Thursday, May 16, 2013

Not Done Properly: Dix's Dips failed British Columbians

Media and scholars will study for years to come how the BC Liberals defied the odds (and the polls) and won British Columbia's 40th provincial election on May 14. 

Liberal sources told me they were truly surprised at what happened. They would've been overjoyed with a minority government for Christy Clark, but were already resigned to hearing the words "Premier-designate, Adrian Dix." 
Dix departs on day 1: flawed from the start.

I haven't found any members of the so-called 801 Club, but I found sympathizers who vowed to stay home on election day. They would never vote NDP, but they said they couldn't vote to keep Clark as premier. 

Ultimately, it was the triumph of a fear-based advertising campaign. Fear and greed are the two most basic motivators of humans. The Liberals painted Dix as weak and voters were told time and again they should fear what he might do if given power. It was built on the premise that repetition can sometimes be perceived as reality, even if the message is false. The same spin doctors portrayed Clark as strong. It was laughable for her to claim fiscal responsibility, but more people bought it than bought the NDP narrative. 

The Weathervane ad, showing Dix's head swivelling in the wind under black clouds in a thunderstorm, was the last big salvo fired in the ad war that began with the infomercial that starred various Liberal insiders (who were portrayed as average British Columbians). The Liberals audaciously employed a weather metaphor when they had a dismal record in that category. The NDP had nothing to counter it. 

On the ground, the Liberals spent the last weekend promoting Green Party candidates in some swing ridings, hoping to split the NDP vote. On election day, Liberal candidates, such as Peter Fassbender, Suzanne Anton and Richard Lee, used social media to bash the NDP and/or get the vote out, despite the Elections Act's ban on transmitting or publishing advertising messages on election day. They finally stopped and deleted their messages. Those weren't the signs of a party confident of victory. 

As much as Dix was delivering a bright, positive Barack Obama-inspired message of hope and change, his campaign was too little, too late in expressing criticism of the Liberal record. When the NDP became critical, the Liberals framed it as being negative. The NDP could have prevented this. 

Re-using the Jack Layton playbook from the 2011 federal election was ill-conceived. Layton was not running to be Prime Minister, he was running to be the Opposition leader. Dix's fatal error was not highlighting the 12-year Liberal record of incompetence and corruption on a daily basis. Showing how the Liberals wasted resources and grew government would have been simple. Simple, just-the-facts storytelling (with a dash of humour) would have done the job and reminded British Columbians that it was time for a change in government. 

One practical step at a time? Dix should instead have been urging British Columbians to take a giant leap away from the Liberals. 

How could he have done so? By revealing the incidents of Liberal mistakes and misconducts one-by-one throughout the campaign, in a daily advent calendar-style opening, complete with historical newspaper quotes and broadcast clips. The only problem would have been choosing which 28 issues and incidents to highlight and in which order. Quick Wins, Wood Innovation and Design Centre, Liquor Distribution Branch, BC Hydro smart meters... those are just the tip of the iceberg. The list is so long, as per Laila Yuile's 100+ Reasons the Liberals Must Go.

While the Liberals spent a year-and-a-half reminding voters of Dix's 1999 backdated memo, Dix and the NDP should have reminded voters of the boxes and boxes and boxes of documents hauled out of the Legislature on Dec. 28, 2003 by police officers investigating the corrupt procurement process around the sale of BC Rail. There were more than 25,000 pages entered as evidence in Dave Basi and Bob Virk's bribery trial. 

Van Dongen's BC Rail cookie. (Facebook)
Dix's tour bus should have included trips to the former BC Rail terminus in Prince George and the recently demolished station in North Vancouver. It was not good enough to simply promise a two-year, $10 million judicial inquiry in the platform. The $6 million legal indemnity deal resonates with citizens but the NDP did little when the documents the government didn't want you to see were finally revealed during the campaign by Global BC's Jas Johal. In fact, independent John van Dongen did more to highlight the issue than the NDP did by publishing a photo of a themed cookie by an Abbotsford baker on Facebook and Twitter. 

The May 2 poll release from Angus Reid Public Opinion said the $6 million legal indemnity deal mattered a lot or somewhat to 67% of respondents -- 1% more than the way the Harmonized Sales Tax was introduced in 2009 by the Liberals.

People are mad as hell and not tolerating corruption anymore. Since the global economic crisis of 2008, corruption has been top-of-mind around the world. Consider the troubles in India listed in this BBC report. Or how new Chinese president Li Xinping is battling corruption (and how there is a BC Liberal connection, according to the Globe and Mail!). Closer to home, B.C. taxpayers need to keep an eye on embattled Montreal engineering firm SNC-Lavalin; the Evergreen Line contractor was blacklisted by the World Bank and is facing corruption investigations on four continents.

