governments use in order to avoid public disclosure.  

“Very rough,” McDonald wrote. “There’s a lot more to review in coming days.”

Tansey wrote in a June 13, 2017 email to McDonald and Sweeney “this is how I would start a throne speech if it was up to me.” The attached two pages, however, were not disclosed for the same reason.

McDonald and Sweeney communicated with Tansey via non-government email addresses, contrary to a 2013 order from then-Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham in the wake of the Quick Wins scandal. “The use of personal email accounts does not relieve public bodies of their duty to comprehensively search for requested records and to produce them,” Denham wrote. “The use of personal email accounts for work purposes can give the perception that public body employees are seeking to evade the freedom of information process.”

Ex-Clark press secretary Samuel Oliphant’s contract for “writing services” was originally worth $5,000, but was increased to $7,500 by Deputy Minister Kim Henderson, three days before he finished his assignment and billed $7,402.50, including GST. Oliphant’s June 23, 2017 invoice said he worked 47 hours at $150 per hour. The NDP government finally released a draft copy of the June 22, 2017 throne speech in late 2018, confirming the nature of Oliphant’s writing services assignment.

The throne speech became known as the “clone speech,” because it copied from the NDP and Green platforms. The Clark strategy was to cling to power and force a new election, after the Greens opted to form an alliance with the NDP to defeat the BC Liberal throne speech on June 29, 2017. When the government fell, Lt.-Gov. Judith Guichon asked Horgan to form a new government.

The quest for answers began in late September 2017. After noticing the existence of no-bid contracts for Tansey and Oliphant, theBreaker.news requested copies of their contracts, correspondence and the related deliverables. Contractual and financial information was disclosed later that fall.

In a Dec. 4, 2017 reply, staff in Premier John Horgan’s office said “although a thorough search was conducted, and a discussion with previous staff responsible for initiating the contract, we are unable to locate records identifying specific deliverables.” 

theBreaker.news complained to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner, which has the legal power to search and seize documents from anyone and compel people to testify under oath. Instead of using those powers, an OIPC investigator referred the file to a written inquiry. Government lawyer Troy Taillefer, who previously worked as an OIPC investigator, managed to extricate the documents and provided them to theBreaker.news in late 2018. 

Ex-Clark aides McDonald (left), Sweeney and Oliphant (Kirk and Co.)

Covering letters from the Office of the Premier that accompanied the long-awaited documents said it “believes its search for records, which included contacting members of the previous administration as well as the service provider, was extremely thorough and potentially beyond its legal requirement.” 

Tansey declined to comment, citing a confidentiality agreement with the Office of the Premier. Oliphant did not respond.

McDonald, Sweeney and Oliphant were reunited later in 2017 at a BC Liberal-aligned Vancouver communications company, Kirk and Co. McDonald as chief strategy officer, Oliphant as vice-president and Sweeney as the chief executive of subsidiary Kirk Environmental. 

In early 2018, a Provincial Court judge released internal party email after BC Liberal operative Brian Bonney’s breach of public trust sentencing. The email showed that McDonald coordinated party volunteers and staff to make fake pro-Clark phone calls to open line talk shows on CKNW before the 2013 election. 

During the 2017 election, the NDP promised long-overdue reforms to FOI laws, including a duty to document law and fines for deliberate destruction or deletion of records. Those promises remain unfulfilled. 

The only major policy statement on FOI reform by the Horgan NDP government came when government house leader Mike Farnworth said Feb. 6 that the FOI law would be amended to cover the Legislature. That came a day after a joint letter by the Information and Privacy Commissioner, Ombudsperson and Merit Commissioner. The three independent watchdogs urged adoption of transparency and accountability measures in the wake of Speaker Darryl Plecas’s report on overspending and corruption in the Legislature. 

Clerk Craig James and Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz were suspended Nov. 20 and are under RCMP investigation. They both say they are innocent.

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Bob Mackin The BC Liberals spent an extra

Bob Mackin

Craig James’s counterpart in Washington State said he found it to be odd when the now-suspended clerk of the B.C. Legislature wanted another tour of the state capitol building. 

James, sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz and speaker Linda Reid had toured the Legislature in Olympia, Wash. on Dec. 6, 2013 to learn about its business continuity and earthquake preparedness plans. House of Representatives chief clerk Bernard Dean told theBreaker.news that James contacted the Washington Legislature in June 2017, asking for an August tour and a briefing on the same topic. 

“We were actually surprised they wanted to do it again, but in this case it was with this larger delegation,” Dean said in an interview. 

