Tuesday, November 27, 2012

BC Premier Christy Clark Exiting Highway to Electoral Hell But Adrian Dix & BC NDP Still on Autobahn With Big Lead, New Poll Shows

BC Liberals hope to pass on the right but still miles behind Adrian Dix and NDP, while BC Conservatives jackrabbit start ends in ditch and Greens' eco-hybrid silently follows in race for May 2013 election finish, new Angus Reid Public Opinion poll shows

Adrian Dix - still in commanding lead - Bill Tieleman photo
Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours/The Tyee column 

Tuesday November 27, 2012 

By Bill Tieleman
"The consequences of our actions are so complicated, so diverse, that predicting the future is a very difficult business indeed." 
- J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Polling provides a political roadmap to all parties but there's no guarantee the streets it shows now will even exist by the May 2013 provincial election.
Nonetheless, the B.C. Liberals appear to have finally exited the highway to electoral hell they have been zooming down for months.
The B.C. New Democrats under leader Adrian Dix are still racing on the political equivalent of the no-speed-limit Autobahn, but have started glancing in their rear view mirror to see if Premier Christy Clark has any chance of catching up.
And the B.C. Conservatives' early jackrabbit start towards opposition party contender status with new leader John Cummins has ended with their vehicle in the ditch, while B.C. Greens' leader Jane Sterk's eco-hybrid silently follows.
Those conclusions are drawn from Angus Reid Public Opinion's latest B.C. poll, which puts Clark’s B.C. Liberals up three points at 29 per cent, the B.C. NDP down two at a still lofty 47 per cent, the B.C. Conservatives fading four to 12 per cent and the Greens up one to nine per cent.
The poll gives Clark a faint hope clause of winning, but with a disapproval rating of 60 per cent versus an approval of just 29 per cent and a momentum score of negative 36 per cent, there's no champagne on ice.
Commitment issues
Dix holds a commanding 48 per cent approval rating against 34 per cent disapproval, a clear lead in every B.C. region and a momentum score of positive seven per cent, but the poll shows he has reasons to be concerned about fading in the final stretch.
Angus Reid pollster Mario Canseco said in an interview with The Tyee that with 21 per cent of respondents saying they don’t see any of the four party leaders as making the best premier and another 27 per cent not yet sure, voters are volatile.
"The fact that we're six months from a campaign and people who say they don't know or none of the above totals 48 per cent -- that's problematic," Canseco says.
But this and previous polls show the NDP with a significant advantage over the struggling Liberals, he added.
"The NDP have premier-in-waiting approval levels for Dix," Canseco said. "There's a level of commitment for an opposition party that we don't see anywhere else in the country. That's what makes it compelling and unique."
Canseco says the NDP must resist the temptation to believe the election is "in the bag" and say nothing about what it would do in government.
"They need to provide a vision consistent with what people expect of you but keep the centrist votes," he said.
A bad connection fixable?
And while Canseco warns that the NDP's challenge to maintain its big lead is still significant, he says the Liberals' situation is daunting.
"The problem the B.C. Liberals have is one of connection. You can't just say, 'We don't want to go back to the 1990s,'" Canseco says. "It's not the way to win the election."
"New voters, younger voters, those from outside B.C. or Canada don't know about when the NDP was in power in the 1990s."
