Saturday, March 2, 2013

Government falling, stand clear

Media in Vancouver are scrambling, as an emergency meeting has been called of the British Columbia cabinet for 4 p.m. on March 3 -- 71 days before the scheduled May 14 provincial election. All polls point to an NDP cakewalk. But what happens if Christy Clark suddenly becomes the ex-premier? 

The natural gas-themed throne speech and allegedly balanced budget were failures. The NDP’s bombshell Feb. 27 revelation of the Multicultural Outreach Strategy/Quick Wins memo (on Pink Shirt Day, no less) may have been the tipping point. The March 1 push/jump of Clark’s deputy chief of staff and longtime gal-pal Kim Haakstad leaves Clark exposed, but not be sufficient to satisfy skeptical Liberals.  

That the Liberals hatched a strategy to gain ethnic votes is not the primary trouble. It’s the opportunistic, exploitive strategies and the methods, namely using government time to secretly plan party strategy. It is against government rules to use government resources for political campaigning.

The conference call on Jan. 11, 2012, during government business hours, that is mentioned in Pamela Martin's agenda, is crucial new evidence that I revealed on March 1. The meeting was referenced in the Jan. 10, 2012 Haakstad email that was sent from her private address to the private addresses of others, to prevent the information from being disclosed under Freedom of Information.

Betcha didn't expect B.C. could have a new premier before Roman Catholic cardinals elect a new pope, to replace the retired Benedict XVI. But it could happen, though don't look for white smoke to be emanating from the seventh floor of Canada Place's World Trade Centre on Sunday. Those in cabinet are there because Clark tapped them on the shoulder. She giveth and she can also taketh away. Some of them are like trained seals. They'll walk out of the meeting with smiles on their faces, claiming they're behind their leader 100% (even if they don't really mean it). 

Caucus could be a very different story. There are several MLAs who have already announced they won't run again. Comfortable people, counting the days, with nothing much to lose. They could gang up and issue a shape up or ship out ultimatum. The "or else" part of the equation might involve resignations from caucus to sit as independents and voting with the other independents and the NDP on a non-confidence motion to force the intervention of Lt. Gov. Judith Guichon. The Liberals have 45 seats, the NDP 36 and there are four independents. An early election could be triggered by as few as three Liberals disobeying or leaving caucus. 

The most spectacular deposing of a B.C. Premier was on April 2, 1991 when Bill Vander Zalm resigned at an emergency caucus meeting in Victoria after the release of Ted Hughes' damning conflict of interest report into Vander Zalm's Fantasy Garden World sale. Hughes found Vander Zalm mixed his duties as Premier with his personal Richmond real estate sale. 

In the April 4, 1991 Vancouver Sun, esteemed columnist Vaughn Palmer described the “historic meeting of the Social Credit caucus" that began at 2 p.m. in the cabinet room of the Legislature with Vander Zalm's resignation. Vander Zalm jumped instead of being pushed. 
“Caucus chairman Nick Loenen and his assistant, caucus researcher Martin Brown, had consulted constitutional experts like Edward McWhinney, Ron Cheffins and John Saywell. There were also discreet inquiries to Michael Roberts, private secretary to Lt.-Gov David Lam. The result of these deliberations was a series of resolutions aimed at fielding every eventuality, from a caucus revolt to what actually happened, an orderly succession from one premier to the next.”
Vander Zalm left for a press conference and caucus held an election for a new leader. Rita Johnston, the Deputy Premier and Transportation Minister, beat Russ Fraser 21-17 on the fourth ballot before 4:30 p.m. Loenen, with the backing of caucus and Social Credit party executive, visited Government House and Lam agreed to the switch. Johnston was sworn-in as the 28th premier and first woman in the job at 6 p.m. 

Palmer wrote:
“The outcome was historic for other reasons. For the first time since 1927, when J.D. Maclean succeeded John Oliver, a government nearing the end of its term had changed premiers on the advice of the party caucus. But Socreds had better hope history does not repeat itself. Premier MacLean failed to capture the imagination of the voters, and he went down to defeat in the next general election.”
The Socred board of directors decided on April 3, 1991 that the party would hold a leadership convention on July 18-20, 1991. Johnston won on the second ballot, but the NDP won the Oct. 17, 1991 election with a 51-seat majority. The Socreds collapsed from 47 to 7, but the Liberals, under Gordon Wilson, went from 0 to 17. 

If Today's BC Liberals are to switch their leader, it must be incredibly swift and there may be no time to organize a leadership convention. It may have to rely on an electronic vote.

