Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Regime change: T-minus 104 days?

A desperate governing party is looking at the calendar and the opinion polls and just might be realizing its stranglehold on power is running out. Better do something, anything. Quick! 

The Christy Clark BC Liberals are where the Bill Vander Zalm (and Rita Johnston) Social Credit was in 1991 and the Ujjal Dosanjh NDP was in 2001. Running out of ideas, detached from voters, hungry for just one more election win. 

Despite what the deluded pom-pom wearers and hired spinners will tell you, the Liberals could wake up on May 15 as a spent political force. 

Oh, they’re spending millions of dollars to tell you Canada Starts Here, when Cape Spear, Nfld. actually gets the first sun rays every day and Charlottetown in 1864 was where historians say the Dominion of Canada was conceived. And the B.C. Jobs Plan means B.C. is standing tall, like a big, old, white iPod that cannot be toppled by many smaller, old black iPods. Even if the jobs statistics don't stand up to scrutiny.

Then there’s the Concerned Citizens for B.C., the political action committee otherwise known as Jim Shepard’s Christy Clark Fan Club. Shepard and his flock want to remind you NDP leader Adrian Dix backdated a memo in 1999 when he was Premier Glen Clark’s stepandfetchit and that the NDP ordered the three-vessel fast ferry fleet that cost more than $200 million higher than the original budget and didn’t have a proper business plan. 

Shepard is blind to the fact the Liberals have bigger, newer skeletons in their closet. Such as the memos to file by Dave Basi which seem to implicate Clark in the leaking of confidential cabinet documents to a bidder for BC Rail. Clark is under investigation after a conflict of interest complaint by ex-Liberal MLA John van Dongen. The saga of B.C. Place Stadium is like a bookend. The Liberals were pondering a $100 million pre-Olympic spruce-up and roof replacement in January 2008. The final cost was $514 million and included a German-engineered retractable roof that is rarely opened. Taxpayers weren't consulted and they weren't even shown a business plan. Roof contractors are inching their way to a 100-day B.C. Supreme Court trial scheduled to begin Oct. 21. On Jan. 30, a lawyer for Canam disclosed before a judge that the company's claim against Freyssinet would be increased by $13 million to $39 million

Remember the infamous NDP fudge-it budget of 1996, when an $87 million surplus became a $350 million deficit after Glen Clark won election? The Liberals don’t want you to remember their 2009 faux pas when they promised a $495 million deficit during the election but delivered a $2 billion deficit budget just months after Gordon Campbell won his hat-trick. Lest you think dirty thoughts that the Liberals are going to fudge the numbers in their Feb. 19 pre-election budget, Finance Minister Mike de Jong has found another "independent" Maritimer for hire. 

Remember Stanley Cup riot investigator Doug Keefe, the former Nova Scotia mandarin who collaborated with ex-Olympics boss John Furlong and got paid $174,000? Meet Dr. Tim O’Neill, a Prince Edward Island economic consultant who is being paid at least $25,000 to look over de Jong's shoulder until budget time and give a passing grade. 

Message to Premier Clark: save money, call the Office of the Auditor General

But all is not lost. There are actually tiny rays of light showing through the fog that suggest someone in the Liberal party has realized the writing is on the wall. 

But is it too little too late? Just for show? 

On Jan. 31 at the Vancouver Art Gallery, Community, Sport and Cultural Development Minister Bill Bennett will announce the creation of a new agency for B.C.'s film, arts and creative industries -- a merger of the B.C. Film Commission, B.C. Film + Media and the B.C. Arts Council. They'll combine to form a new body similar to the Ontario Media Development Corporation. A one-stop shop for the creative industries. 

Bennett was at North Shore Studios for the #SaveBCFilm rally that drew 4,000 people on Jan. 22 and heard one of the many suggestions to revitalize an industry purposely left out of Clark's B.C. Jobs Plan.