But Canseco also says the Liberals have one big advantage -- incumbency. The Liberals can actually do things while the NDP can only make promises.
"It's a matter of engagement -- when you're in government you can do that," he said.
To add to the NDP worries, the B.C. Liberals have also narrowed the gap in Metro Vancouver, the region with 38 of the province's 85 seats, to nine per cent, with the NDP at 42 per cent the Liberals at 33 per cent, Conservatives at 13 per cent and Greens at 9 per cent plus 3 per cent independent or other.
And Dix only has a one per cent margin over Clark as the leader best suited to deal with the economy -- which the poll says B.C. voters believe is the most important issue facing the province, ranked at 26 per cent versus 17 per cent for health care, 12 per cent for leadership and 10 per cent for the environment.
Lastly, in what could be a funny punch line, the B.C. Liberals hold a solid lead in just one of the large range of demographic statistics used to analyze public opinion -- they are clearly the choice of the "rich."
Those earning over $100,000 a year in household income favour the B.C. Liberals by a 47 per cent to 34 per cent for the NDP.
But Canseco makes a fascinating point: $100,000 plus households make up about 27-28 per cent of the total sample in the poll -- that's not a small category. And of course, two professionals making $51,000 each puts them into that demographic.
Gender gap persists for Clark's Libs
Nonetheless, the B.C. Liberals are in serious trouble, with a massive 24 per cent gender gap with women voters.
What's more, Canseco says, both the NDP and the B.C. Conservatives are equally stealing the B.C. Liberals' former voters.
While the NDP is retaining a huge 89 per cent of their 2009 election voters, the Liberals are only keeping 62 per cent of their supporters, with 16 per cent going to the NDP and 16 per cent to the Conservatives.
So Christy Clark's urgent pleas to restore the "free enterprise coalition" under the B.C. Liberal banner has fallen on deaf ears.
Canseco says the simple math of adding the B.C. Conservatives' votes to the B.C. Liberals to re-elect Clark is faulty.
"It's not at simple as that," Canseco said, making a point that Martyn Brown, former premier Gordon Campbell's chief of staff, has also written about.
In fact, adding the Conservatives' entire current 12 per cent to the Liberals 29 per cent equals 41 per cent to the NDP's 47 per cent. And John Cummins doesn’t plan to close their doors and give up.
Still, the big question facing the B.C. Conservatives isn't a merger with the B.C. Liberals they have already rejected but whether they have bottomed out after a brutal two months of defections, insurrection and bad press.
"You can't even pretend to be the official opposition with all of this happening," Canseco says, referring to the damage done by ex-Liberal cabinet minister John van Dongen's loud departure after a few months as the only B.C. Conservative MLA, followed by other party members quitting the party, some to join the B.C. Liberals.
But Canseco says even a battered B.C. Conservative Party drawing eight per cent of the vote in several northern and interior ridings could mean NDP victories over incumbent B.C. Liberals in close races.
And John Cummins continues to tour the province, going to ridings like Peace River South, where despite its troubles the party has a strongly contested nomination battle this week between two notable candidates.
So while the poll gives measures of both hope and fear to all parties, it's what they do with that road map to correct their course that really matters on May 14, 2013.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Canada doesn't start in BC but Premier Christy Clark's $15 million propaganda campaign sure does!