It was also not good enough for the NDP platform to focus solely on a BC Rail inquiry. A top-to-bottom overhaul of government is necessary. The Office of the Auditor-General proposed whistleblower protection. The Information and Privacy Commissioner has offered ideas on increasing transparency and accountability, including a duty to document law. The NDP didn't offer a new vision for openness and accountability. It was simply not confident in its ability to set and adhere to higher standards and deliver the good government that British Columbians truly desire.

The NDP needed a focussed plan to restore public trust. It didn't. It failed British Columbians.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Breaking: Liberal campaign manager's plea to the party

Its time running out for the BC Liberals?

Central campaign manager Mike McDonald sent out the memo below just after 5 p.m. to party faithful, claiming voter turnout is low. 

But I am told McDonald is tossing a Hail Mary and hoping someone, anyone, will be in the red zone to catch it. A source tells me that the part of the email claiming the election is close is not accurate. Liberal internal polling indicates the party could have as few as 17 MLAs by the end of the night.

The Liberals are not getting out the vote like they wanted, which is one reason why several high-profile candidates, including Mike de Jong, Suzanne Anton, Darryl Plecas, Peter Fassbender and Richard Lee, were Tweeting earlier today and contravening Elections BC's ban on election day advertising. They eventually stopped and deleted their Tweets. But not before dozens of Twitter users notified Elections BC. 

There's still time: let's win this!
14 May 2013 17:05:43 -0700

Dear BC Liberal members,
I'm sending this as we head into the final three hours of voting for the most important provincial election in a generation. Premier Christy Clark and our outstanding team of candidates need your active support tonight.
Overall voter turnout is still pretty low as of 5pm so we will gain the edge by continuing to turn out our vote.
Let's pull out all the stops!
1. If you haven't already, please VOTE as soon as possible. Click here for voting locations.
2. Phone, knock on doors, email, Facebook, Tweet... let everyone know they must vote by 8pm PT.
3. Think about people you know around the province. We need to pull votes in the North, the Cariboo, the Thompson-Okanagan, the Kootenays, Metro Vancouver, the Fraser Valley, and Vancouver Island. Do what you can to make sure your network is voting wherever they live.
Few expected this election would be this close ... let alone the Opposition.
Now, it's our chance to keep BC's economy on the right track.
Please make that extra effort tonight. Collectively, it will make the difference.
Let's take charge of our future and make this happen.
Thank you for your support,
Mike McDonald
Campaign Director

The government doesn't want you to know

British Columbians go to the polls for the 40th time in the province’s history on May 14. They will get to do what billions of people around the world cannot: Say yes to change and no to corruption. Democratically and peacefully.

This has been a nasty election, marked by attack advertising from the ruling party and a lack of discourse around important issues like healthcare, education, crime and the declining trust in public institutions. 

Christy Clark and the BC Liberals hyped their natural gas pipe dreams and the NDP under Adrian Dix opposed pipelines and tankers. The Liberals spoke deceptively about deficit and debt. The NDP admitted it would speed-up spending, perhaps sell a stadium and order a judicial inquiry into the 2003 sale of BC Rail.

When the Liberals came to power in the 2001 provincial election, they swept aside a worn-out and corrupt NDP. The Liberals had a bold, "New Era" plan for a prosperous B.C. that included the pledge to be Canada's most open and accountable government.

But did they achieve that goal under Gordon Campbell during his decade at the helm? Or under Clark for the last two years? No and no.

Consider these 10 stories.

The Liberal government was obsessed with selling the warehousing and distribution operations of the Liquor Distribution Branch in 2012 after being lobbied by Exel Logistics, a division of the giant Deutsche Post DHL. Proceeds from the sale were supposed to help balance the budget. One of the drivers of this plan was none other than Patrick Kinsella. Then, suddenly, tendering was cancelled and the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union’s new contract was the convenient excuse. 

What was the real reason? 

The Private Career Training Institutions Agency of B.C. is a Crown corporation that regulates private post-secondary education. Last fall, it moved to shut down two schools: Royal Canadian Institute of Technology and Prana Yoga Teacher College. PCTIA registrar and CEO Karin Kirkpatrick admitted that RCIT had no financial problems or student complaints. 

Kirkpatrick approved the hiring of the law firm Lawson Lundell to represent PCTIA in these actions. 
There was no formal tendering process. 

One of Lawson Lundell's partners is Kirkpatrick's husband Murray Campbell.

Why was this potential conflict of interest allowed?

The government doesn't want you to know. 

The Province of B.C. was the guarantor for VANOC, the organizer of the 2010 Winter Olympics.  Yet, the City of Vancouver (which derives its power from the province) was given authority to cut a deal with the Canadian Olympic Committee and VANOC to seal the financial records, board minutes and legal correspondence away from the eyes of the public until the year 2025. 

Why keep the people who paid for the Games in the dark for so long? 

B.C. Place Stadium was renovated for $514 million to the benefit of the Vancouver Whitecaps and B.C. Lions. Do the Whitecaps and Lions pay fair market value for rent?  Why did the Whitecaps get a taxpayer subsidy for a training centre in Premier Clark’s riding, when the team’s managing director has a personal hockey rink at his mansion in Whistler? 