William F. White's Vancouver general manager Garin Josey was spotted at the Canada Place Starbucks preparing for a Jan. 30 meeting in the Premier's Vancouver Office. Josey boosted the We Create B.C. social media campaign during the Jan. 22 North Shore Studios rally. He didn't tell me who he was meeting, but I confirmed independently that it was Bennett and Citizens’ Services Minister Ben Stewart.  

The Liberals are trying to looking kinder and gentler, but it’ll take more action to convince me of their sincerity. Here is my five-point, modest proposal for the Liberals to prove they're worthy of staying in office beyond May 14.

  1. Notwithstanding Chief Justice Robert Bauman's Jan. 29 verdict, how about waiving the solicitor-client privilege and delivering the Basi-Virk indemnity agreement to John Doyle so he can finish his audit? 
  2. Why not hire a retired judge and give him or her a one-year mandate and reasonable budget for a BC Rail public inquiry
  3. Perhaps publish the B.C. Place renovation business plan and ask the Auditor General to launch a full-blown value-for-money audit? 
  4. Possibly reveal the real reasons for the cancellation of the Liquor Distribution Branch logistics privatization
  5. Maybe rescind all those the Freedom of Information delay letters that everyone’s getting these days? 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Mommy bloggers, but no grieving mother at summit

When Premier Christy Clark held her ERASE Bullying Summit on Nov. 13, 2012, the invite list included politicians and bureaucrats and cops and parents and students and more cops and more students and more parents. 

But no Carol Todd

She is the heartbroken mother of British Columbia's posthumously best-known bullying victim, Amanda Todd, and she only wanted to quietly observe the day-long, taxpayer-funded symposium. It was a symposium that took place just over a month after 14-year-old Amanda's suicide, which touched off a worldwide conversation about finding solutions for teen depression, suicide and cyberbullying. If not for this YouTube video, a cry for help, we may not have known about Amanda's story.   

Amanda Todd was the inspiration for the ERASE (Expect Respect And Safe Education) event. Clark, who was the driving force behind the annual Pink Shirt Day anti-bullying campaign, even said: "We lost Amanda and it was a tragedy but we should learn from that. She would want that from us." 

Below is the list of invitees, obtained via Freedom of Information. It includes an entry for Rissa Wilson, vice-principal of CABE Secondary School in school district 43. It says: "attending on behalf of Carol Todd."

Carol Todd, however, did not willingly give up her chair. She was shunned.  

Todd went to Twitter to publicly state her dissatisfaction. It was yet another political blunder for Clark and her beleaguered BC Liberals. If Clark is to lose in the May provincial election, her only legacy may be the worthy campaign to stamp-out bullying. But on Nov. 13, 2012, she had the minus touch. 

The government's damage control effort to explain it away claimed Carol Todd's attendance could have caused so much trauma for one of the allegedly vulnerable youths in attendance that it could have spurred a copycat suicide. I still don't buy that. 

One of the experts trotted out to support this was the well-meaning crisis counsellor Kevin Cameron, who runs a company called Canadian Center for Threat Assessment and Trauma Response. I asked him for references to any academic or scientific research on copycat suicides that would support the decision to ban Carol Todd, but he admitted there was none. 

So who else went? 

A cadre of "mommy bloggers." Clark's attempt to connect with female voters includes occasional coffee talks with mommy bloggers. I counted eight on the guest list: Alissa HuttonAmber StrocelMeghan SimingtonChristine PilkingtonLori McGrathSusan CarrarettoMelissa Carr and Mary Zilba.

Yes, that is the Mary Zilba, one of the as-seen-on-reality-TV Real Housewives of Vancouver

Don't mistake this for a critique of who was on the guest list, because this is not. Moms are blogging and they're sharing ideas way more important than recipes. Hutton, for instance, is on the Vancouver School Board urgent behavioural intervention team.

But, after seeing the list, I still can't figure out why Carol Todd was not welcome. 

