Archive for the ‘ B.C. Liberals ’ Category

CUPE still talking, readers push back

School_Bus wik


School buses continue to roll as talks continue with the Canadian Union of Public Employees, representing bus drivers, custodians, teacher aides, offices staff and crossing guards.

Last week’s column that filled in the blanks about the actual wages and conditions for CUPE employees elicited quite a bit of feedback. One part-time teacher aide in Kelowna scoffed at the description of overtime and callout provisions, saying her district has had an overtime ban in place for years.

I have no doubt that’s the case in most districts. That’s how it happens in the private sector too. The union wins rich contract terms, and the employer cuts staff and hours until they can afford to make payroll.

Most replies were of the government La-La-Land variety. This one from Oak Bay  asserts the notion that wages are low in Third World countries because they lack unions to demand higher wages. (I’m sure the camel herders of the Sahel will be relieved to know that.)

Another from Saanich rejects my comparison between CUPE conditions and those of self-employed people with the usual campus-radical attack on those big bad corporations. All big-box store employees have to do is unionize and presto, they’ll have a starting wage of $18 an hour too.

Others questioned the numbers, overtime rates and sick-day payout provisions. These days everyone not only is entitled to their own opinion, but they create their own facts too. All 60 CUPE contracts with school districts in B.C. are posted here for those who wish to reside in the real world.

Did Stewart jump, or was he pushed?

ruth ben fb 4

Here are Ruth and Ben Stewart celebrating a happy moment in a photo posted on her facebook page. A not-so-happy post was added after news broke that her husband was stepping down as Westside-Kelowna MLA, days after winning a second term.

Ruth Stewart later deleted her rant about the “unfair” decision, and posted an apology:

“A few days have passed and time helps put everything into perspective. The last posting was all about me when it really should have been about Ben and the people of B.C. I was angry and hurt which I don’t need to apologize for but I am feeling very positive that everything will work out. No use hanging onto the negative….”

Ever the team player, Ben Stewart stuck to the same line as Premier Christy Clark that there were several MLAs who offered to give up their seats so Clark could run in a byelection after losing her Vancouver-Point Grey seat to the NDP. In his final scrum with press gallery reporters after being sworn in, Stewart repeated that point, but never indicated if he was one of those volunteers.

So, given his wife’s reaction and his own delicate footwork, the question remains: Did he actually volunteer to quit? For that matter, did anyone? One observer tells me that’s not usually how these things go. Generally the chief of staff or one of his minions starts phoning around, inviting people to volunteer. Some did, and Stewart was probably high on the call list.

Clearly the Clark team liked the symbolism of having her represent the constituency held by former premier Bill Bennett, whose son Brad was at Clark’s side throughout the campaign. Announcing the byelection, Clark declared the Kelowna region the “cradle of free enterprise in Canada,” which may have come as a surprise to her new BFF, Alberta Premier Alison Redford.

Full marks to Ben Stewart on this one, in any event. He resigned hours after being sworn in, making himself ineligible for the 15-month severance that goes to MLAs who resign before the election or are defeated. (Clark refunded her MLA severance after inquiries by Times-Colonist reporter Rob Shaw.)

On my facebook page and elsewhere, there were suggestions that Stewart will soon receive a plum government job. Don’t bet on it. A wealthy member of a pioneer Kelowna family, his Quail’s Gate winery is only one of his business interests.


Process is still for cheese, Adrian

Dix ralston 4

I was left with several questions after NDP leader Adrian Dix emerged from his post-election deliberations yesterday to announce yet another review – this one of his historic loss and the party’s future.

One of them was about the party’s evolving pipeline policy. Here’s how Dix analyzed the pivotal event of the campaign, where he inspired the B.C. Liberals’ wordless “weathervane” TV ad:

“Finally, my announcement about our position on the Kinder Morgan pipeline on Earth Day hurt our campaign. The way I made it raised a number of process issues that stuck with us. I hold to the policy I set out on that pipeline. But, plainly, I didn’t handle that issue very well.”