Mariners vs. Orioles, Safeco Field, Aug. 16, 2017 (MLB/YouTube)

That delegation of about a dozen people was under the banner of the Legislative Assemblies Business Continuity Network (LABCON), a group that has met annually since 2015, according to James and Lenz in their Feb. 7 replies to Speaker Darryl Plecas’s Jan. 21 report on the duo, now under RCMP investigation. The Plecas Report found they spent at least $10,352.46 on meals, transportation, a whale watching tour and tickets to a Seattle Mariners’ baseball game. 

“Neither the purpose of the conference, nor the reason why the British Columbia Legislative Assembly would be hosting a conference in Washington State, is evident from the documents, nor is the total amount spent on hosting the conference; however, many of the expenses are surprisingly large,” Plecas wrote.

A check of the minutes for the Nov. 29, 2017 Legislative Assembly Management Committee meeting, and its Nov. 9, 2017 finance and audit subcommittee, found no mention by James or Lenz about visiting Olympia or hosting LABCON. As for the earlier trip, Reid told the Dec. 12, 2013 LAMC meeting that she wanted an accelerometer to measure whether the B.C. Legislature’s dome had moved since 2006 (the Washington State capitol dome shifted slightly after the 2001, 6.8 magnitude earthquake). Reid vaguely referred to visiting capitols in Sacramento, Calif., Salem, Ore. and Olympia, but did not provide any details on costs or activities.

“As host of these meetings, as is customary practice in hosting parliamentary conferences, British Columbia incurred most of the expense,” James wrote. “As is also customary, there was a sightseeing portion of the agenda for visiting guests. Delegates paid for their own travel and accommodation, as is also customary.”

The meeting ran Aug. 13-18, 2017. The group took the Clipper ferry from Victoria to Seattle on Aug. 15. The passenger list included Lenz, his wife Karen, procedural clerk Artour Sogomonian and executive manager Jennifer Horvath, who were joined by House of Commons business resilience manager Jose Cadorette, Senate of Canada safety and planning chief Marc Desforges, Ontario Legislative Assembly administration director Nancy Marling, U.K. Cabinet Office assistant director Martin Fenlon, and Scottish Parliament assistant chief executive Michelle Hegarty and business continuity manager Tommy Lynch. 

Washington House of Representatives Chief Clerk Bernard Dean (UW)

They stayed at the Westin hotel in Bellevue, dined at the McCormick and Schmick’s in Seattle on Aug. 16 for $1,089.17 and Daniel’s Boiler in Bellevue on Aug. 17 for $1,838.74. Thirteen tickets near third base for the Seattle Mariners’ game against the Baltimore Orioles on Aug. 16, which lasted three-hours and 13-minutes, cost $1,380.31. James hired Griffin Transportation of Vancouver to arrange a chauffeured van to take them from the hotel to Safeco Field and to Olympia for $3,250.63. The meeting also included an $899.70 Prince of Whales whale watching tour in Victoria. Lenz reimbursed $494.90 for his wife’s share of expenses. 

James called it “standard practice” to take delegates to a sporting or cultural event. In James’s reply to the Plecas Report, he said LABCON met in Victoria and Bellevue and that the Safeco Field tour was with the head of security to discuss mass evacuations and protecting large-scale public venues. James’s reply is silent on whether there was any thought of staying in B.C. to attend a Victoria Harbourcats or Vancouver Canadians baseball game or tour B.C. Place Stadium or Rogers Arena instead.

Dean said the group spent three hours at the capitol on Aug. 17, 2017 for a tour and briefing about response, recovery and remediation from the 2001 Nisqually earthquake. He said they also talked about regulations for the carrying of licensed firearms on the capitol campus. He said he wasn’t familiar with the Commonwealth-centric LABCON. Washington is a member of the American Society of Legislative Clerks and Secretaries.

“I can’t say I recall any other business trips by a legislative clerk or secretary for an express purpose of issues like that, unless they’re visiting on vacation, they stop by and ask if they can receive a tour of the building,” Dean said. “We have public tours, but as a courtesy to other fellow clerks and secretaries, sometimes we’ll give them a more behind the scenes tour if we know who they are.”

Dean said he has not been invited for a reciprocal visit to the B.C. Legislature. He has visited as a tourist. 

“We haven’t done that sort of thing,” he said, referring to the amount of international travel that B.C. Legislature officials conduct. “We don’t typically travel to other states to hear specifically about these issues.”

Washington State Capitol in Olympia (State of Washington)

Dean also revealed that Lenz and his deputy, Randy Ennis, were planning another trip to the Washington State Legislature for last Dec. 14. 

“Cancelled abruptly, and then we sort of found out that that Gary and Craig James were escorted off the capitol campus,” Dean said. 

As for the scandal, Dean said many people in Olympia are watching. “We’re fascinated by some of what we’ve heard about and interested in seeing what the outcome is.”

