Sunday, August 24, 2008

BC's economy is heading for bust - does Premier Gordon Campbell know? Or care?

Business groups sound alarm that BC economy is taking a big hit – but will Gordon Campbell do anything?

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Column

For Tuesday August 27, 2008

B.C.’s economy will grow at a much slower pace this year and next, marking the weakest performance since 2001.

- Central 1 Chief Economist, Helmut Pastrick

While Gordon Campbell alternates between playing carbon-taxing, new green religion premier and private jet-setting, B.C. 2010 Olympic booster boss, the province’s once-booming economy is headed for bust.

British Columbians need two questions answered – does he know and does he care?

Certainly there’s no sign of either from the premier or Finance Minister Colin Hansen, who recently told the Vancouver Sun’s editorial board the B.C. economy is doing pretty well.

Tell that to Central 1 – formerly the B.C. Central Credit Union – which now projects our economy will grow by just 1.5% this year and 1.8% in 2009 – well below government predicted growth rates of 2.4% and 2.8%.

Or explain it to the B.C. Business Council, which notes with some alarm that its B.C. Economic Index has dropped in the last two consecutive quarters – something that has only happened three times since 1978 – including the huge B.C. recession of 1981-82.

“The Index has consistently identified past recessions, or near-recession downturns,” writes Business Council Vice-President Jock Finlayson, adding drily that: “The slowdown may be more significant than commonly perceived.”

But it doesn’t take an economist or business analyst to tell you that B.C.’s economy is in trouble – just ask a forest worker – if you can find one who still has a job.

B.C.’s beleaguered forest industry has lost more than 13,000 jobs in the last year alone – and the Steel Workers’ Union says another 10,000 jobs were lost since 2001.

But is Campbell doing anything about it?

Oh sure. The Throne Speech promised a forestry round table. Let’s hope it’s made of wood, so at least someone gets a job out of it.

Meanwhile, Campbell had no problem finding $50 million for a new Vancouver Art Gallery building, part of $209 million in arts and culture grants he announced.

The arts deserve support – but how much did he promise to help wood workers in a devastated industry facing unemployment?

Try zero dollars. What’s more, Campbell’s government is rampantly exporting raw logs to the U.S., South Korea and Japan, where they process the wood into finished products – and sell it back to dumb suckers in Canada.

Since 2001 almost 25 million cubic meters of raw logs have left B.C. – devastating our saw mills and pulp mills while creating foreign jobs.

And while Oregon creates 40% of all its forest industry jobs from value-added manufacturing, B.C. gets a pathetic 12% - even though value-added creates four times as many jobs as simple logging and primary processing.

But that’s all you get – with a bump on the log as premier.

NOTE: This is an unedited version of my column for Tuesday - posted a day early because I will be in New York city on holiday. I will try to post comments as best I can.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Is Premier Gordon Campbell planning to jet off into the political sunset?

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Column
Tuesday August 19, 2008

Just one bad move after another


Of all the stratagems, to know when to quit is the best.
- Chinese Proverb

Is Premier Gordon Campbell planning to jet off into the political sunset rather than run for re-election?

Despite all previous indications that he intends to run again in May 2009, Campbell's most recent actions make one wonder if the Beijing Olympics are the last he will attend as British Columbia's premier.

How else to explain his incomprehensible decision to fly to Beijing on a private jet chartered by longtime political and financial supporter Jack Poole, chair of the Vancouver Olympics Organizing Committee, and accompanied by major B.C. Liberal party donor Peter Brown, chair of Canaccord Capital and a VANOC member?

The story I uncovered exclusively for 24 hours on Friday is yet another amazingly poor political judgment by Campbell.

And it follows an inexplicably bad series of moves, including awarding his senior deputy minister Jessica McDonald a 43 per cent raise worth $105,000 to bring her maximum salary to $348,600.

Flying in a private jet with rich political cronies who have significant provincial government policy interests is a terrible idea. Poole is also chair of Concert Properties, which retains consultant Michael Bailey to lobby the B.C. government.

Brown's Canaccord Capital has securities regulations issues affected by provincial policies and has given the B.C. Liberals more than $195,000 since 2004, while Brown personal contributed more than $25,000.

Then there's the environment, Campbell's latest pet cause.

His despised carbon tax, which B.C. drivers have to pay, doesn't apply to his jet-setting because international flights are exempted.

And luxury jets are environmentally damaging, with a Gulfstream 400 jet spewing out 10,800 pounds of carbon per hour.

We don't know the value of Campbell's share of the flight - including wife Nancy, who joined him - but we know he consulted the Conflict of Interest Commissioner to clear it.

We also know a Gulfstream 400 jet rents out for about $13,000 per hour, which makes Campbell's trip a very pricey gift that the rules say must be declared immediately.

It's no wonder the premier's office failed to respond to twice-daily requests from 24 hours since last Monday that it disclose how Campbell got to Beijing, finally coughing up the truth Thursday night, just before our press deadline and hours before the premier returned to Vancouver.