What does he mean by “process issues”? Is his stated intention to stage environmental reviews of pipelines with the sole purpose of blocking projects a “process issue”? He’s still against the expansion of a pipeline that’s been in service for 60 years, and also to tanker traffic that could conceivably end up going out of Washington state? All this without a scientific review, which he doesn’t seem to believe in “in principle,” to borrow a phrase?

One of former premier Glen Clark’s famous quotes was this: “Process is for cheese.”

More reinforcements for West Wing

The arrival of former CTV-CBC-CityTV anchorman Ben Chin to Premier Christy Clark’s office set off the usual round of “crumbling regime” stories here in the capital.

It’s been quite a ride since Clark took the helm from Gordon Campbell, whose long-time press secretary Mike Morton is back to hold the fort along with B.C. Liberal “issues management” stalwart Shane Mills. Chin arrives after mostly un-disastrous service as press wrangler to Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty. He even showed his Liberal loyalty by standing in an Ontario by-election before relocating to Vernon.

So ends the era of Harper’s “SEAL Team 6,” as the Sto:lo poet Ernie Crey dubbed the arrival of former Harper press secretary Sara MacIntyre and equally short-lived chief of staff Ken Boessenkool. They were supposed to hit the beach, get Clark re-elected and secure the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, or so the theory went.

Sad to report that after Global TV took out MacIntyre in a classic hit piece, the Vancouver Sun decided to drag her body through the street, Mogadishu-style. The Sun’s eminent Vaughn Palmer retailed her plaintive e-mails, supplied by the NDP, in which she asked for a job description and length-of-stay expectations in the wake of her sudden transfer to a ministry communications shop.

Chin is a decent and capable fellow, with a wealth of experience that will come in handy keeping the divas of TV news happy. He can have no illusions about being called in to pitch the ninth inning in Clark’s bid for re-election, the fate of ex-CTVer Chris Olsen or the rest of the evolving communications strategy that has defined the Clark administration.

SEAL Team 6 parachutes out

Sara MacIntyre’s departure from Premier Christy Clark’s inner circle completes an unusual experiment in federal-provincial cooperation that didn’t turn out so well.

When MacIntyre and Ken Boessenkool arrived in Victoria in April, we quoted the Sto:lo sage Ernie Crey, who dubbed them “Harper’s SEAL Team 6.” Their mission, according to Crey: get Clark elected against the socialist hordes and get the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline through. MacIntyre came directly from Harper’s Ottawa office as press secretary, whereas Boessenkool took a more scenic route via government relations firm Hill and Knowlton, where he represented the likes of pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline and, er, Enbridge.

Boessenkool, the Mustang-driving, water skiing wunderkind from Calgary who once advised Stockwell Day and Preston Manning, departed suddenly as Clark’s chief of staff three weeks ago after an incident involving a female government staff member at a post-golf party at Victoria’s trendy Bard and Banker pub. Shortly after he left, Clark flew to Calgary to execute his strategy to meet with Alberta Premier Alison Redford over the pipeline.

This continues a premier’s office revolving door that included previous chief of staff Mike McDonald leaving to work for the BC Liberal Party to make room for Boessenkool, and two other staffers departing in recent weeks. Replacing MacIntyre as communications director is Clark’s faithful fireman Shane Mills, a former Black Press editor known for his B.C. Liberal war room efforts in the last couple of elections. Press secretary duties are now in the hands of Gordon Campbell’s long-time flack Mike Morton.

MacIntyre didn’t get much slack from the Vancouver media. After a bristly few days of limiting Clark’s access in the Harper style, she was featured in what MP James Moore would call a “hit piece” by Global TV.  She goes to a vacant position with Government Communications and Public Engagement, as the ministry information apparatus was renamed by Clark.

George Abbott, unplugged

Here’s George Abbott, researching primary school issues in a Penticton classroom as education minister. Political observers know his penchant for comedy, and will miss his wit in legislature debate.

(A personal favourite: rising to respond to NDP allegations of mishandled health care resources, Abbott accused the opposition of relying on “a leaked copy of the Vancouver Sun.”)

