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!) 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Quick Wins scandal report soft on Clark

The first line of the Analysis and Conclusions section in the Review of the Draft Multicultural Strategic Outreach Plan says everything.
"It is the conclusion of the review team that there were violations of the Public Service Standards of Conduct." 
Put simply, government employees were doing party business on government time, using the public dime. It confirms what you saw here first. That Premier Christy Clark's deputy chief of staff Kim Haakstad held meetings during government working hours, contrary to government rules. But it gets worse than that, as you can read below in the full report.

Instead of referring this scandal to an independent watchdog (such as Auditor-General John Doyle) for a thorough investigation, Clark opted for an in-house review. She appointed her Deputy Minister John Dyble -- the mandarin she hired for $310,000-a-year -- to rush it out in two weeks. It was tabled on the morning of the last day of the Legislative session. The scandal dominated the last Question Period, where Clark trotted out her well-rehearsed lines in response to hard questioning from NDP house leader John Horgan: 
"...the essence of leadership is not to hide. It's not to run away. It's not to deny responsibility. It's to accept responsibility when something wrong has been done and then do everything you can to make it right. That is the definition of leadership... When we make mistakes, we have a responsibility to step up, not to deny that a mistake was ever made. We have a responsibility to look into it, not to deny the opportunity for the light to shine on it. And we have a responsibility to fix it so that it doesn't happen again."
On this day, Clark was taking "responsibility" for "mistakes." Admitting no culpability or knowledge, but minimizing the affair, by calling it a "mistake." She might as well have labelled it a "boo boo." It was a well-thought strategy and the Liberals got caught. Clark had previously apologized for only the "language" in the Quick Wins memo and denied that public funds were used improperly. Haakstad and Multiculturalism Minister John Yap resigned. Yap's aide, Mike Lee, also resigned. In the report, Lee communicated with the now disgraced Yap via private email about leaving no trace of evidence.

Clark pledged for the Liberals to repay the government $70,000 for the misused resources. That is the equivalent of 175 of the $400-a-plate tickets to the Liberals' annual Premier's Dinner on April 8 at the Vancouver Convention Centre. 

Dyble seems to have done the best he could under the circumstances, but there are holes that could have been filled by an independent investigator. We might have to wait until June -- after the May 14, 2013 election -- to see some of the 10,000 documents gathered (but not read) as part of the review! (More on that in a moment.)

Dyble only mentioned his boss, Premier Clark, three times: 
Page 3: On February 28, 2013, John Dyble, Deputy Minister to the Premier, Cabinet Secretary and Head of the BC Public Service was asked by Premier Christy Clark and Cabinet to undertake a review of the draft Multicultural Strategic Outreach Plan to ensure that no government resources were inappropriately used or violations of the Public Service Act (Public Service Standards of Conduct) committed.
Page 8: On February 28, 2013, John Dyble, Deputy Minister to the Premier, Cabinet Secretary and Head of the BC Public Service was asked by Premier Christy Clark and Cabinet to undertake a review of the draft Plan to ensure that no government resources were inappropriately used or violations of the Public Service Act (Public Service Standards of Conduct) committed.
Page 19Premier Christy Clark, MLA Harry Bloy and MLA John Yap were all interviewed as part of this review. All of them stated that they had never seen the draft strategy document or work plan until they were in the public domain in the week of February 25, 2013.
That's right, on page 19, she is said to have claimed to have never seen the "Quick Wins" document. The key question that is unanswered is this: did she know about the strategy? 

She met on a weekly basis with Haakstad to discuss communications and event planning. Haakstad was her closest confidant, a sidekick since 2001. 

If Clark, both Premier and leader of the BC Liberals, truly knew nothing, then is she oblivious to the activities of her staff and is she worthy of holding the Premiership?

As for those 10,000 pages, this is what the news release said: 

"With the completion of this review, the review team has directed the approximately 10,000 pages of records be prepared for public release consistent with the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act within 60 working days from release of this report, to post them on the Open Information website."

This is a nifty trick played by the government, to keep the background information on Dyble's in-house review secret until after the election. 

Section 20(1)(b) of the Act says a public body may refuse to disclose records that are to be published within 60 days. The government gave public notice in the news release that it intends to release thousands of pages "within 60 working days." So, by my count, there were 43 working days until the election when the report was released on March 14. A "document dump" in early June, perhaps? 

The full report is at the bottom of this post, but read the timeline first. 

