Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Christy Clark Runs Ghastly Ghost Government - Operating in the Shadows, Deleting All Traces of Public Records

Premier Christy Clark - leader of scary ghost government
Casper the Friendly Ghost - never deletes his email
Unlike Casper, the BC Liberal version, which makes email records invisible, is extremely scary. 

Bill Tieleman's 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

Tuesday November 10, 2015

By Bill Tieleman 

"A reformed and modernized system will make this ghost government more accountable to the public it serves."  

- Kentucky auditor Adam Edelen, 2012 

Premier Christy Clark is running her own ghost government in British Columbia -- and unlike Casper the Friendly Ghost, this BC Liberal version is extremely scary.

Clark's ghost government operates in the shadows, illegally triple deleting emails so no record remains anywhere, communicating verbally and on Post-It notes later destroyed -- all to keep the information that forms the vital public record invisible to media, the public and opposition parties.

Kentucky's ghost government was discovered by state auditor of local government Adam Edelen, who found in 2012 that $2.7 billion was being spent by over 1,200 special districts, with absolutely no legal, financial or organizational reporting to taxpayers. 

Here at home it was Elizabeth Denham, B.C.'s independent information and privacy commissioner, who investigated and blew the whistle on Clark's ghostly government and its ghastly practices of flagrantly breaking freedom of information (FOI) laws. 

"We uncovered negligent searches for records, a failure to keep adequate email records, a failure to document searches, and the willful destruction of records responsive to an access request," Denham said in her October report titled "Access Denied." 

The RCMP was even alerted after Denham reported that George Gretes, then-ministerial assistant to Transportation Minister Todd Stone, had during her investigation "admitted to giving false testimony under oath, and aspects of his testimony was contradicted by other evidence." 

Denham -- and through her the public -- only uncovered this outrageous behaviour because Tim Duncan, another transportation ministry staffer, contacted her - through the BC NDP opposition - with allegations that Gretes wilfully deleted government records related to the Highway of Tears.

Last week, Technology Minister Amrik Virk -- no stranger to his own controversies on following the rules -- hired former FOI commissioner David Loukidelis to advise the government on how to address Denham's 11 recommendations and five findings, giving him until Dec. 15 to report.

But make no mistake -- the email scandal is no rogue operation. 

Clark's own deputy chief of staff, Michele Cadario, was found by Denham to have used a "broad interpretation of transitory records" in order to achieve the "permanent deletion of almost all emails she sent in the course of her work." 

Clark herself said she was unaware of the triple deleting to frustrate FOI requests -- and refused to dismiss or apparently even discipline Cadario or others who were named in Denham's report.

Yet Denham's report states that Cadario "has not personally retained a single email she has ever sent from her government email address."

Serious to everyone but Clark

Having worked in a past premier's office as communications director, I am astonished that a top official like Cadario not only broke the rules but could then claim she operates with no email trail or record of her work. It defies imagination.

As Paul Willcocks wrote in The Tyee, some of Cadario's emails were nonetheless found -- but only those in the records of Clark's chief of staff Dan Doyle.

As Denham says: "It is difficult to overstate the seriousness of the problems that my office discovered in the course of this investigation."

But those problems aren't that serious to Clark. She had the nerve to say of her staff that: "I do think that everyone was trying to operate within the Act." 

And the content of emails that are said to have been deleted is deadly serious -- a request for records related to northern B.C.'s Highway of Tears, where 18 women and girls have been murdered or disappeared since 1969.

I know a family member of one of the missing women, and have heard of the anguish of other family and friends of those murdered and disappeared.

Every effort should be used to find those responsible and bring them to justice -- not to apparently cover the tracks of the BC Liberal government's lack of sufficient action on this critical issue.

Former FOI commish brought in

Denham's report makes for truly disturbing reading. And so enter David Loukidelis to straighten out the government with his own report on Denham's recommendations.

