BC Liberals struggle to smokescreen growing list of political scandals

by John Twigg

BCCP Communications Director

The B.C. Liberal government’s budget on Feb. 21 was widely seen as a cynical pre-election scheme to buy votes in the May 9 provincial election with a “blizzard” of good-news announcements and rewards/handouts to almost every voting group in sight in the province – except strangely Seniors, until earlier this week when they too got an announcement: a new $500-million three-year promise of improved care for the elderly. (It was widely welcomed because it was so long overdue.)

But actually we now know the BC Liberals’ 2017-18 budget was even more cynical and worse than mere vote-buying and involving an apparently deliberate strategy to help smokescreen an outbreak of potentially-explosive scandals that the government probably well knew were bound to break out when they did.

A prime example were the recent revelations – first by the Globe and Mail’s Kathy Tomlinson – of a pattern of serious irregularities in what the Liberals were disclosing about who their major donors really were, with some seemingly and even admittedly using lobbyists to shield their identities as buyers of tickets to high-priced fundraising dinners.

That triggered a flood of devastating critiques of the Liberals’ record in various aspects of the perceived undue influence of “big money” in the B.C. Liberals’ party and governmental operations, notably by blogger/columnists such as Dermod Travis of Integrity BC, Bob Mackin at the Breaker, Norman Farrell of In-sightsBC and Rick McCandless (the latter focussing on B.C. Hydro and ICBC) as well as some academics and think tanks, with the gist being that bigger donations got bigger favours from Liberal government decisions, and that the good management of things that the Clark Liberals are claiming also is actually seriously flawed on numerous issues.

Travis, for example, summarized a study by the Auditor General and took alarm at its finding that “only half of [surveyed public] employees who observed unethical behaviour in their workplace came forward to report what they saw. Of those who didn’t report, just over half said they were afraid to.”

The allegation of undue influence-peddling by lobbyists predictably triggered a flurry of hot words in the Legislature this week plus some more devastating critiques and add-ons by numerous mainstream journalists as well as calls from independents such as the National Observer’s Linda Solomon for a criminal investigation – which today (March 10) actually happened when Elections B.C. called in the RCMP to take over an investigation into apparently inappropriate and potentially criminal abuses even of B.C.’s remarkably-too-lax rules regarding inaccurate disclosures of campaign donations.

So for those wanting proof of the justification for using “corrupt” in connection with the BC Liberal government of Premier Christy Clark, there it is: prima facie evidence alleged in the Legislature and referred to police.

Of course the charges are not yet laid let alone convicted but meanwhile there is a growing mountain of allegations of wrongful, unwise, inappropriate and otherwise negative actions and behaviours by the incumbent Liberals, not to mention the also numerous pending and past court cases (e.g. the debacle with the BCTF).

One of the worst Liberal abuses of all though also is blatantly obvious to all even though it is rarely discussed, and that is how all this mess is part of the government’s massive and taxpayer-paid “issues management” system, which not only does propaganda but also anticipates negative or problem issues and takes steps to minimize the negative political impacts of them – which in the trade is widely known as doing damage control, of which recent events were a prime example.

Bad questions arising from the budget, such as funny numbers in the key Crown corporations and rising mountains in the debt charts at the back of the budget books (where they’re hardest to find unless one knows where to look)? No problem, we’ll announce Uber, call it ride-sharing, and distract the big-city media for a few days. Plus it’ll cause problems for the NDP and their taxi-company supporters.

More questions about the big money conflicts? No problem, we’ll launch a big study of a new transit line between Victoria and Langford, and we’ll organize lots of other events to take attention elsewhere, like fluff on International Women’s Day, doing a Reconciliation ceremony, repealing some racist old legislation and lots of other optical stuff to distract ordinary folks from the key facts of it all.

The key point is that the timing of all these events – including of the agenda in the Legislature now sitting – are manipulated to shift media and public attention around to issues that are good for the government – like a solemn statement against bomb threats – and adverse for their opponents – like the wonders of job creation, and the Ironworkers Union backing job-creating Christy.
So thus we get a lengthy debate about a new Bill on Animal Welfare and other such “soft” issues but when it came time for the MLAs to give approval to the government’s Interim Supply for six-plus months of spending powers the New Democrats and two Independents let it slip through in less than 60 minutes!

No kidding! You can watch it on Hansard for March 7. Multi billions of dollars with only token questioning by the NDP’s substitute critic for Finance.

Uh, time for a change? Yes!

Meanwhile, blogger Farrell says “The record of Liberal incompetence and malfeasance is clear.” Read more here.

His latest post also contains links to some great new work by McCandless about the government’s mismanagement of Insurance Corporation of B.C.