BC Liberals' Ad Nausea 
Premier Christy Clark pitches her BC Jobs Plan in ads
Bill Tieleman’s 24 hours/The Tyee column

Tuesday November 20, 2012
By Bill Tieleman
"Those are very partisan ads. They should be bought and paid for by the Liberal Party of B.C."
- CKNW host Bill Good, Nov. 16, on B.C. government advertising
Canada doesn't "start here" in British Columbia, despite what government television ads claim -- but Premier Christy Clark's propaganda campaign sure does.
The B.C. Liberals are ruining TV watching and radio listening with an endless $15 million taxpayer-funded parade of ads that are not only misleading and wasteful but also that we are paying for!
All British Columbians want our economy to grow, our industries to prosper and our citizens to find good jobs.
But the only positions these ridiculous "B.C. Jobs Plan" ads create are in advertising agency boardrooms and Clark's own office!
Selling cynicism
It's the worst kind of politics -- and not just because it offends taxpayers who see a government spending $15 million that could be used to help children at risk or reduce hospital emergency room overcrowding or improve crime prevention.
No, it's even more sickening because it makes people even more cynical about elected representatives when government actually has a critical role to help those in need.
That's one lousy way to further reduce already declining participation in our democratic process -- where B.C. had a depressing 51 per cent turnout in the 2009 provincial election.
The ads are not only unnecessary; they're also untrue.
Sun Media columnist David Akin pointed that out, saying Clark's claim that B.C. created more jobs than any other province in the last year was "demonstrably false" and her other stats were "pretty wobbly too."
"Statistics Canada, said right here on Oct. 5, the most recent and up-to-date snapshot of the country's job creation numbers, that 'over the last year' in B.C., there are 44,700 more full-time jobs, 15,100 fewer part-time jobs for a net gain of 29,500 more jobs. Where on earth does Clark get 57,000 new jobs created?" Akin wrote.
It's also hard to believe B.C. has a great "Skills and Training Plan" when up to 2,000 miners will come to the province as Temporary Foreign Workers -- because the government had no response to its own task force report calling for miner training four years ago.
Doing government 'differently'
What's worse is a premier who just doesn't get it.
Clark was recently asked by the Kamloops Daily News about criticism of her $15 million ad campaign and responded this way:
"It's about content. What we're talking about in the advertising is all fact-based. So we talk about the jobs plan, we try to engage people in the jobs plan because one of the things that we have to do as we're building government policy is get the opinions and the best thinking of the people of the province," Clark said.
"So, I said I was going to do government differently. One of the things we need to is we really need to listen to people and engage them in their own government," she concluded.
Is that how you "do government differently" -- by personally appearing in some of the 90-second TV ads?
By spending taxpayers' own money to tell them you are doing a great job?
And the sheer hypocrisy is breathtaking.
This government spending oodles of money to promote itself is the same one that tried to defend its gag law that prohibited third party advertising before provincial elections -- until the B.C. Court of Appeal rejected its legislation. Again.
It's also the same government that spent $6 million in a failed advertising effort to convince taxpayers in last year's binding referendum that the Harmonized Sales Tax was a brilliant idea.
Their advertising policy has gotten so offensive that even longtime B.C. Liberal supporters have had it.
Martyn Brown -- former chief of staff to ex-B.C. Liberal premier Gordon Campbell -- is criticizing the ads.
On Shaw Cable's Voice Of B.C. last week he told host Vaughn Palmer that the $15 million ad budget is: "About the same price in total on environmental protection as we’re spending on these ads."
"I think first of all we should remember that every penny of that money is borrowed," Brown added. "We're going into debt to pay for those ads, so they better be worth it."
Martyn Brown's bright idea
Brown has a suggestion that I've made before to solve the problem: require opposition approval for government ads.
"Refer all major proposed government ad campaigns to an all-party committee that can scrutinize and approve or reject those expenditures, and make public that information as soon as any ad campaign goes public," Brown wrote in an opinion piece last month.
If the official opposition agrees that it's worthwhile information for the public to see, hear or read -- then go with it. If taxpayers disagree, both parties will hear about it equally.
Cynics will rightly note that Brown had 10 years as Campbell's top political staffer and was involved in every major government ad campaign but never implemented his own idea -- fair enough criticism.
But that doesn't make it a bad idea.
And Clark would be smart to realize that Canada doesn't start here -- anger starts here when a wasteful government spends our money to advertise itself for political advantage.


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

BC's Conflict of Interest Commissioner in conflict himself over son's senior role in BC Liberal government, says MLA John van Dongen

Only in BC, You Say? Conflict Commissioner Paul Fraser Conflicted Himself

Fraser's job is to watchdog premier but his son has key role working for Christy Clark. Independent MLA John van Dongen cries foul, Green Party, Integrity BC agree.
Paul Fraser 


Conflict of Interest Commissioner Paul Fraser has just announced he will recuse himself from investigating MLA John van Dongen's complaint against Premier Christy Clark.  Fraser's news release is here.  

The short version is this direct quote: "I now recuse myself from any further substantive involvement in this matter."
Here is my original column

