Friday, March 15, 2013

Two years on: her words don’t match the picture

Two years ago, on March 14, 2011, The Christy Clark Show: Taxpayer-Funded, Victoria Edition officially debuted. Political powerbroker Patrick Kinsella was among the guests in the live studio audience at Government House.

Premier Christy Clark
Christy Clark's swearing-in, March 14, 2011.
The Christy Clark Show: Taxpayer-Funded, Victoria Edition is a reality show that has been both a tragedy and a comedy. So many people are watching, despite the unpopular star and her supporting cast. The series will be cancelled as of May 14 if enough voters across this beautiful province go to the voting stations and (with the mark of an X on a ballot) figuratively say that they're mad as hell and not going to take it anymore

Conversely, Clark and Today's BC Liberals (not to be confused with Yesterday's BC Liberals or BC Christy) could be renewed for a four-year term. Stranger things have happened, but it is an extreme longshot, because March 2013 is only half over and it is shaping up to be as bad as, if not worse, than her March 2012. 

I said it before and I’ll say it again. March is the worst month to be a Premier in British Columbia. There is no “in like a lamb, out like a lion” maxim. If anything, it is a lacklustre month full of letdown for the person in the top elected office of the province. History shows the Premier is the author of his or her own misfortune.

March 2013 has been dominated by the Quick Wins Multicultural Outreach scandal, which actually began with the NDP's bombshell release of leaked Liberal election strategy documents on Feb. 27 (Clark's Pink Shirt Anti-Bullying Day). Clark's deputy chief of staff and closest confidant, Kim Haakstad, resigned March 1 because of it all. The Prince George plyscraper has received second billing on this month's scandal stage.

On March 4, Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham slammed Clark for running an "oral government" in an investigation into the non-disclosure of records by the Premier's Office. On March 9, the Victoria Times-Colonist cited the Comox Valley Business Gazette's report on a February speech in which she poked fun at her ex-husband's manhood. On March 11, independent MLA John van Dongen fired his latest salvo at the Liberals over the unanswered questions about the BC Rail scandal and the Basi-Virk $6 million legal indemnity. 

The quagmire continued on March 15 (the Ides of March!) when Clark went to meet with the Christians at the B.C. Leadership Prayer Breakfast. 

Clark left without answering any questions from reporters about caucus chair Gordon Hogg’s pronouncement that he is in favour of an external investigation of the scandal. As opposed to the in-house review conducted by John Dyble, the deputy minister that she hired for his $310,000-a-year job

Dyble’s March 14-released, in-house review of his boss confirmed Liberals broke government rules by performing party work on government time for the taxpayers’ dime. There is no evidence that Dyble probed what the premier knew and when she knew. She only denied knowledge of the Quick Wins memo. 

Here is CKNW AM 980’s account of how the Premier -- a self-styled champion of public engagement and openness -- refused to answer reporters' questions. She may have said grace before breakfast, but she did not stay with grace after breakfast.

This is the same Clark who famously said during the last Question Period of the Legislative session on March 14, 2013:
“The essence of leadership is not to hide. It's not to run away.”
This is the same Clark who famously said in her March 14, 2011 swearing-in speech
“Our government will be open to the people of British Columbia. We will talk about our problems; we will set our priorities openly; and we will work with citizens to find solutions. And we will explain why we make the decisions that we do. You may not always agree with us and all the decisions that we make, but to the greatest degree possible, you won’t be surprised at the course that we take, and you will know for certain why we’ve chosen it.”
Many of us in the media are grudgingly accustomed to Clark hiding and/or running away. It is an unsettling trend. 

Two examples from 2012. 
Another from 2013: the day her cabinet met for an emergency Sunday meeting on March 3, Clark finally emerged from Canada Place for a quick two-minute scrum at 7 p.m., conveniently after the local supper-hour newscasts had signed-off. When politicians are confident and have a message they want to share with the public, they crave the chance to be on live TV. But on this night, embattled Clark was not ready for prime time. 

I have my own snubbed-by-Clark stories. She wouldn’t answer my question in the elevator lobby outside CKNW on Oct. 23, 2012 about her spending of taxpayer dollars on charter jets owned by CN Rail chairman and Liberal donor David McLean. 

Clark (left) and Dennis Skulsky, March 8, 2013.
I also tried asking a question on March 8 at B.C. Place Stadium, about how she could justify the $2.7 million subsidy to buy the Grey Cup hosting rights for 2014, while selling public assets to claim a balanced budget. Earlier, while at the podium, she looked right into my camera lens. But in the post-news conference mixed zone, she turned away and walked out before I could finish my sentence. I was standing less than 10 feet away and had unsuccessfully tried to gain her attention twice before. I was not alone. Laura Baziuk of CKNW had also hoped to ask a question.

This wasn’t the behaviour of Gordon Campbell when he was premier. His answers may have been insufficient at times, but he took questions and dealt with them. This was also not the behaviour of Clark when she was on the opposition side of the Legislature and actively sought attention from reporters.