At yesterday’s news conference announcing his departure after 33 years in local and provincial politics, Abbott was in top form. Here are the highlights, starting with a reference to Kevin Falcon’s retirement announcement the day before:

First I want to put to rest the rumours that my wife and I are expecting another baby, and reconfirm that my child-bearing years are over. I’m prepared to move on and just entertain grandchildren at this point, rather than presenting more babies. I’ve done enough of that. Three times was more than enough.
• • •
The legislature has been my personal Hotel California. I was here in 1976 as a legislative intern, and as they say, you can check out but you can never leave.
• • •
I welcome any of the perplexing and embarrassing questions that you may have, provided they are not about asparagus (a reference to an earlier media scrum when Abbott volunteered details of its effect on his urine).
• • •
I had the opportunity to serve in opposition for five years. It did feel in many respects like the best 50 years of my life. I would not relish the thought of going back there. That having been said, whether I was continuing in cabinet or sitting in opposition, it’s really not a consideration for me at this point.
• • •
As Frank Sinatra once observed, regrets, I’ve had a few. But really not very many.
• • •
My elder son Brant is on the cusp of getting a PhD in economics from UBC, and I’m deeply jealous and envious of him. I do have a master’s degree in political science from the University of Victoria, and have been entertaining the thought of going back and doing a doctorate.
Someone reminded me, though, the other day that there is a hell of a lot of work involved in getting one. So right now, what I’m doing is putting out a plea for someone to provide me with an honorary doctorate, because then I can have all the prestige of describing myself as a doctor.
• • •
I do hope to be living here in Victoria. I’m too old to return to farming, and too young to die.

Kevin Krueger, unplugged

Since Kamloops-North Thompson MLA Kevin Krueger announced he won’t run for a fifth term next spring, there have been quite a few greatest hits collections, mostly selected shots at his political foes. Here’s a longer version of Krueger’s exit interview with members of the legislative press gallery this week.

On why he’s pulling the plug after what will be 17 years as MLA and occasional cabinet minister:

People have been asking me for 16 years if I was running again, and my answer was I’ll know when it’s time to stop. My wife and I have been back and forth on that question over the years. In 2004, one day I told her I decided I wasn’t running again as the 2005 election approached. You always want to leave people enough time to choose a new candidate if you aren’t going to. And up until then, she had been tremendously opposed to me being involved at all, right from the beginning.

And when I finally told her I was going to accede to her request, she said, ‘what are you talking about?’ She said, look at all the stuff you’re getting done. Who else can truthfully say that they caused a university to be created in in his home town, and she made a list.
And I got up on one elbow and said, ‘who’s this in my bed talking to me like that?’ because it was exactly the opposite of what I’d always heard.

The day John van Dongen did his thing [jumped to the B.C. Conservatives], of course I was asked, I think all of us were, if we were going to run again. And happily for me, she and I had just had a conversation a few days before … where she said, I really think you should run again.

The premier’s made it very clear, and I agree with her, that we need to bring in some new faces, more than maybe presently planned. We talked about cabinet, back at the time her decision was made, and I agreed with her that if you promise new faces in cabinet, and a smaller cabinet, the arithmetic’s not in favour of incumbents. And in my one-on-one interview with her, I told her I really thought Terry Lake should have a shot at it. Really bright guy, more educated than me … and that’s what she did.

On how he can return to his job as an ICBC manager after all that time:

I had a good career going before the fire in the belly made me put my name on a ballot. We all told each other at the time we should go two terms max. But then we had to blow the first term on five years as a visibly unhappy opposition. And so we didn’t feel that clock should start until 2001, when we became government. But I’m way past that.

And I’ve been on this long-term leave without pay from my job at ICBC, and they and I never expected it to go this long, but everyone’s very gracious about it. It is a contract, so they have repeatedly fulfilled the obligation to reassure me, and written to me and said that’s all valid. They’ve probably changed their management guide since, but it was a contract a the time.
I’ve just turned 57 years old, and I’m still a long way from retirement age. I’ve enjoyed my ICBC career and they have a place for me.

On death threats, and getting elected four times:

[Constituents] are really good to me. Nobody has any doubt, I don’t think, that I would have been re-elected again if I ran, and that’s not braggadocio. I don’t get much negative e-mail at all any more. At the beginning I got death threats. I had to go to an unlisted number at home because my children were still young and they were picking up the phone and getting death threats.