The private jet flight also followed a despicable decision to restrict government services to developmentally disabled young adults, an outrageous giveaway worth $150 million when Western Forest Products were allowed to remove land from a tree farm licence for real estate development, the ICBC chop shop scandal and more.

Is this really the political behaviour of a premier planning to run again?

Friday, August 15, 2008

Premier Gordon Campbell flew on private jet chartered personally by VANOC Chair Jack Poole to Beijing Olympics; Peter Brown reported on board too

Campbell on private jet


B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell flew by private jet to the Beijing Olympic Games, 24 hours has exclusively learned.

Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic Games Chair Jack Poole chartered the jet personally and invited Campbell and his wife, Nancy, to accompany him, Doug Brown, Campbell's senior communications co-ordinator confirmed late yesterday after several days of inquiries by 24 hours.

"Jack Poole paid for a charter flight out of his own pocket," Brown said. "Premier Campbell checked with the Conflict of Interest Commissioner to make sure it was okay and it was."

Brown could not say how much Campbell's share of the flight would cost or if Campbell was returning to Vancouver by the same private jet today.

Also reported to be on the private flight to Beijing was Canaccord Capital chairman Peter Brown, a VANOC board member who has together with his firm donated hundreds of thousands to the B.C. Liberal Party.

Canaccord spokesperson Scott Davidson told 24 hours that Canaccord does not own and did not charter the jet but couldn't say if Brown was on board.

Poole is chair of Concert Properties, a development firm owned by union pension funds and previously owned his own development company.

UPDATE 3:45 p.m.

NDP demands answers of Premier over private jet flight, calls behaviour "arrogant and out of touch"

New Democratic Party MLA Bruce Ralston is demanding Premier Gordon Campbell answer key questions about his flight to the Beijing Olympics on a private jet chartered by VANOC Chair Jack Poole.

"This is characteristic of the premier - arrogant and out of touch," Ralston said in an interview. "Not only is he in Beijing dodging responsibility for giving senior bureaucrats huge pay increases but he flies there on a private jet."

Ralston said the NDP has today sent a letter to Conflict of Interest Commissioner Paul Fraser asking him to release a written copy of his opinion regarding Campbell's flight to Beijing and how it does not apparently violate conflict guidelines.

Ralston said the trip with Poole raises other questions.

"Where's the leadership from the premier on environmental concerns? It's completely hypocritical," said Ralston, MLA for Surrey-Whalley. "And what's wrong with a scheduled airline? They are laying off Air Canada workers in Richmond and the premier is flying a private jet."

Ralston also said Campbell should answer questions about reportedly flying with Canaccord Capital chair Peter Brown - a longtime political and financial supporter of Campbell - on the private jet.

"Peter Brown is a not only well-known supporter of the premier but his compnay has major regulatory issues with the government around securities governance," Ralston said, referring to a debate over whether Canada should have a single national securities regulator instead of the current situation where each province has its own regulator.


24 hours first called the premier's office starting Monday and each day afterwards but did not receive confirmation about Campbell's travel until Thursday evening at 6:20 p.m.

VANOC CEO John Furlong did not take the private jet trip, a spokesperson for VANOC said.

"John Furlong flies Air Canada only," Jason Young said.

And federal Foreign Affairs Minister David Emerson, who is attending the games as Canada's top political representative, was not on the private flight either, a spokesperson said.

Both Jack Poole and Peter Brown are close confidants and key political and financial supporters of Gordon Campbell.

BC billionaire Jimmy Pattison told the National Post in 2001 that: "If Gordon Campbell is king, then Peter Brown is emperor."

Canaccord Capital has contributed over $195,000 to the BC Liberal Party since 2004 and Brown has personally given over $25,000 in that period.

The BC legislation governing gifts to MLAs is clear that any gift of signficant value must be disclosed:

Members' Conflict of Interest Act

Accepting extra benefits

7 (1) A member must not accept a fee, gift or personal benefit, except compensation authorized by law, that is connected directly or indirectly with the performance of his or her duties of office.
(2) Subsection (1) does not apply to a gift or personal benefit that is received as an incident of the protocol or social obligations that normally accompany the responsibilities of office.

(3) If a gift or personal benefit referred to in subsection (2) exceeds $250 in value, or if the total value received directly or indirectly from one source in any 12 month period exceeds $250, the member must immediately file with the commissioner a disclosure statement, in the form prescribed by the regulations, indicating

(a) the nature of the gift or benefit,

(b) its source, and

(c) the circumstances under which it was given and accepted.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Outrageous pay raises to senior BC Liberal government bureaucrats redefines Gordon Campbell arrogance

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Column

Tuesday August 12, 2008

It certainly pays to be a Liberal


My dear Prime Minister, I believe that you misunderstood the nature of my request; high as my ambition can aspire, I do not expect to become a deputy minister; I merely want to be a minister.