Unlike B.C.’s legislature, financial documents at the one in Olympia are subject to public records disclosure laws. NDP house leader Mike Farnworth said last week that would eventually change in Victoria, when the freedom of information law is amended.

Unlike the Clerk’s office in Victoria, Dean’s office does not manage the Legislative campus. That is the job of the state’s Department of Enterprise Services, which is similar to B.C.’s Ministry of Citizens’ Services.

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Bob Mackin Craig James’s counterpart in Washington State

Change is coming to British Columbia, not because the NDP government is fulfilling an election promise.

But because of Speaker Darryl Plecas’s report that explained some of the reasons why he called the RCMP to investigate corruption at the B.C. Legislature .

Justin Trudeau, facing questions about SNC-Lavalin corruption in 2015. Look who is behind him.

Information and Privacy Commissioner Michael McEvoy, Merit Commissioner Fiona Spencer and Ombudsperson Jay Chalke told the Legislative Assembly Management Committee in a joint Feb. 5 letter that freedom of information needs to apply at the Legislature, whistleblower protection must be extended to staff there and merit-based hiring must be the rule. NDP house leader Mike Farnworth, who is also the Solicitor General, pledged to make it happen: “Let me be really clear: Those three recommendations are going to be implemented.”

The devil is in the details and the deadline. But Plecas’s chief of staff, Alan Mullen, couldn’t be happier that their work is starting to bear fruit.

“We don’t want to just peek behind the curtain, we want to rip it down and make sure it stays down,” Mullen said in a feature interview with theBreaker.news Podcast host Bob Mackin.

“Our motives were simply this, look after British Columbians, look after the tax dollar.”

Meanwhile, in this week’s edition of Reporter’s Notebook, Mackin goes to the archive for audio from a 2015 news conference where he grilled Liberal leader Justin Trudeau about transit infrascture spending, corruption and SNC-Lavalin. Some three-and-a-half years later,the Prime Minister’s Office is accused of meddling in the criminal prosecution of the corrupt Montreal engineering and construction company. Listen to Trudeau’s answers and learn who was standing behind him at that news conference.

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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Change is coming to British Columbia, not

Bob Mackin

Suspended British Columbia Legislature Clerk Craig James and Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz responded separately to the Legislative Assembly Management Committee on Feb. 7, after each received a six-day extension.

The Legislature voted unanimously to suspend them on Nov. 20. They are under investigation by the RCMP and two special prosecutors for allegations of corruption. They claim to be innocent and want to be reinstated. When it published the damning report by Speaker Darryl Plecas on Jan. 21, LAMC demanded an explanation from James and Lenz.

theBreaker.news obtained copies of their responses, which are published below in their entirety.

Gary Lenz (left), ex-speaker Linda Reid and Craig James (Commonwealth Parliamentary Association)

Meanwhile, theBreaker.news has learned that former Speaker Linda Reid has resigned as Assistant Deputy Speaker. The Richmond BC Liberal MLA since 1991 was implicated in the spending scandal and firing of an aide who blew the whistle on expense irregularities. Joan Isaacs will be put forward as Reid’s replacement when the Legislature reconvenes on Feb. 12.

theBreaker.news has analyzed James and Lenz’s replies and found several admissions, omissions and discrepancies that demand fact-checking.

WHAT DAY WAS THAT?

JAMES: First, the Sergeant-at-Arms had never even been to my house before November 21, 2018, the day we were removed from the Legislative Assembly.

LENZ: Until November 21, 2018, following my removal from the Legislature, I had never been to the Clerk’s residence.

FACT CHECK: The duo was suspended (with pay) on Nov. 20, 2018, by vote of the Legislature, and escorted to the parking lot. TV cameras caught images of Lenz as the driver of a car. James was the passenger. 

HOW MUCH WOOD WOULD A CLERK SPLIT?

LENZ: My recollection is that the wood splitter was for the purpose of provide firewood  for heat and light in the event of a disaster; and the trailer was to be available for whatever utility purposes were required, including potentially hauling wood. 

JAMES: I was storing them while storage space at the Legislature (including a concrete pad and path for the trailer) was being constructed. This was supposed to be a short term proposition but it dragged on. All of this was done in the open and known to many people.

Wallenstein log splitter

I became frustrated at storing the trailer at my home because of its size. (I did not have the space – I live in a strata and not a rural property) and I arranged to have the trailer stored at an RV storage facility. This was known to the Executive Financial Officer (I recall raising the issue with her in my office). The Report suggests the “trailer was not at the Legislative Precinct as of November 20, 2018” and that it “subsequently materialized”.  This is incorrect, I took the trailer to the Legislature prior to my removal form (sic) the Assembly on November 21, 2018 (sic). I have not been back there since. I called Randy Ennis to let him know that I was bringing the trailer a week or so before I dropped it off. When I was removed from the Assembly, I arranged through my lawyers for the pick-up of some personal items of mine from the Assembly and the delivery of items belonging to the Assembly, including the wood splitter. 