Appendix D: Detailed Chronology

March 14, 2011: Harry Bloy appointed Minister of Social Development and Minister Responsible for Multiculturalism.
September 26, 2011: Harry Bloy appointed Minister of State for Multiculturalism, Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation. 
December 1, 2011: Kim Haakstad calls the Meeting: Brian Bonney, Dave Ritchie, Mike Lee, Barinder Bhullar, and Pamela Martin attend along with caucus employees, Primrose Carson, Jeff Melland, Lorne Mayencourt, a fourth caucus employee and Fiera Lo for the BC Liberal Party. 
December 5, 2011: The first draft of the excel spreadsheet (work plan) is developed by Mike Lee and Dave Ritchie. 
Dave Ritchie sends the first draft of the work plan to Primrose Carson. 
December 20, 2011: Stephen Harris creates the first draft of draft Multicultural Strategic Outreach Plan. 
January 6, 2012:  Dave Ritchie sends the documents to Primrose Carson (Caucus) as the “coordinator” of the documents. His note says that Kim Haakstad’s edits are incorporated. 
January 10, 2012: Kim Haakstad uses her personal email to send the final drafts of the documents to some of the meeting participants using their personal email accounts. She references a conference call on January 11, 2012. 
January 11, 2012: Kim Haakstad chairs a conference call at 11:30 am to discuss the documents.
February 29, 2012: Dave Ritchie is appointed Ministerial Assistant to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General. 
March 16, 2012 (sic):  Minister of State Harry Bloy resigns. (Bob note: Resignation was March 15). 
March 24, 2012: John Yap is appointed Minister of State for Multiculturalism, Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation. 
May 3, 2012: Chair of Treasury Board approves spending plan for Minister of State for Multiculturalism office. 
May 28, 2012: Fiera Lo is appointed Executive Assistant to Minister of State for Multiculturalism. 
June 11, 2012: Request for Qualifications for Multiculturalism Community Liaison Contractors is released. 
June 16, 2012: Minister Yap attends an event in Richmond organized by one of the Community Liaison Contractors. 
June 28, 2012: Mike Lee confirms to Minister Yap by email that he has assisted with three prospective proponents with the procurement process. 
July 4, 2012: Request for Qualifications for Community Liaison Contractors closes. 
July 31, 2012: Shannon Baskerville, responsible Assistant Deputy Minister with the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation, confirms with Minister Yap by email the names of the six people confirmed as qualified for the community liaison consultants. 
August 2, 2012: A decision note is prepared by program director Mark Seeley to Shannon Baskerville confirming the decision to select and proceed to contract with four of the six community liaison consultants. 
August 7, 2012: Minister of State Yap sends an email to Sarah Welch, Fiera Lo and Brian Bonney suggesting an agenda for a meeting to be held with the caucus outreach workers and the community liaison contractors. 
August 7, 2012: Mike Lee is appointed Executive Assistant to the Minister of Transportation and Sarah Welch is appointed Ministerial Assistant to the Minister of State for Multiculturalism. 
August 9, 2012: Brian Bonney sends an email to Minister Yap confirming that he’s booked the room for a meeting on August 13, 2012 and suggesting that he’ll call both the caucus outreach workers and the community liaison contractors to confirm their attendance. 
August 13, 2012: A meeting is convened in Minister of State Yap’s office with Minister Yap, Brian Bonney, Fiera Lo, Sarah Welch, the two caucus outreach workers along with the four proposed community liaison contractors. 
August 14, 2012: Brian Bonney sends an email to the four community liaison contractors saying he would like to set up individuals meetings with them to go over job duties, expectations and processes and references a template document that he will soon be sending to them. 
September 5, 2012: Minister of State responsibilities are transferred to the Ministry of Advanced Education, Innovation and Technology and John Yap is appointed the Minister of Advanced Education, Innovation and Technology and the Minister responsible for Multiculturalism. 
September 18, 2012: Brian Bonney sends an email to the community liaison contractors advising them to submit their event profiles but not to use the “party” form that had previously been provided. 
September 26, 2012: Another anonymous call is made to Mark Seeley, Multiculturalism program director. The caller advises Mark that they provided their name and personal information, which seemed odd to them at the time. Following that, they began receiving political information at their home and made the connection that this must have resulted from the meeting. 
September 28, 2012: Anonymous call made to Deb Zehr, the former Executive Director at Jobs, Tourism and Innovation, to complain that they were being “threatened” that if they didn’t put on an event for the minister, their organization may not receive funding under the grant program. 
Early October, 2012: A third anonymous call is made to Madhavee Inamdar, (sometime between the 5th and the 16th of October). The caller states that they were at a function and pressured to provide a full list of the names and phone numbers of all club members. The names of Fiera Lo and Brian Bonney were mentioned. It was also suggested by Fiera Lo that the caller should not call the Chair of the Multicultural Advisory Council to report this as it would make trouble for the organization. 
October 24, 2012: Dawn Minty, Assistant Deputy Minister responsible for the Multiculturalism program meets with Rishi Sharma and Sarah Welch, the two Ministerial Assistants to Minister Yap, and advised them that she will be recommending that the contracts not proceed with the community liaison contractors. 
November 9, 2012: A letter is sent to the four proposed community liaison contractors to advise them that the contracts will not proceed. They are invited to submit invoices for any planning work undertaken. 
January 15, 2013: A payment is made to one of the contractors in the amount of $6800.00. 
January 24, 2013: Brian Bonney resigns with an effective date of February 21, 2013. 
February 27, 2013: The memo with the draft Multicultural Strategic Outreach Plan attached is tabled in Question Period.