That would be the same Loukidelis who went from being FOI commissioner to deputy attorney general in 2010 -- from the guy responsible for ensuring the BC Liberal government followed the rules, to the public official ultimately responsible for FOI requests made in the BC Legislature Raid corruption case by the defence for former ministerial assistants Dave Basi and Bob Virk.

And the same Loukidelis who, along with then-deputy minister Graham Whitmarsh, engineereda waiver of the repayment to government of Basi and Virk's $6-million legal fees, despite the surprise guilty plea that ended their trial after just two of an expected 42 witnesses testified. B.C.'s auditor general found "no political interference" in the indemnity waiver.

Loukidelis knows the FOI law and its requirements on compliance very well -- one hopes he will demand this government that has repeatedly violated the rules finally change its ways. 

'Ignorance of the law is no excuse!'

Government records do not belong to the political party in power or individual staff. They belong to the public who pays the bills, and accountability is essential for confidence in our democracy.

Deleting emails, destroying documents and blocking access to information is not only breaking the law -- it is potentially obstructing evidence of other illegal activities. 
In the federal government, such actions by an employee could lead to up to a two-year jail sentence and a $10,000 fine.

The federal Privacy Commissioner's guidebook on complying with Access to Information Act requests is extremely clear, and written in boldface, large type:

"You could go to jail for the destruction, alteration or falsification of any record with the intent to deny a right of access to that record!!! Ignorance of the law is no excuse!" it states with great emphasis. 

Unfortunately, here in B.C. it appears that similar actions do not result in any punishment -- they are undertaken in cabinet minister and the premier's offices by senior officials and excused by the premier herself.
It's time to exorcise the ghost government and return public records to those they truly belong to -- the people.


Monday, November 09, 2015

Green Party's Federal Breakthrough Dreams Withered on the Vine in Election Failure

Green Party leader Elizabeth May
'Stampede' voting, not strategic voting, ran them over this election.

Bill Tieleman's 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column 

Tuesday November 3, 2015

By Bill Tieleman
"In riding after riding across Canada, Greens have proven that if you vote (in large numbers) for what you want, you actually get it." 
- Green Party leader Elizabeth May, June 2015 

The Greens didn't get it, in riding after riding -- not votes, not seats.

So the Green party's support withered on the vine in the Oct. 19 federal election, and its hoped for "breakthrough" was actually a breakdown that left it with just one seat.

Green leader Elizabeth May presided again as her party's vote percentage dropped, from 6.8 per cent in 2008 to 3.45 per cent in 2015. 

The Greens won only May's seat in Saanich-Gulf Islands; lost deputy leader Bruce Hyer, a turncoat Ontario New Democrat MP who switched to the Green party last session; saw even its high profile candidates finish in third and fourth place; and managed just one runner up in the whole country.

Quite a depressing turn of events for any analytical Green -- much worse than even the NDP's bad election campaign that squandered its chance of winning government or even staying as official opposition, but still took 44 seats. 

And the now Stephen Harper-less Conservatives with 99 seats are well placed for the next election under a new leader.

May is packing her bags -- not to leave the Green leadership, but to attend the United Nations climate change summit in Paris -- and rationalizing her latest big loss.

"I'm happy with the result... More important than Green seats is that we saw the end of the Harper era," May said, adding that: "The fear factor slaughtered us."

Those grim results shouldn't make any party leader "happy." But on the fear issue, May knew for four years this ballot would be about stopping Harper -- and the Green strategy failed miserably.

Targeting the wrong party

In fact, May didn't follow her own approach outlined earlier in 2015 when the Greens were accused of splitting the vote with the NDP in a way that would let Conservatives win seats. 

Writing in The Tyee, George Ehring asked of May: "Why are she and her party actively pursuing an electoral strategy that is almost certain to elect more Conservatives? 

"In choosing to run candidates in ridings that have the best chance of electing someone other than a Conservative, Elizabeth May is playing right into Stephen Harper's hands," Ehring wrote.