FACT CHECK: Again, James and Lenz were suspended on Nov. 20, 2018, not Nov. 21, 2018. The Dec. 4, 2018 letter from his lawyer at Fasken said “Mr. James is also holding a log splitter…” The log splitter was compatible with the trailer. 

According to the Plecas Report, “Mr. Ennis said the wood splitter never arrived at the Legislative Assembly, and instead was taken directly to Mr. James’ personal residence where Mr. James and Mr. Lenz were using it to split firewood. Mr. Ennis’ view was that there was no legitimate rationale for the Legislative Assembly to have purchased a wood splitter for emergency purposes or otherwise.”

The Legislature also has a well-resourced and well-stocked contractor that specializes in tree care. Bartlett Tree Experts was on the job outside the Parliament Buildings on Jan. 21. Its website said its services include cleaning up from storms. Bartlett provided the Christmas tree in the Legislature rotunda in 2013, after a local farmer who volunteered his trees for 40 years was snubbed. 

EVERYBODY INTO THE… LUGGAGE POOL?

JAMES:  The Report also refers to luggage I purchased in Hong Kong [for which he was reimbursed $1,138.14]. It is true I purchased this luggage. Several MLAs had requested the purchase of pieces of luggage which could form a small pool of luggage that would be available for anyone at the Legislative Assembly (staff or member) for official travel.

The Speaker himself had complained to me that he felt he did not have sufficient luggage for the travel he was engaged in. The purchase in Hong Kong (and another purchase in London) were for this purpose. In preparing this response it has been pointed out to me that the receipt for this luggage purchase contains three items, the two pieces of luggage and a watch. I claimed for two items. But it appears that I accidentally claimed for the watch rather than one of the pieces of luggage. The cost is approximately the same for the two items but I will reimburse the small difference. 

LUNCHING WITH LAWYERS

JAMES: I met with John Hunter, Q.C. and Geoff Plant, Q.C. in relation to legal matters involving the  Legislative Assembly. While we communicated by telephone and email in relation to routine matters, in person meetings were required from time to time. And I believed it was cheaper to have me travel to meet with counsel rather than to have a lawyer charge for his time travelling to Victoria. I met with current and former MLAs and the Speaker and Deputy Speaker in the Lower Mainland; again, for business purposes. In specific response to a criticism that I met with Mr. Plant and Mr. Barbeau, I did not meet with them at the same time – there were two separate meetings, one relating to legal advice to the Legislative Assembly, the other pertaining to obtaining reproductions of coastal BC paintings for legislature offices. 

Paul Barbeau (LinkedIn)

FACT CHECK: James was silent about his meetings with Christy Clark [July 17, Oct. 13 and Dec. 14, 2017; and May 2, 2018] and the BC Liberal Vancouver office [Jan. 31, 2018, four days before the leadership election]. He was also silent about the reason given on his expense form for the June 20, 2018 trip to Vancouver to meet Plant and Barbeau: Vancouver-Point Grey, the name of Attorney General David Eby’s riding.

Neither ex-attorney general Plant nor BC Liberal president Barbeau have responded to theBreaker.news. At the time of his meeting with James, Barbeau was leader Andrew Wilkinson’s handpicked representative on the party board. 

James’s expenses said he met on four occasions with Hunter, whose Hunter Litigation Chambers billed the Legislature $44,866 for the last fiscal year. Two of the meetings, on May 4 and 17, 2017, are in dispute by the spokesman for B.C.’s higher courts. Hunter was named as a judge to the B.C. Court of Appeal on April 12, 2017 and sworn-in eight days later. Bruce Cohen said Hunter told him he did not speak to or meet with James “at any time” after his judicial appointment was announced. 

WHEN GARY THREW CRAIG UNDER THE BUS 

LENZ: Again, in the limited time provided to me to respond to the Speaker’s report, I have concentrated on specific allegations about my conduct. I have not had the time or opportunity to deal with his detailed recitations of conversations that he says that we had about the Clerk’s conduct. Nor, frankly, do I see the purpose in this. The Speaker’s concerns about the Clerk should be dealt with on the basis of facts, not hearsay. I do wish to say, however that the Clerk has done much to improve the affairs of the Legislative Assembly. 

FACT CHECK: Let the reader decide. Did Lenz deny in the above paragraph that he said the following to Plecas, as in the Plecas Report?