Hot Tub Time Machine, B.C. politics-style

Join me, as I hop into my Hot Tub Time Machine and go back to a time when life was simpler.

Winter was turning to spring in 2001. Phones weren't smart yet. The world didn't know what a Bieber was. The Canucks wore ugly uniforms. The Vancouver Olympics were only an idea. U2 was on tour with P.J. Harvey. Joey Ramone was dying of cancer. Paul Martin was Canada's Prime Minister. Al Gore should've been President of the United States. The World Trade Center stood tall in New York City. 

In British Columbia, the exhausted, drunk-on-power ruling party of the day was facing a throw-the-bums out election. On that year’s Pi Day, the last Legislative session under the second NDP era (1991-2001) began. The BC Liberals were on a roll, they could taste victory in the upcoming election. It was time for a new era. 

Officially known as the "5th Session of the 36th Parliament of British Columbia," it commenced with pomp and circumstance on March 14, 2001 with the Throne Speech read by Lt. Gov. Garde Gardom

It was the year after a Summer Olympics (B.C. wrestler Daniel Igali and triathlete Simon Whitfield came home with gold medals from Sydney 2000). The Premier had been in office a short time (Ujjal Dosanjh, just over a year). The government was claiming a balanced budget. Its themes were similar: Jobs, tourism, trade, apprenticeship training, prosperity for families.

The session wrapped up on April 11, 2001, before Easter weekend. Jenny Kwan, Harry Lali, Mike Farnworth and Sue Hammell were on the NDP government side. Today they're in the opposition benches. 

The opposition ranks in 2001 included such members of Today’s BC Liberals as Ida Chong, Linda Reid, Mike de Jong, Christy Clark, Rich Coleman, Kevin Krueger, Murray Coell, George Abbott, Colin Hansen, Gordon Hogg and Bill Barisoff.

Clark is now, of course, the Premier. Barisoff the speaker. John van Dongen was in the Liberal caucus back then. He split on March 26, 2012 to become an independent and has done yeoman's work to seek the truth in the BC Rail scandal.

Only two topics were included in Question Period on April 11, 2001. SkyTrain expansion costs and school district funding. 