Monday, January 28, 2013

Goodbye Steve, Hello Judy

Old: Point
One day, British Columbia had a chief for Lieutenant-Governor.

The next day it was a cowgirl.

The province's first aboriginal to occupy Government House, Steven Point, was given a farewell ceremony Nov. 1, 2012. Point was appointed in 2007 by Premier Gordon Campbell and served through the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Judith Guichon, the incoming representative of the Queen (number 29 in the province's history), was sworn-in a day later. Both once-every-five years happenings took place at the Legislature with the required amounts of pomp and circumstance.

In a rare show of frugality, the two events came in way under budget. The farewell was budgeted at $7,915 and the swearing-in $7,835.

New: Guichon
Point's swan-song actually cost $2,860.42, including the parting gift of an $1,114.50 guitar inscribed with his name, from Riversong Guitars in Kamloops. For those keeping score at home, the government correctly spelled his name this time (unlike the embarrassing spelling errors on the forms signed by incoming cabinet ministers at their swearing-in ceremonies).

Guichon's installation cost only $2,666.76.

Add it up and taxpayers were only dinged $5,527.18. See all the documents, including the invitations, programs and guest lists, below.
Yap's secret swearing-in

Compare that with the $3,600 closed-door ceremony held March 24, 2012 when Premier Christy Clark shuffled her cabinet. Point presided at a swearing-in ceremony for John Yap at Vancouver's Chinese Cultural Centre (right) that was a secret affair until a news release was issued after the unusual Saturday afternoon event.

Stadium on strike

B.C. Place workers on a one-day Jan. 28 strike.
Trying times at B.C. Place Stadium.

Not only has the Auditor General agreed to take a look at the costs of the renovation project.

And not only is a massive lawsuit inching its way toward a 100-day B.C. Supreme Court trial beginning Oct. 21.

But there is labour strife.

For the first time since February 2005, members of the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union local 1703 are on strike. Albeit, only for one day on Jan. 28.

Local 1703 chair Dave MacDonald was not available for an interview, according to spokeswoman Karen Tankard.

Tankard said the main issue is job security for the 38 full-timers and 460 event workers. (Food and beverage workers are represented by a separate BCGEU local).

"We're out on strike for a fair contract, we have offered the employer informal mediation," Tankard said. "We're hoping to get back to the bargaining table as quickly as possible. Our members want to be inside, doing their jobs.

"There is work that has been going on inside B.C. Place by private contractors that we believe our members should be doing. That is our work."

A strike was averted in fall 2011, when the stadium's rocky reopening occurred. All events went ahead as scheduled, but with increasing participation by contractors, such as Genesis Security, Panther Constructors, Pace Group and Riggit Services. The stadium has also become top-heavy with management.

The one-day strike has minimal impact on B.C. Place operations. The Year of the Snake Chinese New Year Expo begins on Jan. 31, and move-in isn't scheduled until the day before.

According to a statement released by the Pace Group, stadium general manager Howard Crosley said: "We are disappointed at this development in the bargaining process and remain committed to securiing a positive outcome in negotiations with the BCGEU. Our people are an important resource and we hope that ongoing discussions will allow us to reach a solution that meets the needs of both parties. We also have an ongoing commitment to our clients during this time and contingency plans are being developed to minimize disruption to scheduled events."

BCGEU local 1703 has an arm-long list of grievances with stadium management on a variety of fronts. For example, workers were furious last October when management sank their boat cruise with only one day's notice.

That week ended with a mysterious meeting among PavCo minister Rich Coleman, Telus CEO Darren Entwistle and Peter Brown, the BC Liberal Party bagman who quit the PavCo board of directors in February 2012 when the Liberals kiboshed Telus's naming rights sponsorship of the stadium.

The Telus Park sign remains in a Pattison warehouse and talks are underway about resurrecting the deal. In August 2012, Telus and the Liberal government secretly came to a supply-only deal. The government, however, won't tell us how much it paid Telus in compensation for the goods and services supplied.

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