Mr. Lenz expressed the view that Mr. James was not impartial and that he was in fact very close with the BC Liberal party. Before I became Speaker, that was not something that I had heard before, so I determined to reserve judgment on that subject; however, this was the first time Mr. Lenz had said something to me that indicated he was not entirely aligned with Mr. James’ views and conduct. Mr. Lenz added that I should not trust Mr. James.

A LIBERAL PLANT?

JAMES: I do not agree that my advice to the Speaker was partisan in nature; I am aware of my obligation to act in an even handed manner. I do not vote in Provincial General Elections. 

FACT CHECK: James was appointed clerk on June 2, 2011 when the BC Liberals used their majority in the Legislature, to the protest of the NDP opposition. The all-party LAMC did not make the decision. See above. In his Jan. 21 report, Plecas had written that, after returning from the U.K. in August 2018, James had asked him when he would submit his bill for an Ede and Ravenscroft suit. In that conversation, Plecas alleged that James had damaging informaiton about the BC Liberals and was willing and able to use it, in order to protect Plecas. 

I said I wasn’t going to do that, but I didn’t want to alarm him, so I added something to the effect of me being a public figure and that my expenses are undoubtedly scrutinized by the Members of the Opposition. He replied that I shouldn’t worry. He said that if they took issue with my expenses, he could put an end to it because he had “so much dirt on the Liberals” and that he could threaten to “stop paying their legal bills” or “quit paying their severance payments”. I don’t know what he was talking about, but it seemed an unusual comment.

Here is James’s version:

Sometime after we returned from the U.K., the Speaker told me that he had decided not to submit a reimbursement claim for the suit he had bought as he was concerned about what the Liberals would say and how it might affect his potential recall. The suggestion in the Report that he played coy as he “didn’t want to alarm [me]” is laughable. If the Speaker had any concerns about my conduct, I would have expected him to raise them. He never did.

James was silent on the comment attributed to him, that he had “so much dirt on the Liberals” and could threaten to cut-off BC Liberals’ legal bills and severance payments.

So, what does James know about the BC Liberals and when did he know it? Questions for the RCMP and two special prosecutors to seek answers. 

CALL ME COMMISSIONER, PLEASE 

Clerk Craig James swore Christy Clark in as Westside-Kelowna MLA in 2013, near Clark’s Vancouver office. (Facebook)

JAMES: The Report also refers to the fact I asked the Speaker to appoint me and the Deputy Clerk as Commissioners. It is true that I asked the Speaker to appoint us commissioners under the Legislative Procedure Review Act, for the purposes of work we were performing to prepare a Fifth Edition of “Parliamentary Practice in British Columbia” and other procedural reform and research including review of the Standing Orders and legislation applicable to the Legislative Assembly. My motivation to be appointed Commissioner was driven by tradition, practice, and what I believed the Legislative Procedure Review Act required – not additional compensation, which in any event could not be paid unless it was “certified and approved by the Speaker” under s. 4(1).

BOOZE FOR BILL BARISOFF

LENZ: The incident the Speaker refers to happened in 2013. The Clerk, assisted by member of the Legislative Facilities staff loaded unopened boxes and bottles of alcohol into the Clerks truck on two occasions. This was done openly in the middle of the day. I am not responsible for managing the Clerks or Speakers supply of alcohol. I assumed at the time that the alcohol was unused and being returned. I had no reason to believe that anything wrong was happening. I had no involvement in the purchase or returning of the alcohol, other than to inform the Executive Finance Officer that the alcohol had been removed from the precinct by the Clerk.

JAMES: The Report refers to an incident in 2013 involving “$10,000 worth of liquor” and suggests I took this liquor to former Speaker Barisoff. My memory of this event, which took place more than 5 years ago, is imperfect. I categorically deny taking $10,000 of liquor, to Mr. Barisoff, or otherwise. 

What I do remember is that, along with a desk and chair that had been presented to him, and other personal effects, I took some amount of alcohol to Mr. Barisoff’s house (certainly not $10,000 worth) in the Okanagan when I was scheduled to meet with him on Legislative Assembly related matters. 

I remember that Mr. Barisoff provided a cheque for the alcohol, payable to the Legislative Assembly. It should be in the records, which are unavailable to me. 

FACT CHECK: Barisoff was quoted by reporter Keith Lacey in the Kelowna Daily Courier on Jan. 23 denying that he received $10,000 worth of alcohol. He only admitted to receiving the desk he had been given at his retirement party. “The fact the reports suggest that I had received $10,000 worth of alcohol delivered to my house is troubling when it didn’t happen,” Barisoff said. “That’s the way it goes, I guess.”

HEADPHONES ILLUSTRATED OR AURAL DIGEST?

JAMES: I accept that expenses incurred for several subscriptions should not have been charged to the Legislative Assembly. I accept that I did not take the care I should have in reviewing these invoices before they were processed for reimbursement to segregate out personal subscriptions (i.e. a Bicycling magazine) from subscriptions that were for business use. 