The RCMP were involved. They followed me around for a while, saying they were serious. That started the day it was known I was pursuing the nomination. Kamloops used to be a really tough town – not being partisan, this is the truth – from the NDP point of view. The day people found out that I was thinking about not being an ICBC manager any more but a candidate, I started seeing people give me the finger when I drove down the street. I started getting nasty phone calls, and there was a deluge of that once I was running and especially after we became government.

Gordon Campbell had to have RCMP protection right from the beginning, because the RCMP said the same thing to him, that these were serious death threats, and we’re going to be driving you around. I didn’t have to have that for very long, and for years now, I hardly get any harassment, and I never get death threats, which is a welcome change.

Lots of people have said to me, ‘No one would ever presume to take you on or force you out or anything like that.’ You’ve seen how supportive Premier Clark is. Because for the last while I felt as though I paid my dues and I should be able to speak about issues even if they’re controversial. I’ve done that, and I’ve been upbraided sometimes by some of you for that.

When I made my remarks about the judiciary I got considerable criticism from the press gallery, but then all through the following weekend, probably journalists were getting copies of e-mails from all over the province. There was a huge wave of support, completely unsolicited by me.

On speaking his mind, loudly:

When I was a kid growing up on a homestead, listening to my Dad – and he was an ex World War II soldier who went on the beach at D-Day – and all his friends, it was constantly, ‘Why in the world do these people we elect to tell Victoria and Ottawa what we think, always want to tell us what Victoria and Ottawa think? Why don’t they convey our message to government?’ And I felt an obligation to do that. Way too bluntly, initially. I think I’ve gotten a little better at that later. But people like it.
And I get waves of support whenever I take on something controversial. I try to ever say anything hurtful, certainly never things that are untrue. Some things are going to be hurtful, but, you know, I try to be decent about that. I’m a Christian first.

On whether Christy Clark can win the next election:

Oh yes. She will. I have no doubt that she will. If you guys could have been a fly on the wall at our caucus planning session at 108 [Mile House] a couple of weeks ago, the caucus is united. And she was chosen in a process that was fair and square. And it was a tough process….

In the B.C. Liberal government, since Gord asked me to be the liaison between the executive and caucus, that was one of the toughest times. We really felt we needed to make that constitutional change [equal weight for constituencies regardless of membership] so Surrey wouldn’t decide who was the leader every time. It was tough but we got it through, and Christy’s team was really smart. They went out and won support in a lot of the un-held ridings … and from there they still had to work hard, and she won. Mike McDonald is brilliant. Ken Boessenkool is a great choice.

On the B.C. Liberal government’s record:

We have – you really can’t argue with this – admirable results in many areas. It’s quite something to have a triple-A credit rating and the most jobs in B.C.’s history in the teeth of a world-wide recession. The Conference Board of Canada, year after year, says we have the best health care in the country. We’re told over and over we’ve got some of the best education results in the world.

On the impression that he and other MLAs are jumping from Christy Clark’s ship, and the legacy of the HST:

Nobody’s blaming her for that. There may well be others. I hope not too many more, because I think it’s important to have the experience there. For me it was really personal considerations. And one of them is, I was a champion of HST, and I still am. And every time I say that, it bugs people, because they didn’t like it. They mainly say they didn’t like it because of what they call the way they implemented it. And it’s been very painful for me for people to say that we lied, and specifically that I lied. I’ve volunteered repeatedly to take a polygraph, and I still would, because we didn’t lie.

Another criticism that I heard all my life … is that government can’t get anything done quickly. It just can’t rise to opportunity. It takes forever, and the situation has changed. And I was thrilled that my colleagues had the jam to make the decision. When we got that opportunity, it was unheard of. Nobody even bothered to asked me in the whole 2009 campaign what I thought of harmonizing, because they’d heard us deal with that so many times.