“Whenever a Leader is to be chosen for the Party, the Party must conduct a province-wide vote (which is referred to in this Constitution as a “Leadership Vote”) and, in connection with that vote, may hold a convention (which is referred to in this Constitution as a “Leadership Convention”)."
Party rules say the president must call a meeting of the party executive within 28 days after the written resignation of the leader or a request of the leadership for a leadership vote. A date must be set for the leadership vote within six months of the party executive’s meeting. 

The election, fixed by law, is May 14. A delay would require a vote of the Legislature and consultation with  Guichon. The NDP would not be amused. 

Replacement of Clark could spoil Dix's best-made plans. Could the Liberals, under a new leader (a leader who is respected and supported by caucus), save their party at the 11th hour and score the most unlikely, miraculous comeback in Canadian political history? Or is this organization (rocked by allegations of abuse of power and corruption) just too far gone to even save itself?

Alex Tsakumis has reported Mounties are taking a close look at the Quick Wins scandal, but the RCMP is predictably in denial mode.

"We are aware of the comments on the political blog which prompted this speculation but we are not investigating any such complaint, nor would we speculate on what the complaint would even be..." said Sgt. Rob Vermeulen, RCMP E Division spokesman.

What cannot be overlooked is the importance of the resignation of several riding executives in Surrey who are angry that certain candidates have been imposed by party headquarters instead of voted democratically by local party members. James Plett went public with his displeasure, going so far as to say that his former party is "being run by crooks."

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.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Sunday, Sunday, Sunday! (& Monday update)

Three items, for your reading pleasure on Daytona 500 Sunday. 

First, the battle for control of Vancouver’s community centres continues. 

City manager Penny Ballem quashed Green Party Coun. Adriane Carr’s motion on notice for the Feb. 12 city council meeting. Carr wanted city hall to slow-down and think twice about seizing control from the 23 community associations and centralizing power with the Board of Parks and Recreation.  

Carr called the actions of the unelected Ballem undemocratic and “bullying.” Vision Vancouver Coun. Geoff Meggs claimed Carr violated the code of conduct section that prohibits councillors from making public statements attacking staff or invoking staff matters for political purposes. The complaint was withdrawn after a meeting with Mayor Gregor Robertson

At the Feb. 25 meeting, the new president of the Kensington Community Centre Association is registered to speak. But will he be allowed?  

Milan Kljajic, a parks board outside worker, member of CUPE Local 1004 and a disaffected Vancouver-Kingsway B.C. Conservative who endorsed NDP's Adrian Dix, replaced the resigned Stephen Elliott-Buckley. 

Kljajic claims he was called Feb. 22 by Parks Board Human Resources Consultant Vicki Gannon and advised not to speak at the meeting because he would violate the code of conduct. 

Kljajic refused to do an interview, but told me via email: 
“I feel that my rights have been violated and my employee future at COV has been threatened. I am a volunteer community leader that was elected President of Kensington to serve the best interest of the grassroots of my community. I am planning on finishing my term and reaching a fair joint operating agreement that I can bring to the membership.”
Section 5 allows staff members to be politically active, to support parties and candidates and even seek public office. 
“An employee may engage in any Political Activity so long as it does not impair, or is not perceived as impairing, the employee’s ability to perform his or her duties in a politically impartial manner. This precludes employees from displaying slogans or symbols supporting a particular party or candidate while at work where their duties may reasonably require them to interact in person with the public or where their duties require them to supervise, schedule or assign work to others.”
The Parks Board also falls under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which includes Section 2(b) that upholds freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression

Why -- if centralizing community centre operations is really a wise move, for the sake of efficiency -- doesn’t the ruling Vision Vancouver just submit to public hearings in the affected communities? These are, after all, public assets. As for that Feb. 4 "emergency" meeting that ended in a 5-2 vote for the centralization of power, that was really a box-ticking exercise. The board approved a vague "city-wide consultation," but that is not to be confused with public hearings. Informal public information meetings, where minutes are not kept, are the favoured tool for governments that want to impose a program or policy.    

UPDATE (Feb. 25): Kljajic did not speak to Parks Board, but Kensington's past-president Mary Sutherland delivered his remarks:

Good evening. I’m here tonight to speak on behalf of our current President Milan Kljajic. Milan sends his regrets as he is dealing with some issues with the City of Vancouver.  His statement is as follows: 
Our Association fully supports this motion. It is time for the Commissioners to take control of this situation and listen to the public. 
Commissioners, we are extremely disappointed by the continued lack of leadership you have demonstrated and the apparent lack of respect for public opinion. Until recently, our association had agreed to continue participating in ongoing JOA negotiations with the Park Board. As a centre that serves many people with lower incomes, we have always fully support programs that will allow greater access to community centres. 
Unfortunately, through your recent actions, it became clear that the Park Board is intent on implementing its plans and that negotiations will neither be transparent nor appropriate to the magnitude of the issue. It is for that reason that our board of directors met last week and decided that we could no longer participate in what we feel is a disrespectful process that doesn’t address the real issues. 
Despite modest revenues and years of financial and administrative neglect by the Park Board, our association has been able to retain a modest amount of revenue. We’ve been flexible with our money over the years, funding popular community programs and services and even investing $600,000 towards the capital cost of constructing the most recent addition to the Kensington Community Centre, which now houses a seniors’ lounge, dance studio and administrative space. That investment was nowhere to be seen on the report from staff that you accepted in the wee hours on February 5. As a ‘have not’ – or more appropriately Park Board neglected – centre, we did not ask for such radical changes to the financial arrangement between the CCAs and Park Board. 
We do not feel that the funding scheme that you support will benefit anything more than Park Board’s general revenues, which is a matter that commissioners should be taking up with the City Manager, Mayor and City Councilors. What is more distressing is that there has been no commitment by the Park Board to truly solicit public input on the matter. Your current approach is to make the decision and then attempt to bring the public onside when they do not have any say in the matter. 
As a result, you do not have the support of the people who voted for you. Public opposition to your current plan outweighs support 2:1. What is even more telling is that residents of the west and east sides of Vancouver have the same opinion. The public does not support your attempt to make radical, ill-informed changes without any public consultation. This is a matter of public policy and is your responsibility. It should not be delegated to staff. 
Commissioners, I strongly encourage you to step up and demonstrate leadership and support this motion. Introduce true public consultation into the process and re-instill faith in those people who you will be calling on to vote for you in the coming months. Thank you.
Meanwhile, from B.C.'s "second city," item number two. An update about Surrey Shirts' and its Chief Shirt Disturber, Don Pitcairn.

Business in Vancouver was first to tell you that the City of Surrey was threatening Pitcairn with a trademark violation lawsuit. City hall sent a cease and desist letter over the shirts that parody Surrey’s logo and slogan. Pitcairn was using his freedom of speech to comment on Surrey’s gangs and guns problem. In 2012, the federal Conservatives amended the Canada Copyright Act to protect parody in the Fair Dealing section. 

Pitcairn said he met Feb. 19 with city manager Murray Dinwoodie and city lawyer Craig MacFarlane for a "cordial" meeting.

“I informed them that Surrey Shirts had made changes to five of our shirt designs to further distance them from City of Surrey trademark logos, including removing the City Signature design completely from our anti-gun violence 'Better Safe Than Surrey' shirt that was never printed or released in its original form,” Pitcairn said.

Pitcairn, who flogs the shirts online, said Phat Fixx in Surrey Central City Mall pulled stock from the racks after only 10 days. Phat Fixx outfits the mixed martial arts and hip-hip crowds.

"We are hoping to locate a store where the landlord or management supports clothing tailored to the proud residents of Surrey and who will not be intimidated by those who appear to be more worried about Surrey's image on a simple T-shirt that doing something about the real problems that are giving the City of Surrey a bad reputation across Canada," Pitcairn said via email. 

Within the announcement on the Surrey Shirts website, Pitcairn gives a nod to the Feb. 27 Pink Shirt Day anti-bullying campaign. As for the lightning-bolt letter S font in the Surrey Shirts logo, Pitcairn denies he's a sympathizer of the Nazis' evil SchutzStaffel. 

“It’s a rock and roll kinda website. I do like KISS and most people that see it, get it right away,” Pitcairn said after the original story broke. “We won’t be selling Nazi paraphernalia on the Surrey Shirts website.”

Someone who knows Surrey very well, but lives many postal codes and tax brackets to the west, is the subject of item number three: Patrick Kinsella. 

Progressive Group lobbyist Kinsella is the province’s best-known political power broker. Nobody else comes close. His influence was felt in the headquarters of BC Rail, BC Hydro and VANOC. He was a key architect of Gordon Campbell’s hat-trick election victories and Christy Clark’s leadership win. (Kinsella's "midas touch" didn't work for Rita JohnstonKim Campbell or Belinda Stronach.)

He was among Clark's guests in the deluxe B.C. Place Suite when B.C. Place Stadium reopened on Sept. 30, 2011 and he was registered as a lobbyist for Exel, the company that wanted to privatize liquor distribution. 
Since July 2011, he has sought to sell his Shaughnessy mansion. 

First listed for $7.28 million via Rennie Realty, the price for Kinsella's mansion at 3839 Selkirk in Vancouver was slashed to $6.75 million. 

Last fall, Kinsella switched to Macdonald Realty and the property was listed at $6.198 million. Still no takers. It was pulled from the market. 

Kinsella turns 72 on May 26. He has consistently declined my requests for interviews about his house, horse racing, his lobbying business and provincial politics.

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