I will reimburse these expenses, and I will exercise scrupulous care on this matter moving forward. 

I do not agree that other expenses identified in the Report are inappropriate. A camera was purchased and used for legislative business. I was responsible for taking photographs of our official visit to China, and have and continue to compile photo journals for the Legislature. The “Dial a Geek” and computer products that were purchased were for my home office, and Legislature office. They are proper and legitimate tools which I used for my job, and have returned while I am on administrative leave. Finally, the Report refers to noise cancelling headphones. I suffer from a condition which causes ear problems when flying arising from a combination of sound and cabin pressure. The noise cancelling headphones were purchased to alleviate that condition. 

VACATION LUCRE

JAMES: I did not understand there to be any problem with the fact I received a payout for unused vacation. This was approved through appropriate channels, and was not a benefit that was unique to me. Receipt of a payout of vacation was consistent with settled practice…

I understand the Report to suggest that I am rarely in the office on Fridays. This is inaccurate, Audit Working Group meetings are held on Friday mornings. I am a member of the Audit Working Group and I attend its meetings, and work on Friday (and also often work evenings and weekends). Our lives are very similar to the Members – we are working 24/7 even when we find time to take our vacations. 

LENZ: I have contributed well over 400 hours each year over and above my expected work hours… My leave and vacation payouts have been approved by the Clerk, as it is with all other staff that report to him. 

FACT CHECK: According to Plecas, “the total amount paid to Mr. Lenz and Mr. James in lieu of vacation, it is, at a minimum, several hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

RETIREMENT BONANZA

JAMES: In relation to the retirement allowance I received in 2012 [$257,988.38], I note that: It was not my idea to create this benefit. The benefit was created by others who had the power to confer it on me and other officers. A legal opinion regarding the validity of the retirement allowance was provided to former Speaker Barisoff at his request.. After receiving the opinion Speaker Barisoff confirmed the program was in effect, but also brought it to an end. 

Exclusive London tailor shop preferred by James and Lenz.

FACT CHECK: According to Plecas, “The same Retirement Allowance was paid in 2012 to Kate Ryan-Lloyd as Deputy Clerk and Clerk of Committees, in the amount of $118,915.84. This was apparently done at the instruction of Mr. Barisoff and with the written support of Mr. James. However, on February 20, 2013, Ms. Ryan-Lloyd wrote to Mr. James stating that she would voluntarily pay back the net amount she received in full, for “personal reasons”, which invites the inference that she did not believe it to be a legitimate benefit.”

HABERDASH OR BALDERDASH?

LENZ: Studs, cufflinks and wing shirt were purchased for work use and approved and processed appropriately. These items are part of the Sergeant-at-Arms formal uniform… None of the items that I purchased and received reimbursement for were for personal gifts or personal non-work use.

JAMES: I bought a suit. I had been working on a plan to modernize the clothing worn at the Table in the House (which consists of cumbersome and expensive gowns), to be more akin to the business attire worn at the Table in the Quebec National Assembly and the Scottish Parliament.  Transitioning to modern business attire for everyday use in the Legislative Assembly will lead to a savings of money, given the thousands of dollars that we spend each year on garments worn by the Table Officers and Presiding Officers currently cost.

FACT CHECK: There are numerous high-quality tailors located in British Columbia, but James and Lenz preferred the same London shop that supplies Queen Elizabeth II. Both James and Lenz’s replies are silent on the issues of declaration of imported goods and payment of duties and taxes. theBreaker.news reported exclusively that Canada Border Services Agency may be investigating the duo.

Plecas’s report said that, in December 2017, “When we were preparing to fly home [from the U.K.], I commented that I had bought quite a bit of scotch and that it was likely to cost me a fair sum in duties. Mr. James replied along the lines of, “do as I do – don’t declare anything”.

SAANICH STRATA SPACE

JAMES: I became frustrated at storing the trailer at my home because of its size. (I did not have the space – I live in a strata and not a rural property) and I arranged to have the trailer stored at an RV storage facility. This was known to the Executive Financial Officer (I recall raising the issue with her in my office).

FACT CHECK: According to a B.C. government website, “Over 1.5 million people live in strata housing. Strata housing can include: condos, townhouses, duplexes, even single family homes in bare land strata corporations.” James’s residence is not the type of “strata” that British Columbians in urban areas would associate with a strata. James lives on one of six strata lots in the Bonanza cul-de-sac near Cordova Bay in Saanich. The 1990-built house, with four bedrooms and three bathrooms, is 3,647 square feet and sits on 10,425 square feet of land, that includes a driveway, garage and street-level parking pad. The wood splitter and trailer (pictured above) are closer in size to a motorcycle than a car.