De Jong and Geoff Plant grilled Farnworth, who was the Minister of Social Development and Economic Security (whey wasn't it economic development and social security?), about Millennium Line cost overruns. 
de Jong: In November the government received its project management report from Gannett Fleming and that report says that each additional month beyond the current completion date would add approximately $6 million in accumulated interest during construction costs. The report from February says that date is now five months behind.Since it's five months behind, that would add at least $30 million to the cost of the project. Will the minister responsible confirm that estimate, based on the NDP government's own documentation? 
Hon. M. Farnworth: One of the interesting things I think the opposition needs to realize is that when you have reports done and you have the project monitored in the way we are monitoring it and in the way it's being monitored by an outside independent agency on a quarterly basis, you're in a position to take measures to ensure that if there are unanticipated costs going to occur, you can mitigate those costs. You make decisions to ensure that they don't happen. 
The real question is: what would that side of the House do if they were on this side of the House? Would they continue with SkyTrain? Would they extend it to Coquitlam Centre? Those are the questions that Port Coquitlam, Port Moody and Coquitlam have been asking, and they don't get any answers from that side of the House when they're asked. 
G. Plant: There are still a few more questions that we'd like to ask. 
As of the end of December the SkyTrain expansion project had just over $44 million left in its contingency fund. But according to the February quarterly review prepared by the Gannett Fleming firm, all but $200,000 of that $44 million is already expected to be allocated. That means that with 40 percent of the project left to complete, there's only $200,000 left for non-forecasted items. 
Will the minister responsible tell us how on earth he expects anyone to believe that there won't be cost overruns for the project when they've already maxed out on the contingency fund, and they're barely halfway finished? 
Hon. M. Farnworth: I guess it's appropriate for that member, being from Richmond, to ask that question, because clearly he doesn't go to that part of the lower mainland. If he did, he'd see that it's nearly built. He'd know that most of the costs in the budget have already been committed, that it's there in concrete and cement. It's there going all the way into Vancouver. It's there going to Lougheed Mall. The costs have been allocated.He'd also know that the reason why -- and I'll repeat the answer for him again -- is that we have quarterly updates that are posted on the Internet. If he doesn't know how to use it, it's, and he can find them there. He'll know that the project is being built. It's being built to Lougheed Mall, and it's going to go to Coquitlam Centre.
The last question asked to the NDP government? It was by future education minister and premier Clark. 
Christy Clark
C. Clark: On to more commitments that the government doesn't intend to keep, and maybe on to more questions that the government doesn't intend to answer -- well, let's try it anyway. The School Act requires that this government give its budgets to school boards by February 1 of the fiscal year. And guess what. They missed the deadline. So they extended it by two months. And guess what. They missed the deadline again. And so now they're in contravention of the law. The minister says, when she's asked by school boards: "Oh, don't worry about it. The budget's in the mail." Yeah, right. And the dog ate your briefing notes -- right? 
My question for the minister is this: why does the government even bother making statutory rules about deadlines when it has absolutely no intention of keeping them? 
Hon. Joy MacPhail: Well, let me begin by saying that I hope the red light doesn't go on, so the hon. member can ask another question. 
Actually, the letter to the school boards telling them the allocation for funds went out on March 30. So the school boards are well aware. And later this week there will be another letter going out, detailing the increases that school boards will receive. 
It will be the tenth year in a row that each and every school district in this province gets more money for education. It will be the tenth year in a row that our government will continue to build a school once every 19 days. It will continue the funding for the fourth year to reduce class sizes so that our youngest kids have the best possible success. It will be the ninth year in a row that we make a commitment to teach our children in languages other than the English language. It will be the fourth year in a row that we make a commitment to put 700 more teachers in classrooms in this province. And it will be about the sixth year that we make a commitment to fund education for aboriginal children in this province, who deserve the best possible chance. 
What I fear is that if there is a year when this government is not in charge, there will be a dramatic tax cut and a cut in education funding. 
The Speaker: The bell ends question period.
And so it ended. The NDP was turfed out of office on May 16, 2001. Gone was the party of the Nanaimo bingo scandal, North Burnaby Inn casino scandal and Fast Ferries. Gordon Campbell and the BC Liberals won 100% of the power with a landslide 77 of 79 seats, although they garnered almost 58% of the popular vote. Only MacPhail and Kwan made it from the government side to the opposition side -- just two NDP members from a party that got almost 22% of the popular vote. 
Back to 2013. The more things change, the more they stay the same. The government hired scandal-plagued SNC-Lavalin to build the SkyTrain Evergreen Line to the Tri-Cities. Education funding remains a hot-button, as Clark made a futile attempt to sign the NDP-allied B.C. Teachers’ Federation to a decade-long contract. 

The voters are angry and impatient again. This time (in no particular order) it's the HST, BC Rail scandal mystery, B.C. Place Stadium cost overruns, "Quick Wins" Multicultural Outreach Strategy scandal, Jobs Plan advertising campaign, Times of India Film Awards, Prince George plyscraper tendering, BC Hydro Smart Meters... All polls point to the NDP returning to power in the May 14, 2013 election. 
Will the pattern repeat in a decade? 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Green Mayor's foster son to jail for white powder and silver bullets

Clutching a yellow notepard and dressed all in black, Jinagh Farrouch Navas-Rivas stood up and approached the podium in courtroom 106 at Richmond Provincial Court on March 13.

