Monday, January 28, 2019

Suspended BC Legislature Clerk Craig James pro-BC Liberal bias in HST fight may lead to Nanaimo NDP by-election win

Craig James' pro-BC Liberal bias in the Harmonized Sales Tax battle with Fight HST was the precursor to current allegations of bias and financial improprieties.  And it could lead to a BC NDP win in Nanaimo by-election

Suspended BC Legislature Clerk Craig James - CBC screenshot
Monday January 28, 2019

By Bill Tieleman

Craig James simply moved the goal posts in the middle of the game. It was astounding.  No one in such a critically impartial position had ever done anything like it before, and it shook the foundation of that important office’s credibility to the ground.”

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-        Ex-BC Premier Bill Vander Zalm on Craig James role as then-Chief Electoral Officer in changing recall rules after an application was made by Fight HST, in his book HST & The People For Democracy, p. 112, 2013

When now suspended BC Legislature Clerk Craig James was appointed acting Chief Electoral Officer at Elections BC in 2010, those working to eliminate the Harmonized Sales Tax imposed by the BC Liberal government were very concerned.

The reason Fight HST was anxious?  

Because then-Premier Gordon Campbell declined to extend the appointment of respected and neutral Chief Elections Officer Harry Neufeld by three months to finish off the HST Citizens Initiative procedure and instead made James Acting CEO as a temporary appointment, which avoided seeking the approval of a bi-partisan Legislative committee.

Those suspicions were proven in spades in short order, as James made a series of decisions that were prejudicial to Fight HST, the grassroots group led by ex-Social Credit Premier Bill Vander Zalm, where I served as strategist throughout.

Speaker Darryl Plecas drops a bombshell on Craig James

And the recent revelations in Speaker Darryl Plecas’ bombshell report on alleged financial wrongdoing and expenses mismanagement about James’ surprising and extensive connections to the BC Liberals shed new light on his past role at Elections BC during the HST battle.

What’s more, with the critical Nanaimo provincial by-election pending on Wednesday January 30, the past actions of James are coming home to roost for the BC Liberals at the absolutely worst time possible for them.

A win by novice BC Liberal candidate Tony Harris would create a tie in the Legislature, with the combined NDP government MLAs and the three Green MLAs supporting the government at 43 seats and the opposition with an equal 43, leaving independent speaker Plecas to break any ties. 

And that likely would lead to a provincial election in 2019, given the difficulty of managing the Legislature’s business with an extremely tense and narrow margin.

Stunning information about James’s close ties to BC Liberals hurts in Nanaimo

But the stunning emergence of new information from Plecas about James’ close and ongoing ties with the BC Liberals – including taxpayer-paid visits with former BC Premier Christy Clark after she had left office; with ex-BC Liberal Speaker Bill Barisov in the Okanagan; and with former BC Liberal Attorney General Geoff Plant – a key player in the HST court battles – means the BC Liberals face a lot of tough questions. 

And Nanaimo voters get the first chance to tell them they want answers, not another BC Liberal MLA in the Legislature and another election that could let them return to power.

That likely spells bad news for Harris, son of the late Tom Harris – a well-known Nanaimo car dealer – and also for BC Green Party candidate Michele Ney, daughter of the late Frank Ney – a longtime colourful Nanaimo mayor and one-term Socred MLA.

But it should help BC NDP candidate Sheila Malcolmson – the former NDP Member of Parliament for Nanaimo-Ladysmith – win the seat vacated when veteran MLA Leonard Krog resigned to win election as mayor of Nanaimo last fall.  The NDP won it in 2017 with a very comfortable margin of over 3,800 votes.

As Andrew MacLeod wrote last week in The Tyee about James’ purported BC Liberal bias: 

“Plecas said in his report he first heard the allegation that James was partisan from [also suspended Sergeant-at-Arms Gary] Lenz in the fall of 2017. ‘Mr. Lenz expressed the view that Mr. James was not impartial and that he was in fact very close with the BC Liberal Party... I determined to reserve judgment on that subject.”

He wrote that others shared the impression that James was partisan thanks to decisions he had made while acting as the chief electoral officer on an interim basis starting in 2010.”