"She is his best electoral ally, because her party will draw votes from New Democrats and Liberals -- the parties with the only chance of defeating Conservatives. This splitting of the opposition votes is just what Stephen Harper needs to form another majority government."

May countered in The Tyee in a long column that gained many readers and Facebook shares.

"Look at these results," May wrote. "Conservative incumbent won last time with 43 per cent of the vote. The Liberal had 39 per cent. And the Green Party had 10 per cent. Ehring would urge, 'Greens should not run here at all!'

"Those are the numbers from 2008 in Saanich-Gulf Islands.

"2011 results in Saanich-Gulf Islands: I won with 46 per cent of the vote, Conservative cabinet minister Gary Lunn 35 per cent, NDP 12 per cent, Liberals six per cent. (Note in 2008, NDP candidate dropped out of the race.)," May concluded.

May also gave the provincial example of Andrew Weaver, the Green party's first BC MLA in Oak Bay-Gordon Head in Victoria, arguing that the Greens had jumped from nine to 40 per cent in that riding in 2013 to displace BC Liberal cabinet minister Ida Chong.

But May misses a critical point: both in Saanich-Gulf Islands federally and in Oak Bay-Gordon Head provincially, Greens defeated right-wing candidates -- not New Democrats. 

Yet in the 2015 federal election, the Greens made environmentally active NDP MP Murray Rankin their number one target riding in Canada -- and failed when ex-CBC host Jo-Ann Roberts lost by 10 per cent. 

They also targeted the NDP in Nanaimo-Ladysmith, recruiting former NDP nomination candidate Paul Manly -- but he came in fourth place.

The hard work of beating Conservatives on Vancouver Island was left to the NDP, with Gord Johns beating cabinet minister John Duncan in Courtenay-Alberni and Rachel Blaney winning North Island-Powell River from the Tories.

Other high-profile Green party candidates like Claire Martin, the former CBC National meteorologist who got environmentalist David Suzuki's endorsement, still went down in single-digit defeat in North Vancouver. 

And in Burnaby-North Seymour, activist anti-pipeline professor Lynne Quarmby finished fourth with just five per cent of the vote.

As it turns out, the Greens didn't actually split the vote in these ridings to let Conservatives win -- perhaps even worse, they made no difference to the results. 

Strategic voting failed

So forget about claiming that "strategic voting" hurt the Greens, or the NDP for that matter, because this was "stampede voting" with the Liberals gaining the herd. Those big Liberal vote totals squashed the Greens like a bug, not strategic voting.

Strategic voting actually means casting a ballot for the incumbent MP -- NDP, Liberal or Green -- in opposition-held ridings and picking the opposition candidate with the best chance to win in Conservative-held seats. 

But that didn't happen, not at all. The NDP's incumbents were wiped out in the Atlantic; in Quebec, the Liberals, Conservatives and Bloc Quebecois defeated the majority of NDP MPs; and Liberals beat New Democrat MPs as well as Conservatives in western Canada. 

That means strategic voting utterly failed.

All of this leaves the Green party back at square one, with one seat of 338 in the new Parliament.

May's "beachhead" riding looks more like Dunkirk than Normandy -- a party in retreat rather than advancing -- and with its hopes dashed rather than invigorated by the results.

The Greens can continue to hold out hope for an electoral change to a proportional representation system that might gain it a handful of seats -- something Justin Trudeau didn't promise, but ironically NDP leader Tom Mulcair did. 

It remains to be seen if Trudeau's plan to somehow change the electoral system -- without allowing Canadians a democratic vote on it -- will help or hurt the Greens, or even take place.

But even in their best-case scenario, would a Green party with 3.45 per cent of Parliament's MPs make a difference?

In many pro-rep systems like those of Germany, Poland and New Zealand, parties with less than five per cent of the popular vote don't earn seats anyway. 

After this election, the Green party looks like a one-trick pony, with one seat and one big challenge: avoid irrelevancy.