- Anonymous Liberal backbench MP to Mackenzie King

There is so much that is outrageously, disgustingly wrong with Premier Gordon Campbell's decision Friday to award his senior bureaucrats with massive pay raises that I will run out of words long before my anger does.

But start with this: Campbell's Deputy Minister Jessica McDonald gets a salary increase of $105,000 a year, a 43 per cent jump that brings her pay to $348,600.

It would take someone working at B.C.'s minimum wage of $8 an hour about 21 years to make what McDonald will take home next year.

And this mean-spirited government has refused to raise the minimum wage in seven long years - but just hiked the pay for its big shots two years ago.

Another way to consider McDonald's pay is that she has won the B.C. Gordo 6-49 lottery - taxpayers will give her $1 million every three years. And, amazingly, she has only held this job since 2005 - I guess her 500-hour training wage period is over.

But the Million Dollar Mandarin isn't the only lucky winner - deputy ministers get a whopping $78,000 pay hike or 35 per cent more, jumping from a current $221,760 to a maximum of $299,215.

And assistant deputies get a $35,000 boost, or 22 per cent extra, to see their pay go from $160,000 to $195,000.

Consider that 10 years ago, the NDP government's deputy to the premier was paid $136,535 - or $212,000 less - while senior deputy ministers made $116,620 - or $182,000 less!

Cost of living increases for deputy ministers must be quite a bit higher than for average British Columbians, whose average wage is about $48,000.

Had they been Campbell's top bureaucrat instead of ordinary workers, their pay would be $122,400 by now! Nice work if you can get it.

Meanwhile, if you are a person with disabilities in this province, you are expected to live on a shelter allowance of $375 a month and support benefits of $531.42 for a total of $906.42. People with persistent and multiple barriers to employment get even less - just $657.92.

But Jessica McDonald gets paid $955 per day to work for Gordon Campbell, 365 days a year. Not including a lucrative pension, of course.

In opposition, Campbell railed against the "politicization" of the senior public service by previous NDP governments.

I wonder if paying those bureaucrats up to $212,000 a year more makes them think that keeping Campbell in power is in their own best interests?

Arrogance has once again been redefined by the B.C. Liberals.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

BC government stonewalling again - this time on ICBC "little chop shop of horrors" scandal

Bill Tieleman's 24 hours column

Tuesday August 5, 2008

Costs continue to climb in ICBC scandal


Maybe we'd like to disclose more, but legally we're disclosing everything we can.

- John van Dongen, cabinet minister responsible for ICBC

Or, maybe, the B.C. Liberal government really wouldn't like to disclose exactly what happened with the Insurance Corporation of B.C.'s little chop shop of horrors.

Because, maybe, we would find out exactly how big a scandal this is and get answers instead of a massive, expensive cover-up of government incompetence.

So far, Solicitor-General van Dongen has claimed that "privacy laws" prevent him from telling us even the most basic facts about how some ICBC managers ran a scam deep inside the publicly owned corporation.

Nearly 100 cars written off as wrecks at the ICBC Material Damage Research and Training facility were secretly repaired and sold for big bucks without disclosing the damage to buyers - all without detection for years.

How did this happen under the watchful eye of ICBC senior management, including former B.C. deputy finance minister Paul Taylor, who became ICBC CEO in 2004 and left - unconnectedly, he says - just after the story broke?

None of your business, says the government, forgetting that the public actually owns the business.

But we do know that an ICBC employee tipped the corporation in May 2006 that staff and friends were buying repaired cars at favourable prices - and nothing was done.

And, despite an outrageously expensive PriceWaterhouseCoopers investigation - the firm that was already ICBC's auditor - there are still lots of questions.

Like these: Is Canada Customs and Revenue Agency investigating ICBC managers or others for fraud by failing to declare additional income on their taxes?

Or for underpaying the true value for repaired cars and evading GST and provincial sales taxes?

How many employees were fired at ICBC, how much severance were they paid and why?

Why was PriceWaterhouseCoopers paid an additional amount - ICBC told me Sunday it is estimated to be $600,000 to $700,000 - to investigate what happened when they were ICBCs existing auditors of record?

One thing we do know - the report says in 2002, ICBC demanded an increase in corporate revenues from salvage operations - the chop shop was told to make money but not told how.

One other conclusion is clear - the profit-hungry private insurance industry is licking its own chops at the prospect of privatizing ICBC. It wants to use the scandal to persuade drivers that private car insurance is cheaper.

But that's just not true.

The Consumers Association of Canada studied car insurance rates several times, and concluded that for the overwhelming majority of drivers, public auto insurance in B.C., Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Quebec is far cheaper than private insurance in Ontario or the U.S.

So chopping ICBC could be the scandal’s worst result of all.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Tieleman & Spector on CKNW AM 980 with guest host Michael Campbell at 9 a.m. Monday August 4

The "Monday Morning Quarterbacks" segment will be on an hour early this BC Day - at 9 a.m. with guest host Michael Campbell. Tune in!