The last time he was in front of a notable crowd was  civic election night, Nov. 19, 2011. Vision Vancouver had just been re-elected the majority party at Vancouver city hall, park board and school board. Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground" blared on the speakers in the Sheraton Wall Centre hotel ballroom. Despite the controversies of the Stanley Cup riot and Occupy Vancouver and questions about campaign financing, Vision Vancouver repeated.  

Mayor Gregor 
"One more thank-you that I know all of us candidates want to make, the words are not powerful enough to truly thank our families for their support and the sacrifices they make in political life. So, to my sweetheart Amy, to my kids Hanna, Satchel, Terra and birthday boy Jinagh, thank-you for putting up with the empty seat at the dinner table night after night, thank you for smiling and handing out, (in) monsoon-like conditions, leaflets, door-knocking and for keeping me grounded at justt the right times. Thank you and I love you."
Navas-Rivas stood to the Mayor's right. What a way to celebrate a 21st birthday! Smiles all around. 

Being the foster son of the Mayor had its privileges, even after moving out of the Mayor's house. On Feb. 12, 2010, Navas-Rivas was at the exclusive Hotel Vancouver party hosted by Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean before the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics opening ceremony. International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge, United States Vice-President Joe Biden and even California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger were there. When the Games ended on Feb. 28, 2010, Navas-Rivas had a seat in the dignitaries box at B.C. Place Stadium. The name card on his chair read "Jinagh Robertson."

Little did anyone know, that on election night 2011, Navas-Rivas was addicted to cocaine. The night before, he had brokered the sale of a handgun to an undercover cop. He had been under police surveillance for two weeks. 

But on this rainy Wednesday afternoon in mid-March, Navas-Rivas was the centre of attention. He knew he would exit the room in handcuffs with a jail sentence no less than three years. Rather than endure a parade of evidence, including surveillance recordings, at a 10-day trial, he pleaded guilty last December to trafficking in cocaine between Nov. 4-Dec. 9, 2011 and to the Nov. 18, 2011 transfer of a Ruger .22 calibre handgun (serial no. 220-11838), Remington brand ammunition and two magazines. 

Police got a warrant for his arrest before Christmas 2011. Prompted by Robertson’s plea for him to surrender, Navas-Rivas admitted his involvement in a dial-a-dope gang to police on Jan. 5, 2012. Five months later, he was out on bail, in the care of Kathy Leavens and Peter Noble, his original foster parents who took him in at age 9. When they were out-of-town, Navas-Rivas returned to live at the Robertson household. He got a job as a labourer and chose to finish several high school courses, achieving high marks in math and sciences. 

Navas-Rivas’s mother and grandmother were in the gallery. The Mayor was not. Amy Robertson and daughter, Hanna were, to offer their support before a tearful goodbye and bear hugs. It was Hanna that introduced Navas-Rivas to the family in 2007 after he moved away from the Leavens/Noble house. Back then, Robertson was an NDP MLA and a local organic juice magnate.

On this day, however, Navas-Rivas was going to the big house. 
“I’d like to say I'm deeply sorry for the mistakes that I've made,” Navas-Rivas told the court.  
“When I reflect on these mistakes in my past, I see how depressed and sad I was at the time and how all this contributed directly to my actions. I know there's no excuse for what I've done, and now it’s time for me to take responsibility and serve my punishment. 
“I’ve been working on developing as a person and focussing on the good things in my life, such as loved ones and school. I’d like to continue school in jail if that’s a possibility, I’d like to continue to focus on mathematics... I have a renewed interest in school and taken a general liking to my studies. I believe that there is some good to come out of this experience. This experience really opened my eyes and changed me as a person, I want to be a better person, through and through. I’d like to thank everyone that’s supported me through this process. I’d like to say I’m sorry again and how much I regret my actions.” 
If Robertson runs again in 2014, Navas-Rivas won't be at the Vision Vancouver party. Justice Patrick Chen sentenced Navas-Rivas to time served (five months in jail), plus six months in prison on the first count. On the second count, three-and-a-half years. Four years, total. Plus a lifetime ban on firearms and to submit a DNA sample. 