The property was assessed at $1.361 million last year, up from $1.268 million a year earlier. 

Property records show Lenz has an apartment in Sidney worth $302,100 and a house worth $862,000 in North Saanich, east of John Dean Provincial Park. 

LEAD, FOLLOW OR GET OUT OF THE WAY 

LENZ: I note that the Speaker himself praised the leadership of the Clerk in my presence and requested that the Clerk provide a quote on leadership that could be used in the book on leadership that the Speaker was co-authoring.

FACT CHECK: Plecas co-authored The Essentials of Leadership in Government: Understanding the Basics with Len Garis and Colette Squires. Lenz’s reply includes relevant pages and a link to the e-book in which James was quoted on page 75 of the first edition (“Successful leadership is directly attributable to the stimulation a leader brings to mobilizing an organization”) and Lenz on page 127 (“Knowing your weakness only makes you stronger”).

However, what Lenz does not mention is that both he and James were deleted from the second edition of the book, which is available for free from this University of the Fraser Valley page dated Feb. 23, 2018. Is it any surprise that Plecas would want to purge his book of quotes from two people who would be facing a criminal investigation for alleged corruption under their leadership?

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James Final Response by on Scribd

Gary Lenz’s response

Lenz_SAA Response by on Scribd

 

 

Bob Mackin Suspended British Columbia Legislature Clerk Craig

Bob Mackin

The B.C. Government and Service Employees Union stepped up its campaign for a public inquiry into corruption and money laundering. 

It commissioned a poll of 800 British Columbia adults by Research Co, and found more than three-quarters of respondents want a public inquiry and 80% said B.C. should follow Quebec’s lead by opening an anti-corruption squad to fight public sector corruption. 

Stephanie Smith (BCGEU)

“I’m not surprised the public support is there, it’s certainly what we hear from our membership,” BCGEU president Stephanie Smith said in an interview. “What was surprising for us is the percentage of people who would see this as an election issue, should an election be called tomorrow.”

On that question, 84% believe it is an election issue, across party lines: voters who identified as NDP (87%), BC Liberal (84%) and Green (83%). 

More than half the respondents (51%) say the B.C. Lottery Corporation deserves all or most of the blame for the money laundering epidemic, followed by the former BC Liberal government (43%), current NDP government (24%), RCMP (24%) and federal Liberal government (18%). 

Smith said loved ones of BCGEU members have died in the opioid crisis, many are struggling to find or remain in affordable housing and some of those members work in casinos where money laundering has taken place, particularly River Rock in Richmond.

“Our members are feeling those effects. having safe working environments and more importantly this issue of employees being able to raise concerns or to bring to attention to their management that something is off, or something is not quite right, they do’t have protection under whistleblower legislation,” Smith said.

Neither Premier John Horgan nor Attorney General David Eby have closed the door on a public inquiry, but they are certainly not rushing into one. “Just questions on timing, whether or not it would be a fruitful endeavour to do and let certain things play out like the second [Peter] German report,” Smith said.

All-party data-mining

B.C.’s three main political parties are collecting too much personal information of voters without consent, sharing it with others and doing too little to protect the data. 

That, according to Information and Privacy Commissioer Michael McEvoy’s Feb. 6-released Full Disclosure report.

From the OIPC’s Full Disclosure report

While parties use traditional means, such as door knocking and petitions, they have become more sophisticated in the 21st century. McEvoy wrote that the BC Liberals, NDP and Greens are sharing email addresses of known supporters with social media companies, like Facebook.

“Additionally, the BC NDP gives Facebook the first and last name of their supporters along with phone number, city of residence, and date of birth. The Liberal Party disclosed to my investigators that it uploads its financial donor list to Facebook.”

McEvoy said they do so for two reasons. 

“The first is that it allows the party to directly serve its advertisements to these supporters on a social media platform. Facebook for example, will match the emails (or other supplied identifiers) with the voters’ Facebook account if they have one. The party then advertises to that individual through their Facebook newsfeed. All three parties use this advertising strategy,” he wrote. “All of the parties also disclose lists of supporters to utilize Facebook’s ‘Lookalike’ audience tool. Facebook analyzes the extensive information it has collected about those who are Facebook users to determine if they share certain characteristics. Once Facebook has identified a group of people who ‘look like’  the party’s existing supporters, Facebook offers the party the opportunity to advertise to those people.”

McEvoy said political parties may use an individual’s email address or social media user name to contact an individual, only if the person has consented. Political parties are governed by the Personal Information Privacy Act, which his office has the duty of enforcing.