And I had pleaded with my colleagues to do it, because I was chairing the small business roundtable leading up to that election. And they consistently said to me – it wasn’t all, restaurants were never in favour, but they’re only about 20,000 out of at that time 380,000 small businesses in B.C., now it’s 400,000, with 1,050,000 employees between them, and as they point out to me, that’s less than three employees per small business average. Generally there’ a couple of partners, often spouses. And they’d say, one of the partners has to spend most of his or her time doing books for two levels of government and dealing with local government, and it just burns up too much time. We can’t grow our businesses properly.

And I’d make that pitch in caucus and in cabinet, but the response always was, no, we’re the tax cutting regime. We had cut taxes at that time more than 120 different times, different ways. And we’re not going to change that. The federal government has always insisted [the HST rate] will be 13 per cent, and five plus seven is 12, and we won’t do it.

Then it really was that first cabinet meeting after the election. [Then-finance minister] Colin Hansen very gingerly said to us, ‘you’re not going to want to hear this, we’ve debated it repeatedly, but I have to report to you the federal government has made us a new offer. And they’ll let us go at 12, and they’ve never conceded that before. They’ll give us five per cent exemptions, and we’ll probably have to burn that up mostly on home heating and vehicle fuels because we did carbon tax, and the public won’t accept that.’ He laid it all out to us and then he said, if we don’t do it, Ontario will be two years ahead of us because this is a two-year legislative cycle in Ottawa. We won’t get an other chance for two years. By then it will have been a huge temptation for investors to go there and create jobs instead of here. And the kicker is, they’ll give us $1.6 billion to be spent wherever we feel it’s most needed.

At that time, one person at the table said ‘what’s their phone number?’ It was almost too good to believe. Our deficit was was much larger than we thought, and I know people think we lied about that too. They think we have our fingers on the levers all through an election. But the convention is – and we followed it – you don’t interfere. You let the civil service run the government, and you only have a cabinet meeting if there was an earthquake or something serious. And that’s how we behaved ourselves. So it was news to us that the deficit was so much larger.

Gordon Campbell, a very smart man as you know, knew exactly how all of this was going to come across to the public. But we really believe it was the right thing to do. And I really believe to this day, if all of my constituents could have been watching us on video, and they were able to use those buzzers they use on TV to vote, it would have been a huge percentage, well over 90, that would essentially think that I was an idiot if I didn’t vote for it.

But of course they weren’t there. I thought once I explained that to everyone that they might agree HST was a good idea. But Vander Zalm outflanked us tremendously, and you all know how it happened. Now I think, of course, that we would have been way better off consulting for two years rather than fighting for two years and then losing. But I’m completely tied to that. My fingerprints are all over it.

I really would like somebody to give me a polygraph so I could prove I’ve never lied for a moment about the thing. And that hurts, but I’m not going away hurt. I think it’s better if I’m gone. People all say how loyal I am to the government and the premiers and so on, and that’s true, but I think Christy Clark deserves to run without me on the ticket, because I am so completely tied and very frankly so, to everything we did. My own constituents would vote for me, I’m confident, but people around the province would say, well, there you go. If that guy’s still there, then nothing has changed.

CLBC bonus debate a fantasy

Here’s Social Development Minister Stephanie Cadieux, the latest target of a media dogpile over revelations that bonuses paid to Community Living B.C. executives were continued, and rolled into salaries for next year. Cadieux was appointed last year to replace Harry Bloy, whose bumbling defence of cost-cutting at CLBC embarrassed the government.

Representative for Children and Youth Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond joined the parade of criticism over the bonuses Friday, noting on CKNW radio that the B.C. government’s own audit showed that there are waiting lists for CLBC services such as day programs for developmentally disabled adults. The money for these bonuses should have gone into services, she said.

Yes, ma’am, there are waiting lists. There are also waiting lists for hip and knee surgery, long-term care for seniors and many other urgent social needs. Does Turpel-Lafond or anyone else seriously believe that imposing a 10 per cent pay cut on a few executives is going to get rid of these waiting lists?

But now this is a “political” story, so it slips the bonds of reality. Minister promised to kill bonuses, then found out she didn’t have the legal authority to cut the contracted pay. Minister broke promise. Media have a villain for their drama. The fact that the B.C. budget is currently a billion dollars in the red, and taxpayers can’t afford a whole range of services that people demand and expect, is forgotten.

