Monday, December 3, 2012

Air Christy update: $201,000 and counting

On The Investigators on CKNW AM 980, I have twice explored Premier Christy Clark's frequent flying on the taxpayers' dime via Blackcomb Aviation, the airline owned by BC Liberal bagman and CN Rail chairman David McLean. Here is the Oct. 22 edition and the Nov. 13 sequel.

Government rules state ministers and their staff on government business can charter aircraft only when there is no scheduled service that can meet a minister’s schedule, or the cost is “economical” compared to scheduled service. But how many of Clark's trips were for governing purposes versus political photo ops? How many could have been replaced by two-way videoconferencing? 

Here are details on three of the Premier's latest Blackcomb Aviation trips, released to me via Freedom of Information.

Clark took assistant Gabe Garfinkel, issues management director Shane Mills, Advanced Education Minister John Yap and his assistant Rishi Sharma to Prince George on Sept. 18 to announce $17 million for skills training equipment at B.C. public colleges and universities. The flight from Vancouver departed 9:50 a.m. and returned at 1:55 p.m. Clark's agenda shows she was at the College of New Caledonia from 11:20 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. Not even an hour. 

Event coordinator Kathryn Bergen joined the party on the return leg. Cost to taxpayers: $6,035.01.
Clark travelled with Garfinkel, now-ex communications director Sara MacIntyre to Kelowna and the secret agent man (a name that is consistently censored from passenger lists for security reasons) for a day on Sept. 20 to open the new Reichwald Health Sciences Centre at UBC Okanagan. The flight departed Vancouver at 8 a.m. The appearance at UBCO was from 8:50 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. Not even three-quarters of an hour. There is no other entry on the agenda until the 7 p.m. flight was wheels down at YVR at 7:40 p.m. Cost to taxpayers: $4,062.64.

On Oct. 5, Clark took a one-day trip to Prince George for a chamber of commerce luncheon with Garfinkel, press secretary Mike Morton. "visual communications officer" Justin Schneider, and the secret agent man. The flight departed Vancouver at 10:30 a.m. for the 11:55 a.m. to 1:20 p.m. speaking engagement at the Ramada Hotel. On the return leg, which took-off at 2 p.m., they were joined by events coordinator Tara Zwaan. The charter was back at YVR at 3 p.m. Cost to taxpayers: $6,007.86.

On that trip, she had Schneider shoot this video where she again floated the fabled 57,000 jobs created statistic, which Sun Media's David Akin so deftly deconstructed and deflated in his well-read post, "Do Christy Clark's boasts on job creation hold up? Nope. Nada. Not even close."

Gotta love how The Prince George Citizen's editorial started: "Premier Christy Clark brings her bogus five conditions that must be met for her support of Enbridge's Northern Gateway Pipeline to a Prince George Chamber of Commerce lunch today."

For those keeping score at home, Clark has traveled 17,222 nautical miles around B.C. on 28 Blackcomb Aviation round-trips since becoming Premier in March 2011. That's the equivalent of 31,895.1 kilometres. By comparison, the equator is 40,075. 

The total cost to taxpayers so far: $201,133.37. 

But there is more... much more than that. On Oct. 1, Clark, Garfinkel, deputy minister Neil Sweeney, Morton and the secret agent man jetted to Calgary aboard a London Air Services charter for what turned out to the Short and Frosty Summit with Alberta Premier Alison Redford. Clark and co. returned to YVR the next day. The cost of that charter trip has yet to be disclosed. 

Coincidentally, Clark hired a new communications director on Dec. 3. He is former TV news anchor and current Justin Trudeau supporter, Ben Chin. His last job? As a vice-president with the Air Miles frequent flyer consumer loyalty program. Response - LetterAirChristy

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