Bill Tieleman’s 24 hours/The Tyee column
Tuesday November 13, 2012
By Bill Tieleman
"Careful supervision of the disclosure process proves the adage that 'sunlight is always the best disinfectant.'"
- B.C. Conflict of Interest Commissioner Paul Fraser
Would you go to a doctor who couldn't diagnose a common cold?
Or hire a plumber who didn't spot a leaking pipe?
So why does British Columbia have a conflict of interest commissioner who doesn't recognize a conflict when he's in one himself?
Only in B.C. you say? Pity indeed that Paul Fraser sees nothing wrong with investigating a complaint by independent MLA John van Dongen against Premier Christy Clark's actions while the commissioner’s son John Paul Fraser:
• Holds a senior B.C. government political job doing communications for Clark and her colleagues;
Worked on Clark's successful B.C. Liberal party leadership campaign;
Used to work for the father of Clark's son, her ex-husband political consultant and former lobbyist Mark Marissen.
Not understanding that such a perceived conflict of interest clearly disqualifies Fraser from ruling on van Dongen's complaint is astonishing!
Fraser told the Vancouver Sun's Jonathan Fowlie that he had no trouble dealing with van Dongen's investigation request.
"I don't perceive a problem in making a decision in this case that will have nothing to do with my son's career," Fraser said.
"If I had any difficulty, or felt that I in any way couldn't handle this file like I do every file -- on the basis that I will go where it takes me, and I will make the decision that needs to be made without, dare I say it, fear or favour -- then I should pack it in," he added.
Ironically, Paul Fraser's own message in last year's commissioner's report states:
"The work that this Office does is part of the covenant of integrity that Members of the Legislature have with the citizens of British Columbia. The work is important as a democratic safeguard to ensure that private interest is not allowed to trump public duty."
Hard to disagree with that concept.
Van Dongen's complaint
But it's even harder to see how the commissioner can rule on van Dongen's complaint, which alleges that Clark participated in some discussions on the $1 billion sale of B.C. Rail in 2003 but excused herself from others because at that time Marissen was a consultant to CIBC World Markets, the firm supervising the privatization.
Abbotsford-South MLA van Dongen is a former B.C. Liberal cabinet minister who quit the party in part over B.C. Rail issues and the government's payment of $6 million in legal fees incurred by former ministerial aides David Basi and Bob Virk, despite their making surprise guilty pleas in Oct. 2010.
He is also an intervener at his own expense at Auditor General John Doyle's court application to obtain government records about the indemnity granted Basi and Virk and other officials whose legal fees were charged to taxpayers.
Fraser is a well respected lawyer and neither his integrity, nor his son's, are being questioned. But his judgment is dead wrong.
The argument van Dongen makes is powerful.
"I believe there is a reasonable apprehension of bias on the part of the commissioner," he said in a statement Friday.
"I must stress that at this time I am not making an allegation that the commissioner is guilty of actual bias. I am simply saying that there is a basis for a reasonable apprehension of bias on these facts which requires that someone other than Paul Fraser carry out the duties under the Members' Conflict of Interest Act."
In a telephone interview Sunday night van Dongen said he finds it disturbing that neither Fraser nor Clark understand the principles behind his complaint.
"It's a real concern that neither Paul Fraser nor Christy Clark acknowledge the real issue here," van Dongen said. "There's a critical need to maintain the independence of the conflict commissioner. It should embody the highest principles of judicial independence."
'Totally unfair': Clark
On Friday in Kamloops, Clark claimed that it was "totally unfair" of opponents to question Fraser's integrity to go after her.
"Paul Fraser is a highly respected lawyer in British Columbia. He was selected by a bi-partisan committee in the Legislature and he has never been accused of bias," she told the Kamloops Daily News.
"He's a man of great integrity. His reputation is absolutely spotless. It's totally unfair to drag his reputation through the mud as a way to launch a political attack on me," Clark alleged.
But van Dongen rejects that characterization of his objections to Fraser's role.
"It isn't just the situation of his son being in a very senior position in government communications, it's the comments that Paul Fraser doesn't perceive that as a problem," he said Sunday.
'Fraser must recuse himself': Green leader Sterk
The request by van Dongen that Fraser remove himself from the investigation also has the strong support of Green Party leader Jane Sterk and Integrity B.C., the watchdog group promoting political ethics and accountability.
In an email Saturday to 24 hours Sterk states: "Paul Fraser must recuse himself from investigating John Van Dongen's complaint against Christy Clark."
"Van Dongen is making very serious allegations about Clark's potential conflict of interest on the B.C. Rail sale."
"No matter what Fraser does, the fact that his son is a friend of Ms. Clark and is employed in a senior position in the government means there will be a perception of bias."
"Fraser should ask a senior member of his office to undertake this investigation," Sterk concludes.
And Integrity B.C. also believes Fraser must remove himself from the investigation.