And it’s worth stepping back to remember what this bonus program was supposed to do. It was to move developmentally disabled people from group homes to adult adoption arrangements where that is practical. The group home model is a smaller version of the old big institution model, where three shifts of unionized staff supervise people and provide activities for them. Group homes are necessary for those whose condition makes them a risk to themselves and others, but not for everyone. For some developmentally disabled people, an adoption arrangement is the closest thing they will have to a home and family.

Yes, the adult adoption model is to save money. Yes, bonus programs are a private sector approach to creating efficiencies. Yes, there are risks that people in adoption situations can be neglected or abused. Those risks exist in group homes and seniors’ care homes as well.

Bring back the bonus program.


BC Hydro, utility or government ATM?

Here’s Energy Minister Rich Coleman, touring the John Hart Dam on the Campbell River last fall. This dam and Ruskin, on the Stave River in the Fraser Valley, were early stops in Coleman’s cost-cutting tour after he was assigned by Premier Christy Clark to bring BC Hydro rate increases under control.

Coleman agreed with BC Hydro that both those projects should proceed, and they should increase output enough that they will pay for themselves over the next decade or so. But Coleman got the BC Hydro controversy rolling again yesterday when he announced that the B.C. Liberals are once again overruling the B.C. Utilities Commission and imposing a 1.44 per cent rate increase to take effect just before the 2013 election.

That decision appears designed to head off a hearing set to start in June where the BC Utilities Commission would review rate increases. BC Hydro’s office union, COPE 378, and other foes of the B.C. Liberals were getting ready for a frontal attack on the smart grid program, independent power and other BC Hydro moves that were exempted from BCUC scrutiny.

The NDP have been targeting BC Hydro for weeks, most recently calculating that the utility was required to pay $180 million in the first three months of the year buying private power, while some of its own capacity was idle and water was being spilled over the Peace Canyon dam.

“The Liberal government’s focus is on short-term political gain,” said NDP energy critic John Horgan.

The BC Liberals were quick to respond, their war room stirring to life as the election is now less than a year away. A release quoted Peace River North MLA Pat Pimm reminding voters of the NDP’s manipulation of BC Hydro during the 1990s. Not only did the NDP government freeze BC Hydro rates for years, pushing up today’s rates to catch up on projects like fixing up those old dams, but in the dying days of the NDP government they made BC Hydro issue $200 rebate cheques to everyone.

We haven’t seen anything that cynical since Gordon Campbell sent everyone a cheque to help the carbon tax go down.

Nothing new about BC Hydro being used as an ATM for the government of the day.



Lessons from the Alberta shootout

Premier Christy Clark, seen here addressing the B.C. Cattlemen’s Association last year, shared her thoughts with reporters yesterday about the surprise outcome of Monday’s election in Alberta. Bracing for the end of their 41-year dynasty, the Progressive Conservatives under newly elevated leader Alison Redford rode an apparent last-minute change of heart against the Wildrose Party to a 61-seat majority, the party’s 12th in a row.

“People want a government that’s paying close attention to the economic fundamentals and making sure the economy is strong, and I think that’s why Alison Redford succeeded,” Clark said.

Some city pundits figured Wildrose leader Danielle Smith cowgirled up too much, with ridin’ the range photo ops that no longer reflect the urban sophistication of today’s Albertans (at least those in the social circle of city pundits). Others recoiled from Smith daring to suggest that the climate change debate might not be over. And of course there was the media crucifixion of a couple of Wildrose candidates who let their rustic Christian beliefs show.

Here in Victoria, reporters and pundits wondered if Clark may have cowgirled up too much. Not with that hat, which likely won’t be seen again, but with February’s restraint budget. Redford used lavish spending to woo away most of the Alberta Liberal support and keep the oxymoronic Progressive Conservative brand going strong.

Clark bragged about raising the minimum wage, saying that kind of policy balance is why hers is B.C.’s only “coalition party” that can keep the NDP out of government. Clark says “coalition” far more often than “B.C. Liberal” these days, and this week she allowed she would be open to changing the party name before next year’s election.

Dogwood Party anyone?