MacLeod notes that of 39 trips James made between March 2017 and August 2018, 70 per cent were to current or former BC Liberal MLAs, including 14 meetings with Plant and three with Christy Clark after she was no longer premier.

Now it seems that the long arm of history is reaching out after Craig James as well as the BC Liberals, with the HST episode apparently one of the first but not last controversies James was involved with.

Bill Vander Zalm details Craig James’ role at Elections BC during HST battle

Fight HST leader Bill Vander Zalm and Fight HST strategist Bill Tieleman
at Citizens Initiative launch, April 2010 - Cassandra photo
Vander Zalm details James’ role at Elections BC in his book on the HST battle that ultimately saw the hated tax extinguished through a provincial binding referendum after Fight HST launched the first and only successful Citizens Initiative petition – unique to BC in Canada – that garnered over 705,000 voter signatures in just 90 days in 2010.

“Gordon Campbell chose, what we immediately thought to be a [BC] Liberal friendly person, Legislative Clerk Craig James, to be the ‘Acting Chief Electoral Officer’.  His appointment was said to be for a few weeks until they could find a permanent replacement.  But it lasted over a year until the HST Petition and Referendum process had been completed,” Vander Zalm wrote.

In the summer of 2010, despite the success of the Citizens Initiative petition, James had ruled Elections BC would not proceed until a court application brought about by a big business coalition – trying to throw out the entire HST initiative – had been heard.

Fortunately, BC Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Bauman was unconvinced by the legal arguments led by former Attorney General Plant and Peter Gall, a lawyer well-known and disliked in the labour movement for taking pro-employer cases at the Labour Relations Board, often to block certification drives.

Bauman overruled James and said Citizens Initiative petition was within both the letter and spirit of the law.  

While that paved the way to the historic vote on the HST, Craig James was not yet done fighting Fight HST.

Recalling Craig James fighting the Fight HST recall campaign

With the BC Liberal government eventually agreeing to hold a binding referendum but delaying it until the summer of 2011, Fight HST attempted to force a much earlier vote by launching recall campaigns to remove some BC Liberal MLAs.

The first targeted was then cabinet minister and MLA Ida Chong in Oak Bay-Gordon Head, where local organizers for Fight HST were convinced they could succeed with a recall campaign starting in late November.

But three days after their recall applications was submitted, James ruled it invalid and rejected it.

Why?  Because it had exceeded, James said, the 200-word maximum in the description of the recall application.  

As Vander Zalm wrote in his book: “James said that the word ‘HST’ should have been written in full and counted as 3 words – ‘Harmonized Sales Tax’ – and ‘MLA’ as 5 words – ‘Member of the Legislative Assembly’. No, I’m not making this up.”

And in every reference to MLA or HST, not just the first.

But the stunning part wasn’t simply that James was being overly bureaucratic – it turned out he actually changed the Elections BC rules on acronyms – afterthe recall petition had been filed! 

Rules changed by Craig James after recall application already filed 

As the Globe and Mail reported:  “Elections BC rejected a Fight HST recall application as too lengthy – but did so using rules that were drafted after it received the application.”

After heavy criticism in the media from Fight HST, the NDP and others, James issued a statement “explaining” his actions that was less than convincing.

James also then ordered that 150 recall canvassers who had signed up with an Elections BC form must refill and refile their applications, forcing organizers to go back to each person for a new signature.

Together these two moves by James knocked up to two weeks off the start of the recall campaign – pushing it much closer to the Christmas holidays, a period where canvassing would be almost impossible to conduct.

In the end the recall effort obtained over 10,000 signatures in 60 days – impressive in the circumstances but not the 40% needed to force a by-election.

However, BC politics has a strange karma that often comes back to haunt those who cross it.  

James became the Legislature’s new clerk in 2011 over the objections of then-NDP leader Adrian Dix and then-house leader John Horgan, who said a full hiring procedure should have been conducted – leading the NDP to vote against James.

On Wednesday January 30, if the BC NDP are victorious in the Nanaimo by-election, they may have to thank Craig James helping secure their win, thanks to his past roles – including the by-election that never happened.
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Bill Tieleman is a former NDP strategist who owns West Star Communications, a strategy, consulting and government relations firm for over 20 years serving labour, business, non-profits and others.  