In their efforts to build profiles of individual voters for micro targeting, McEvoy found that parties are collecting seven types of identity information, 23 types of individual information, 13 types of party participation data, four types of financial information and 11 types of voter list/participation data. The BC Liberals amended the Election Act in 2015 to provide parties and candidates an electronic voters’ list and to reveal who on that list voted. 

McEvoy said his office received complaints throughout the 2017 election about parties improperly disclosing and failing to take adequate security measures to protect voters’ information. There were incidents of stolen equipment, lost canvassing lists, and post-election voter data retention.

“Political parties disclosing personal information of supporters to Facebook without consent, or processing supporters’ information to determine ethnicity demonstrate why boundaries are required. While these are concerning scenarios, recent developments in the U.S. and U.K. suggest they may only be the thin edge of the wedge when it comes to privacy-invasive techniques used to gain electoral advantage,” McEvoy wrote.

“If we are to avoid a perilous future path, all political parties must focus on each and every aspect of how they handle the personal information of British Columbians. This is not only a matter of legal compliance, but also of the public interest.”

The report did not mention, by name, at least, AggregateIQ, the controversial Victoria Facebook advertising and analytics company that worked closely with the BC Liberals and did a project for the Greens. AggregateIQ is under investigation by information and privacy authorities on both sides of the Atlantic.

Trudeau’s SNC-Lavalin scandal

Did Jody Wilson-Raybould become the ex-Attorney General of Canada because Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wanted her to drop criminal charges against SNC-Lavalin? 

The Globe and Mail reported that the Prime Minister’s Office pressed Wilson-Raybould, now the Veterans’ Affairs Minister, to negotiate a plea bargain with SNC-Lavalin, rather than carry on a case about nearly $180 million in bribes and fraud with the Gadhafi regime.

Trudeau denied the story and said nobody in his office directed Wilson-Raybould to make any decision. He did not answer reporters when asked if there had been any attempt to influence Wilson-Raybould. 

SNC-Lavalin has had a role in every stage of rapid transit expansion in Metro Vancouver and is expected to bid on the Broadway Subway and Surrey SkyTrain projects, a whopping $10 billion worth of infrastructure. Wilson-Raybould’s Vancouver-Granville riding includes part of the planned Broadway subway route.

Which brings me back to Sept. 10, 2015 when Trudeau’s traveling Liberal campaign roadshow stopped at John Lawson Park in West Vancouver to announce an ocean protection plan. I grilled him about his promise to spend $20 billion over a decade on transit infrastructure.

Mackin: The question is about money going to waste through corruption and bribery. What is the Liberal Party going to do to make things better in Canada to prevent companies like SNC-Lavalin from getting into the trouble it did, to make sure taxpayers’ [money] goes to where it is… If taxpayers’ money is going to waste on infrastructure and transportation, that’s taxpayers money that can’t go into health and education and protecting oceans.

Trudeau: “The Liberal government is committed to openness and transparency. We have taken new measures that raise the bar on openness and transparency through disclosure of parliamentary—expenses that the NDP actually drag their heels on—through disclosure, through open data, through a commitment to restoring Canadians’ trust in politics, in politicians and in the service they offer to Canadians. Our government will be transparent and open with its procurement policies and demanding the same of our partners and that’s what we’re committed to.”

Mackin: You haven’t talked about any efforts to crack down on corruption. This is a big problem across the country, especially in Montreal where you’re from.

Trudeau: “Openness and transparency is what Canadians expect of their governments, they’ve had 10 years of the most secretive government in Canada’s history with Mr. Harper and that’s why sunshine being the best disinfectant means that we’re actually going to be answering Canadians’ call for better government through openness, transparency and integrity. Having a Prime Minister that tells the truth will be a nice change.”

NDP government keeps what NDP opposition called useless

The Horgan Horde is keeping the Auditor General for Local Government. 

When today’s municipal affairs minister Selina Robinson was the opposition critic in 2015, she slammed the Clark Clique-created agency for spending $5.2 million over two years and producing only one audit. Back then, Robinson wanted AGLG to be folded into the Office of the Auditor General. Now she says it should continue as-is. With some tweaks, of course.

The review, by Kelly Daniels of the Rethink Group, said the AGLG overpromised and underdelivered. It had too few staff. Those that it did have were unfamiliar with how local governments operated. 

AGLC conducted 26 performance audits on 25 communities, including reports about procurement, policing, asset management, oversight of capital projects and emergency management.

Oddly, the 25 communities did not include the biggest civic government in the entire province, Vancouver.

Burnaby and Richmond have also escaped audits, so far. Only one about Surrey was completed. That was about management of the RCMP contract and police budget oversight. The audit did not consider whether the RCMP or a municipal force is best for Surrey or whether Surrey has enough police officers. 

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Bob Mackin The B.C. Government and Service Employees