Friday, March 1, 2013

Party all the time

UPDATED March 4, 2013

If you remember the 1980s, you'll remember Eddie Murphy's brief foray into the world of music. The brilliant comedian who rescued Saturday Night Live hooked up with Rick James for "Party All the Time." The one-hit wonder went to number 2 on the Billboard hit parade in 1985.

Murphy deserves a spot in the Comedy Hall of Fame. But not in any musical hall of fame.

"Party all the time" also applies to Premier Christy Clark and her gal-pals in the Office of the Premier. Not in the context of celebration, but in the context of using any means necessary to keep Clark in the Office of the Premier and the BC Liberal Party as B.C.'s ruling party. However a futile task that may be, because all signs point to defeat on May 14.

Clark's nearly two years in office have been heavy on campaigning and light on governing. The BC Liberals limited debate on budget estimates in spring 2012 and cancelled the fall sitting of the Legislature. They did so for campaign purposes and to avoid being held accountable by the Opposition NDP. Clark tried to justify the lack of Legislative debate in a National Post story. Remember her comments about the capital's alleged "sick culture"?

In the democracy of the modern media age, we are burdened by the permanent campaign. The campaign doesn't begin when the writ is dropped or lawn signs mushroom in your neighbourhood. It actually begins the morning after an election win. This isn't peculiar to the BC Liberals. The Harper Conservatives in Ottawa and the Robertson Vision Vancouver at 12th and Cambie operate in similar fashion, aiming to end every day, week and month with positive media coverage and improved opinion poll results. But it is not healthy for our democracy when leaders put party loyalty, propaganda and prolonging of their power above the interests of the populace.
"Quick Wins" Kim

The latest evidence of how the BC Liberals are blurring the lines between governing and partying (and misusing public resources) came Feb. 27 when the NDP published a leaked email and report about the BC Liberals' Multicultural Outreach Strategy (aka "Quick Wins" memo), dated Jan. 10, 2012. A crass strategy to win ethnic votes for the Liberal party, crafted in secrecy during government time funded by taxpayers.

The sender of the "Multicultural Strategy Action Items" email at 12:50 p.m., from her private email account (to avoid it being caught by nosy Freedom of Information requesters), was Clark's deputy chief of staff Kim Haakstad. Haakstad is a former liquor lobbyist who supported a bid by Exel Logistics to privatize B.C.'s liquor distribution, according to an internal Exel memo.
"Outreacher" Pam

Recipients included Pamela Martin (outreach director and former news anchor), Barinder Bhullar (outreach coordinator), Fiera Lo (a Liberal party worker now listed as executive assistant to Multiculturalism minister John Yap), David Clarke Ritchie (ministerial assistant to the Premier), Brian Bonney (a friend of Harry Bloy's who was the multiculturalism director of communications until February 2013), Lorne Mayencourt (the ex-MLA and current Liberal outreach director), Primrose Carson (executive director of the Liberal caucus) and Jeff Melland (a consultant whose Linkedin profile says he was involved in the Chinese-language media program for the Liberal caucus).

Now I have more to add.

Notice how Haakstad's Jan. 10, 2012 email (to which the 17-page memo is attached) says "Here is the strategy for the meeting tomorrow."

Pages from Haakstad and Martin's daily agendas, obtained via FOI and published below, show that on Jan. 11, 2012 -- the day after the infamous Haakstad memo -- Haakstad and Martin were both involved in a conference call about “Multicultural Outreach plan” from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. During government working hours.

Notice how the entry in Martin's agenda is censored. This is a key observation. The 15 means section 15 of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. That is the loophole that can allow redaction of information if a public body fears that disclosure may harm law enforcement. Sec. 15(l) covers "security of any property or system, including... a computer system or communications system."

The 17 means section 17 of FIPPA. That is the loophole that can allow the redaction of information if a public body fears that disclosure may be harmful to the financial or economic interests of a public body. Section 17(c) covers "plans that relate to the management of personnel of or the administration of a public body that have not yet been implemented or made public."

On Feb. 13, 2012, Haakstad's agenda shows an entry for an 11 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. "Multicultural Outreach -- Conference Call." During government working hours. And, on March 12, 2012, Haakstad's agenda shows a “Multicultural conference call with Prim and Kim” from 11:30 a.m. to noon. During government working hours.

"Prim" Carson is on the email from Jan. 10, 2012. She was quoted in Cassidy Olivier's Nov. 18, 2012 Province story about how government employees were using public time to create a political attack website against NDP leader Adrian Dix. 

"You can't be doing party work here. For sure, I would agree with that," Carson told Olivier.

The B.C. Public Service Agency standards of conduct are clear. Employees’ political activities “must be clearly separated from activities related to their employment. 
“Employees must not engage in political activities during working hours or use government facilities, equipment or resources in support of these activities.”
Clark, through Deputy Premier Rich Coleman, issued an apology on Feb. 28 and tasked her Deputy Minister John Dyble to investigate. That's not good enough, according to Integrity BC.

Integrity BC says this should be a case for the Auditor General, John Doyle. But we know how the Liberals aren't fans of Doyle because he is independent and he tells it like he sees it.

Haakstad quit on March 1. Clark held an emergency cabinet meeting in Vancouver on March 3. But trouble may not be over for Haakstad.

According to a March 4-published report by Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham, Haakstad apparently deleted records regarding ex-chief of staff Ken Boessenkool. Haakstad claimed they were transitory and, therefore, could legally be deleted under the FOI Act.

Since Haakstad cooperated with Denham, she was not placed under oath. But Denham is looking at the Quick Wins scandal and may investigate the use by government officials of private email addresses intended to elude the FOI requesters.

Thankfully, however, people like Haakstad and Martin cannot delete their agendas or hide them from FOI requesters.

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