Bill previously wrote a weekly political columnist for over 16 years, for The Tyee online magazine, the now-closed 24 Hours Vancouver newspaper and The Georgia Straight weekly.  Email him at weststar@telus.net or see Twitter @BillTieleman or visit his blog

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Thursday, June 28, 2018

Former BC NDP Premier Ujjal Dosanjh opposes Proportional Representation - supports No BC Pro Rep Society as official opponent group

No BC Pro Rep's Bill Tieleman with former BC NDP Premier Ujjal Dosanjh 

No to Proportional Representation in BC

NEWS RELEASE              Thursday June 28, 2018 

Former BC NDP Premier Ujjal Dosanjh opposes Proportional Representation and warns British Columbians of potential for extremist parties being elected to Legislature; Dosanjh says referendum also unfair without riding boundaries, details of Pro Rep systems: “We are voting in absolute darkness.” 

Ujjal Dosanjh, former BC New Democratic Party Premier, today said he opposes proportional representation electoral systems that will be voted on in a fall referendum and warned that BC could see extremist parties elected under proportional representation.

Dosanjh also said the referendum is unfair to voters because it does not provide them with geographic riding boundaries or details on how three different proposed proportional representation systems would work or require either a voter turnout threshold or a strong majority for change.

“We are voting in absolute darkness,” Dosanjh says. “And changing to proportional representation means just 5% of voters across BC could elect extremist MLAs to the Legislature.”

Dosanjh, BC NDP Premier in 2000-2001 and later a federal Liberal Minister of Health from 2004 to 2006, said the referendum is proceeding in an undemocratic way by not providing voters with enough information about complicated and confusing proportional representation systems and allowing change to happen without significant support.

“We could be making fundamental changes without any voter turnout threshold,” Dosanjh said. “Changing Canada’s constitution requires two-thirds of the provinces in favour with at least 50% of the population – why are we considering changing our electoral system indefinitely with far less support than that?”

Dosanjh says he supports the No BC Proportional Representation Society’s bid to be the official opponent group receiving government funding to oppose proportional representation and support retaining our current First Past The Post electoral system.

“Look at Europe and the rise of extremist right-wing parties with anti-immigrant, anti-refugee positions – why would we encourage the election of MLAs from fringe parties of the right or the left in BC?” Dosanjh asked.  “First Past The Post keeps those extremists out of our Legislature because they can’t win geographic ridings with their views.” 

No BC Proportional Representation Society President Bill Tieleman says Dosanjh’s message is important for all British Columbians but particularly New Democrat and Green voters.

“Former Premier Dosanjh’s warning about the dangerous risks of proportional representation should worry New Democrats and Greens considering changing our electoral system and opening the door of the BC Legislature to extremists,” Tieleman said.  “Mr. Dosanjh has shown his own courage in opposing extremists here in BC in the past and faced personal violence as a result – his words need to be heeded.”

Dosanjh said that while he is a supporter of the BC NDP government generally, he opposes its approach to the referendum this fall.

“British Columbians should not give a blank cheque to the NDP government and the BC Green Party by voting yes to proportional representation and letting the riding boundaries and details be decided by their MLAs after the referendum,” Dosanjh said.

Dosanjh said he is supporting the No BC Proportional Representation Society in its application to be the opponent group opposing proportional representation and supporting retaining our current First Past The Post electoral system in the fall referendum. 

No BC Proportional Representation Society President Bill Tieleman is a veteran NDP supporter who was president of NO BC STV in both referendums in 2005 and 2009 when the Single Transferable Vote was defeated in binding referenda.  Vice-President Suzanne Anton is a former BC Liberal Attorney General.  Treasurer Bob Plecas is a retired BC Deputy Minister who served in many portfolios.

The No BC Proportional Representation Society will work to defeat any proportional representation system proposed for the fall 2018 referendum schedule and support the current First Past The Post electoral system that has served BC well.