This is what Chen said during the sentencing hearing, after the submissions of defence lawyer Emmet Duncan and Crown counsel Ernie Froess.
Navas-Rivas in 2011 RCMP news release.
“During the investigation, the undercover officer was introduced to the accused by (Vinh Hoang) David Le when the accused was asked to handle the Nov. 4, 2011 transaction of one pound of cocaine. 
“During the undercover officer’s communication with the accused, during this transaction they discussed further drug transactions and also the sale of firearms. The accused bragged that he was a broker who could supply both drugs and firearms. The investigation at that point began to focus on the accused and on firearms, as well as drugs. The undercover officer made further requests to the accused to purchase more cocaine and also firearms. Ultimately the Ruger semi automatic .22 calibre handgun together with extra clip and a box of bullets was supplied on Nov. 18, 2011. 
"A further purchase of 5 oz. of cocaine was arranged by the accused on Dec. 9, 2011. The accused did not appear to be the principal offender or supplier in any of these transactions, for either the cocaine or handgun. Other co-accused appeared to be playing the more controlling and dominating role. These others also appeared to be directing the accused during these transactions, for example, to count money... the accused never handled the handgun which was handed to the undercover officer in exchange for cash by other unidentified persons... he was never more than a small player in these criminal transactions.  
"His submission was that he was paid $100 to $200 for his role in each of these transactions. A paltry amount considering the amount of money that was exchanged.  
“While the accused bragged to the undercover officer about the scale and sophistication of his criminal activity and enterprise, police surveillance contradicted virtually all of his claims, which the accused now attributes to puffery or salesmanship. Police surveillance shows during the entirety of their investigation the accused was not living the life of a successful drug dealer. He did not own a car and relied on public transit to get around. He had no place to live except a three bedroom apartment shared by five people that he did not have a key to... 
“The accused was prepared to participate in the sale of a handgun to a person he believed to be a drug dealer, he understood the only purpose a drug dealer would want to purchase such a handgun would be for protection. In other words, used to injure or kill people that might be viewed as a threat. It is fair, in my view, to consider the mayhem and carnage that guns have caused in this society, in this province, in the context of the business of illegal drug enterprises, and the danger that that has caused to the public as a whole... 
“Notwithstanding that he was playing the role of broker, and his role was never as principal offender or supplier, it is clear to me from the circumstances that are provided to me that during the period of these offences, it was the aim or the ambition of the accused to embark on a criminal lifestyle. Also, the sale of illegal handguns and firearms is inherently dangerous...  
"The accused made a number of calculated decisions to break the law over a period of time. these were not offences of mere opportunity or momentary lapses in judgment. There was some planning and deliberation involved. 
“The amount of cocaine involved in these two transactions, particularly the second one, was not insignificant, 5 oz. for several thousands of dollars.  
"Further, the accused was motivated by greed. I accept he was also addicted, but he had a strong support network that could have suggested a different path... 
“The courts have for some time now recognized the widespread impact of trafficking in schedule 1 drugs. In particular, dial-a-dope operations are generally regarded as offences that require some deterrence and denunciation. These are the kinds of criminal drug enterprises that bring drugs into every community.  
“There are also, however, many mitigating circumstances. 
“Firstly, the accused has no prior criminal history. He has plead guilty at an early opportunity. He is very young, 22 years old and 20 and 21 at the time of these offences. He’s also in many ways a young 22 year old and in other ways an older and wiser 22 year old...  
"But he's still a very young man. I accept defence counsel's submission that the accused has remained drug free, that he has complied with very strict terms of bail which are tantamount to a modified house arrest, he was on a curfew seven days a week and he has not committed any breaches of bail.... 
“This very strong support network of friends, family, foster family, that appear to be very committed to assisting the accused in his rehabilitation...  
“They are hopeful, they give one hope that the accused can overcome the criminality and the other stresses that have led to that criminality to make a life for himself that is free of criminality. 
“The accused must himself balance the various influences and experiences he’s gone through, he’s gone through a lot. He was abandoned as a young child, his mother left him to fend for himself. It’s not surprising... he has low self-esteem. That is a very negative experience.  
“On the other hand, he has the benefit of these positive experiences of being surrounded by loving and supportive foster family members and friends and a mother who is now trying to re-establish a positive role in his life. Few people are blessed to have such a strong support network. At the same time the accused has already demonstrated the vulnerability of being influenced by negative peers, that is what led him to this criminal lifestyle that he was doing his best to embark on.  
“I do accept the accused has taken his own initial steps to his own rehabilitation... the efforts the accused makes himself are the most important ones. 
“In prison the accused will meet more negative peers, that goes without saying. Hopefully he will not stray from the new path that his support group insists he is now dedicating himself to... that he will use his time to better himself and forge a new life that will not only bring a brighter future for himself, but will justify the faith his family and friends have for him.”

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