B.C. Pavilion Corporation called me frivolous and vexatious and tried to have me blacklisted from making Freedom of Information requests about the operations of money-losing B.C. Place. Then it withdrew the complaint at the 11th hour. The net result? PavCo succeeded in delaying my FOI requests until after the election. Whose idea was this? 

The SNC-Lavalin engineering firm is one of Canada’s biggest companies. It is under investigation for corruption on four continents, yet the B.C. government felt it was worthy of receiving the contract to design and build the $1.4 billion Evergreen Line Rapid Transit Project in the Tri-Cities. The company was also blacklisted for bribery by the World Bank from receiving construction financing for development projects. 

BC Liberal appointees to the Premier’s Office were found to have broken rules of their employment when they did party work on government time, using the public’s dime. Only one person lost her job. Deputy chief of staff Kim Haakstad quit, and therefore was ineligible for severance. She showed up at Clark’s riding campaign office during the election as a volunteer. Pamela Martin, Brian Bonney and Barinder Bhullar also remained party insiders, despite dishonouring their commitments. 

We will have to wait until the week of June 10 before we can see some of the 10,000 documents gathered in the Quick Wins, in-house investigation by John Dyble. 

We should have been able to see the records before election day. 

Did complaints from Bell, Rogers and Shaw over the direct awarding to Telus of a $1 billion 10-year government-wide service contract lead to the cancellation of the $40 million, 20-year Telus Park naming rights for B.C. Place? 

Evidence I have gathered suggests there is a link. 

Life is simply awful for some of the most vulnerable children and youths in British Columbia. Some of those who struggle with addictions, abuse and mental illnesses are housed in the Maples Adolescent Treatment Centre in Burnaby, where staff complain they work in a climate of fear. 
WorkSafeBC found that incidents were covered up. 


The Times of India Film Awards business plan and contract (below) was finally released to me the day before the election, even though I asked for it on Jan. 22. All the dollar figures were censored and only 18 pages of the 168-page file were released. There is even a clause that protects financial information about the controversial April 6 awards show from public scrutiny -- as long the records are held by the Times of India. 

Why did the government spend $9.5 million (out of contingencies, no less!) on a Bollywood Awards show and omit the Hollywood North film industry from the B.C. Jobs Plan? Why did the government do this deal, while claiming that it was controlling spending? 

More perspectives on the 12 years of Liberal rule include:
Five Reasons to Turf Christy Clark's Liberal Crew, by Rafe Mair from The Tyee;
Why not to vote for the BC Liberals, by James Plett;
100+ Reasons the BC Liberals Must Go, by Laila Yuile;
and, finally, Richard Giroday's Tangled Web of BC Liberal rule infographic. It is a must-see

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Blizzard of documents says Port Mann #IceBombs were preventable

There are eight ridings up for grabs in Surrey in the May 14 provincial election. At dissolution, they were split between the ruling Liberals and opposition NDP.

Surrey is the province's second-biggest city and British Columbia is well-known for its blacktop politics. Build a bridge. Rebuild a highway. Remind voters which party spent their hard-earned tax dollars to give the project the green light.

That is the modus operandi of the ruling BC Liberals, who took it to another level when Premier Christy Clark gave the go-ahead to slash the toll on the new Port Mann Bridge tolls from $3 to $1.50 per crossing.

Clark opened the bridge, the highlight of the $3.3 billion Highway 1 project, on Dec. 1, 2012 with a photo and video opportunity. Just 18 days later, on Dec. 19, 2012, the infamous "ice bombs" incident happened. Some 350 vehicles vehicles were damaged by falling ice and snow that had been allowed to gather on the bridge cables and towers.

This had been a problem on other cable-stayed bridges in North America and Europe and the documents below show that engineers knew it was a risk at the Port Mann. Some seem to have believed it would be a manageable risk, while others were concerned about safety. Transportation Investment Corporation, the Crown corporation set-up for the project, did not have a fulsome plan before the bridge's grand opening.

There was another issue.

The bridge opening was hurried along for the Premier's photo op. The bridge was opened during B.C.'s notorious stormy season, yet it did not have its own weather station. In fact, the closest Transportation Ministry weather stations were in Abbotsford and West Vancouver. One was finally bought for $100,000 and installed in February.

With better understanding of the conditions about to happen and as they were developing, the people that operate and maintain the Port Mann could have halted traffic earlier and avoided damage, injury and embarrassment.

Below are documents I obtained via Freedom of Information that include reports and correspondence from the files of Transportation Investment Corporation and contractor Kiewit-Flatiron.

The documents were part of a 500-page-plus release that included the lengthy U.S. Army Corps of Engineers technical report on superstructure ice protection by Charles Ryerson from April 2009. 

If ice accretion is up your alley, you can download the Ryerson report here

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