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Sunday, March 18, 2018

No BC Proportional Representation Society makes 9 recommendations in submission to BC government on electoral systems referendum

The British Columbia Legislature
NO BC PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION SOCIETY


No to Proportional Representation in BC

Wednesday February 28, 2018

Attorney General David Eby
Ministry of Attorney General
PO Box 9044 Stn Prov Govt
Victoria, BC V8W 9E2

Dear Attorney General Eby:

The No BC Proportional Representation Society was formed to oppose any proportional representation electoral system in British Columbia.  Our organization will campaign vigorously in every part of our great province to keep the First Past The Post electoral system that has helped build a strong democracy, an inclusive society and a powerful economy. British Columbia is a jurisdiction admired around the world and we believe that proposed changes will have a serious negative impact.

We are therefore pleased to make this public submission to you and the BC government on the proposed electoral system referendum and in response to the online government consultation website.

Unfortunately, we are making this submission under duress and with significant and grave worries about the process the BC government has undertaken.  We believe this consultation process is unfairly biased in favour of Proportional Representation electoral systems and against our current First Past The Post electoral system. 

These are fundamental concerns that we fear will undermine the referendum.

We also respectfully disagree with your own statement: “The Attorney General will serve as a neutral arbiter throughout the process to ensure the referendum is conducted fairly and in accordance with B.C. law”.

As a New Democratic Party candidate, you campaigned in favour of Proportional Representation in the May 2017 provincial election and you are on the record as being in support of changing to Proportional Representation.
While we fully expect that the Attorney General will indeed, as your statement said: “recuse himself from all cabinet and caucus debate and decisions regarding the referendum,” there is at best a clear public perception that you have already decided and favour one side in this debate. 

In the election, your party promised to campaign for proportional representation: 
“A New Democrat government would not only consult British Columbians on the specific proportional reform to be put to a vote, but would campaign strongly in favour of that reform.”

And the NDP-Green Party Confidence and Supply Agreement states that:

“The parties agree that they will work together in good faith to consult British Columbians to determine the form of proportional representation that will be put to a referendum. “The parties agree to both campaign actively in support of the agreed-upon form of proportional representation.”

We hope that you take additional steps to ensure any perception of bias is removed and we have some recommendations on how that can be achieved.

That said, we did appreciate your statement regarding giving information to British Columbians: “We will be providing them with neutral information about the different voting systems. There are all kinds of benefits of first past the post. There are all kinds of benefits of proportional systems.”

You also said that the public input and opinion gathering would be: “fair, neutral and as independent as possible.”

We indeed hope that will be the case going forward; We do believe, however, that you need to remove yourself from the process given your pre-determined and frequently expressed bias as to the result.

Bill Tieleman
Suzanne Anton
Bob Plecas

Directors, No BC Proportional Representation Society

  
Recommendations - No BC Proportional Representation Society

The No BC Proportional Representation Society presents the following recommendations for the conduct of the 2018 referendum on electoral systems.

1.    British Columbia voters should have two clear choices in the 2018 electoral system referendum: our current First Past The Post system and whatever Proportional Representation system the government recommends.  There should not be any “two-part” ballots or “ranked ballots” with multiple choices.

We agree with BC Premier John Horgan on the need to two clear choices for voters in this referendum.  Premier Horgan told The Vancouver Sun editorial board prior to the May 2017 election in discussing the referendum question that:

“A consensus on yes or no is pretty easy.  You are going to have 50 per cent say yes or no.”

“So you give them one system to vote on?” he was asked for clarity’s sake.

“Yeah, yeah exactly,” the NDP leader replied.

Having two clear choices is the only way voters can compare electoral systems as apples to apples, not apples to oranges – to ensure they have the full information before deciding.   Full information includes any constituency boundary changes as well detailed information about how votes are counted and allocated.  

2.    For further clarification, the proposed Proportional Representation electoral system must have all details made public well prior to the referendum, including proposed geographic riding boundaries; Proportional Representation Candidates List rules; whether that List will be open or closed; and comparisons with similar systems around the world.

A fair and democratic referendum means giving BC voters all the details they need to make an informed choice.  And that requires providing substantial information about the proposed Proportional Representation electoral system that could be adopted.