Which brings me back to the March 8 news conference to announce the British Columbia government had bought the rights to host the 102nd Grey Cup in 2014. The Canadian Football League conducted no open, competitive bidding process, so it is incorrect to say hosting was awarded to the B.C. Lions and their owner, Sen. David Braley. The news conference had apparently been a rush job, to help the Liberals end a week on a high note after the Quick Wins scandal exploded.

When Clark arrived, she sat between Lions’ president Dennis Skulsky and legendary Leos' lineman Al Wilson. Liberal MLAs Richard T. Lee and Doug Horne and Deputy Premier Rich Coleman were also in the front row. All wearing B.C. Lions’ #14 jerseys. (Notice about 20 seconds into the video below how she greeted Coleman with a perky “Richie, hi!”) 

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson was not invited to the news conference; the decision was apparently Skulsky's, but protocol should have dictated a mandatory invitation for top officials at Vancouver city hall. Robertson was invited to the Feb. 27, 2009 news conference when Campbell announced the 2011 Grey Cup would come to B.C. Place in Vancouver.

Clark, in fact, did not even acknowledge during her time at the podium that Vancouver would be the host city. (Fast-forward to the 19:00 mark of the CFL YouTube news conference video and follow the transcript below).

She made reference to Burnaby, but didn’t even say “Vancouver College” when she took note of the school's football players in the purple jerseys who carried the trophy into the news conference. She only said “V.C.”

Vancouver is the city in which she is an MLA (Vancouver-Point Grey, to be precise) and it is also the city whose taxpayers will get the bill for keeping the streets safe and clean in 2014. Cops, firefighters and sanitation crews don’t work for cheap, and they’re necessary for a successful event. 

Here is what she was supposed to say (notice the references to Vancouver):

Here is what she actually said (as seen on the video below, notice the lack of Vancouver references):
“Thank you very much, I'm absolutely delighted. And Travis (Lulay) and team, I know of course you can't guarantee we'll win it, I believe we will, and when we win it let's just promise we're not going to break it. What do you think? 
“Sen. Braley, I'm delighted to be here with you and all the great football players from VC. Thanks. I hope that some of you are going to have a great future in the CFL. 
“And Al Wilson, Jim Young, I grew up in a family of BC Lions fans, my grandfather was a season ticketholder, my father was a season ticketholder. I remember the days at Empire when we would go and we'd get free tickets to Playland afterwards.  
“This team has been a part of British Columbia families for generations. I'm just one example of that, and of course the original Lu, a fellow Burnabyite, who was a great representative for my city, for my province and made us all so proud.  
“Thank you to my colleagues who are here today as well.  
“British Columbia this month created 40% of the new jobs in the country. One of the ways that we did that is because we stayed focussed on job creation.  
"This is a great sporting event, it is a great source of pride for all Canadians, it is a tremendous opportunity for Canadians to come together and celebrate what makes this country tick.  
“But it's also a great economic opportunity for us. So when we made that over $2 million investment in bringing the Grey Cup to British Columbia, when we made that decision as a province, we did it because it would create jobs for people here. We know that the over $100 million in benefits that will come to british columbia are going to put a lot of people to work. 
“I'd say that's a great investment for our province, it's a great investment economically, but much more importantly, or just as importantly, it's a great investment in pride, in our pride.  
“I'm delighted, here we are at this incredible stadium, one that some said should never have been rebuilt. Well if there is proof that it was the right decision, it's this announcement today.  
“Because it's this stadium that's allowed us to be able to win the Grey Cup, it's been this great team, this fantastic organization this proud legion of fans and our bright history.  
“We're going to keep making history folks, we're going to win this Grey Cup. 
“We're not just going to win it with the right to host it, our players are going to win the right to hoist that cup again, out here on this field and give British Columbians something to cheer about. 
“Thank-you very much.” 
Here's what she was going to say:  
The B.C. government granted $2.7 million to B.C. Pavilion Corporation to bring another event to B.C. Place Stadium. The renovations to make this a (pardon the cliche) world-class stadium were supposed to help it sell itself to promoters. 
I can’t wait for another Grey Cup. I have attended all eight at B.C. Place, including the Lions' 1994 and 2011 victories. There is, unfortunately, no academic or scientific study to quantify the net economic impact of the game for the host city and province. Big sporting events rarely deliver what their boosters claim, according to the research of respected sports economist Victor Matheson. It is a fact that the Grey Cup is a boon for the hotel and hospitality industries wherever it is held. It would otherwise be a dull November weekend in Canada without the festival. 
I only question the wisdom of a taxpayer subsidy at a time when the public finances are in shambles and hospitals and schools claim to be underfunded. The Lions are privately owned by a wealthy senator who is a respected, skilled businessman that knows how to turn an investment into a profit. Why does he need more taxpayer help, especially when taxpayers were already dinged for the $514 million stadium renovation? 
Happy St. Patrick’s Day weekend. Enjoy the black beer, not the green. Be kind, not mean. Slainte! (I’m eager to see what kind of multicultural outreach activities the Liberals have up their sleeve!) 

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