"The appearances of Mr. Fraser's conflict in this matter -- which is already so rife with very real conflicts and additional appearances of conflict -- should make it readily apparent to him that it is inappropriate for him to conduct this investigation. The public deserves no less," Integrity B.C. executive director Dermod Travis told 24 hours and The Tyee by email Sunday.
NDP expresses trust in Fraser
But surprisingly, the B.C. New Democrats are supporting Fraser's position.
"We think Mr. Fraser has a high level of integrity over the past years and we support his judgement -- we think he will do the right thing," NDP MLA Shane Simpson told The Tyee Monday.
"This is an issue about Ms. Clark, not Mr. Fraser," said Simpson, MLA for Vancouver-Hastings.
Fraser has already conducted one investigation and rejected any wrongdoing on Clark's part since his son was appointed assistant deputy minister of Government Communications and Public Engagement on April 8, 2011.
That investigation was requested May 5, 2011 by a member of the public to determine if Clark had, in the words of the Commissioner's 2011 annual report:
"Breached the Members' Conflict of Interest Act by appearing in and using government announcements while campaigning in a by-election to win her seat in Vancouver-Point Grey."
"The individual believed that government resources might have been used to 'facilitate' the premier's by-election campaign, including her attendance at public and media events," it stated.
And Clark certainly found lots of good news announcements to make before the May 11, 2011 vote that she narrowly won over the NDP's David Eby by less than 600 votes.
For example, on April 21, Clark celebrated Earth Day with a $4.7 million "green investment" grant to Simon Fraser University to fund a biomass energy project, speaking and watching a singing choir of happy kids.
And Clark announced $13.3 million in funding for a new home for families visiting their sick kids at Vancouver's B.C. Children's Hospital on April 28.
Fraser found no conflict in any of Clark's actions, responding directly to the member of the public five days after receiving the request to investigate, saying in a May 10, 2011 letter that:
"I can find anything in either written or electronic form that would support the suggestion that government resources were used in whole or in part, to promote the premier's by-election campaign."
"The fact that she is, at the same time, seeking election to the Legislative Assembly does not and should not prohibit her from carrying on her duties as premier, including making public interest announcements and attending events recording government policy and actions," he concluded.
Power of perception
Fraser's ruling may be completely fair based on the facts he investigated.
But just as in the van Dongen situation, his letter of response did not disclose that his son was by that time working as a senior member of Clark's communications team, hired under an Order In Council that can be rescinded by the premier at any time.
Perhaps that isn't important. It might have made absolutely no difference to the member of the public who requested the investigation or to media who reported it.
But that's the whole point about "perceived conflict of interest" -- it isn't that a conflict exists, just that there is a perception of conflict which creates doubt.
It's unfortunate for both Fraser and his son that their careers have collided in this way.
However it is far more unfortunate that Fraser not only didn't even perceive a problem but also failed to disclose that potential to van Dongen right from the start of the MLA's complaint.
Now the only solution is for Fraser to remove himself from the investigation.
But will other conflict of interest cases also put Fraser in an equally untenable position?
And it's troubling that Clark is already holding out Fraser's report into van Dongen's complaint as the final word, saying to the Kamloops Daily News that she’ll be glad when Fraser's B.C. Rail probe is over: "because this will finally, with this report, stick a fork in it."
Is that the premier pre-judging Fraser's unfinished report in public? Not politically wise and definitely not reassuring.
Fraser's reappointment pending
In another twist of political fate, Fraser's own reappointment for another term as commissioner is due to happen shortly.
New Democrat MLA Leonard Krog declined all comment on Fraser's reappointment or even the status of it when contacted Saturday.
Krog sits on the all party special committee that will soon advise the Legislature on the matter.
It's time that the public had a little sunlight shone on the Conflict of Interest Commissioner's status and how he could continue in his job given his current conflicted state.
But given Krog's colleague Shane Simpson's comments on Fraser's position, there seems little doubt that Fraser will be reappointed to another five-year term with NDP and B.C. Liberal support.

UPDATE - BC Independent MLA Bob Simpson agrees with John van Dongen call for Paul Fraser to recuse himself.

Earlier this morning I spoke with independent MLA Bob Simpson - Cariboo North - who says he agrees with van Dongen, Sterk and Integrity B.C. that the Conflict of Interest Commissioner should recuse himself from dealing with van Dongen's complaint.

"John van Dongen is correct in his contention that given the duration and twists and turns [of the B.C. Rail case] the premier should request a different process," Simpson said.  "Perception does count in these cases."

Fraser has since announced he will recuse himself from the investigation.