All details include knowing the answers to these questions:

·      What the electoral geographic ridings are with each system – our current First Past The Post and a proposed Proportional Representation system or systems;
·      What type of local representation there would be under each system or systems;
·      What the role of political parties would be in deciding if there is local representation – which is not guaranteed under certain Proportional Representation system – and what kind of local representation would be determined by the electoral system;
·      Whether there would be Proportional Representation List candidates chosen by political parties to “top up” each parties’ MLAs to match the province-wide popular vote;
·      What laws and regulations would determine the Proportional Representation List of candidates and how it would be administered;
·      Whether the Proportional Representation electoral system would force parties to create the Proportional Representation List of candidates with required regional, gender, sexual orientation, ethnic heritage or any other qualifications;
·      How BC’s unique Recall and Initiative Act could be amended to allow the recall of Proportional Representation List candidates by voters, since they would not be representing any geographic riding, or if they would be beyond the reach of recall; http://www.bclaws.ca/Recon/document/ID/freeside/96398_03#section19  
·      Whether political parties under a new Proportional Representation electoral system could expel Proportional Representation List candidates MLAs from the BC Legislature if they quit their party to join another, as currently is being proposed in New Zealand’s Electoral Integrity Amendment Bill. That legislation, popularly called the “waka jumping bill,” would give party leaders enormous new power over their Members of Parliament.

As National Party MP Nick Smith has argued: "It will enable party leaders to dismiss MPs from Parliament. It risks turning our parliamentarians into party poodles. An MP who questions a policy, criticizes a leader, or votes differently to their party faces dismissal from Parliament by their party leader. This is a fundamental change to the centuries-old principle that the public alone gets to hire and fire MPs. The greatest harm would be to stifle debate and further concentrate power with political parties and leaders.”; 

3.    The referendum should require that to change our current electoral system, a 60% vote in favour of a Proportional Representation system across the province of those voters participating and a 50% plus one vote in favour in at least 60% of British Columbia’s 87 geographic ridings vote in favour.

Changing our electoral system is a very significant decision that not only determines how we will be governed indefinitely but also impacts our economy, our society and our communities.

For that reason, we strongly disagree with the Electoral Reform Referendum 2018 Act and the decision in Section 9 (1) that allows a 50% plus one vote to change our electoral system.

We respectfully urge the BC Legislature to amend the Electoral Reform Referendum 2018 Act before the referendum this fall.

The precedents are extremely clear: in British Columbia’s two previous electoral system referenda in 2005 and 2009 a 60% vote in favour of the Single Transferable Vote electoral system across the province of those voters participating was required along with a 50% plus one majority in at least 60% of British Columbia geographic ridings voting in favour.

The province of Ontario in 2007 https://www.ontario.ca/laws/statute/s07001 had an identical requirement for changing electoral systems as did the province of Prince Edward Island in 2005 http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/prince-edward-island/electoral-reform-rejected-1.533310

Why require a majority stronger than 50% + 1?  We believe it is necessary for a stronger consensus among BC voters to be reached before making a fundamental and significant change in our electoral system.

The legitimacy of changing BC’s electoral system with such a narrow margin will lead to ongoing questions and objections to its validity.  Surely requiring a strong majority of voters in favour is not too much to ask?

Ironically perhaps, but other provincial legislation requires even higher democratic thresholds of 75% in order to make much less significant changes.

The BC Strata Property Act – Section 97 – demands that strata property owners must approve by a ¾ vote in favour any additional expenditures not previously approved in the strata’s budget. 

In other words, a Strata Council must hold a special general meeting to spend $20,000 to replace a furnace and obtain 75% approval – but BC’s Electoral Reform Referendum 2018 Act would change our entire electoral system with just 50% + 1 in favour!  How absolutely absurd.

4.    The ballot question must be drawn up by Elections BC and meet the test of being neutral and fair.  Adequate time should be given for possible judicial challenge of the ballot.

This should go without saying but given the biased nature of the government consultation process on electoral systems, it must be clearly stated – Elections BC must draw up the ballot question and it must be neutral and fair. 

And Elections BC should make public the question with adequate time left before the referendum for a possible judicial challenge of the ballot. 

5.    That the term “electoral reform” be dropped from all further government and Elections BC reference, as it indicates a strong bias in support of a proportional representation electoral system. 

“Reform” has a particular meaning that indicates “improvement” or “positive change”.  While that may well be the view of proportional representation advocates, it should not be the term used by either the government in official communications about the referendum or by Elections BC. 

British Columbians voted strongly in the 2009 referendum against one of the alleged “electoral reforms” – the Single Transferable Vote.  To use a biased term in the 2018 referendum is not only unfair but fails to recognize that a majority of voters in a binding referendum decided democratically that proportional representation is not a “reform”.

6.    Proponent groups on each side of the referendum should have equal funding at a minimum of $500,000 each as in the 2009 STV referendum.

There should be a minimum of $500,000 provided to each of the two sides in the referendum – that amount was given to each side in the 2009 referendum to undertake a public awareness campaign. 

That amount is a minimum in our view based on the previous electoral system referendum and the need to inform voters prior to such a fundamental decision that could last for decades to come.  Ideally the amount would also at least reflect inflation since 2009.

Whatever the total amount is, it should be equally split between only two parties, one representing the First Past The Post side and the other, the Proportional Representation side. 

And there should be no restrictions on how proponent groups use the funding so long as they are accountable, transparent and following all applicable laws and regulations.

The funding decision should be made independently of the government by a neutral third party individual [or panel] as has been done previously and should be based on the proponents’ groups experience, knowledge of the issue and recognized public leadership and support.

7.    No referendum funding should be provided to proponent groups from outside British Columbia, including non-profit organizations, unions or businesses.

We believe that this referendum is exclusively an issue for British Columbians to decide, not organizations or individuals from other provinces, let alone other countries.  It is essential that during the referendum campaign period prior to the balloting, outside organizations and individuals not be allowed to fund either side, or place advertisements of any kind.  Of course, speakers representing views one way or another should be allowed, as freedom of speech and full discussion are important.  For this type of free debate notices of speaking forums should be exempt.  Elections BC should be asked to provide approvals and be the watch guard. 

8.    Unions and businesses based in British Columbia should be allowed to make donations to proponent groups, with full disclosure.

We do not believe it is fair or reasonable to restrict unions or corporations from making contributions to proponent groups.  A referendum on electoral systems is quite different from an election, since: 

·      The BC government has said it will be “campaigning” in favour of proportional representation – to restrict unions and businesses from supporting either side would further increase the bias of the government being on one side, potentially with all its resources;
·      No MLAs are being elected so political party financing changes need not apply; the results are indefinite and could last for decades;
·      This is a public policy issue, not a partisan issue;
·      The choice of electoral systems will have a significant impact on our economy and jobs – blocking unions or businesses from having their right to free speech would be highly undemocratic; and
·      The potential negative impact of proportional representation on rural representation in the BC Legislature is such that unions and businesses based in rural areas should have every right to oppose an electoral system that could hurt their interests.

9.    Third-party advertising by British Columbia-based organizations should not be restricted during the referendum period.

For many of the same reasons listed above, we believe that there should be no restrictions on third-party advertising by British Columbia-based organizations or individuals during the referendum period. 

We believe that so long as there is disclosure of who the third-parties are and that their expenditures are also disclosed after the referendum, British Columbians are more than able to think for themselves and decide this issue on its merits after hearing all arguments from both sides.

Conclusion

There are flaws in every electoral system.  Transplanting a foreign concept into our British-based parliamentary system will not solve any that critics of First Past The Post raise. 

We could propose workable solutions to these problems, and will during the referendum campaign, but that is not within the request for submissions. 

We are fortunate to live in the best province in the best country in the world.  At the center of our success is our democracy, and at its core lies the current electoral system.

Stability, simplicity, success. 

Your government has chosen to bring forward the third referendum on the same topic in 13 years.  Attempts to change our electoral system have failed twice. 

Some people will not take no for an answer.  Instead you have changed the rules, lowered the threshold and slanted the early stages of the discussion. 

We nonetheless remain hopeful that you will consider the above and bring forward a referendum that is unbiased and fair.