Wednesday, July 23, 2014

BC Liberals Give Secret Payouts to Senior Staff Under the Table, But No One Pays for Breaking the Rules

A "troubled and disappointed" BC Finance Minister Mike de Jong
Don't expect much more than a 'tut tut' for these taxpayer abuses.
Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column
Tuesday July 22, 2014
By Bill Tieleman
"Honesty pays, but it don't seem to pay enough to suit some people."
- Kin Hubbard, American humorist, 1868-1930
When the rules on how much senior government-funded staff can make are broken once, it's regrettable; when it happens time after time, it's a clear pattern of intentional deception.
That's occurred repeatedly as already highly-paid B.C. bureaucrats are found to be getting extra payments that are banned by government policies, but those doing the hiring deliberately violated them.
And it's not just payments for new hires -- you can flagrantly break conflict of interest rules on the way out of your cushy government job worth $465,000 a year and still get a $114,000 severance package.
Senior heads should roll for these outrageous abuses of taxpayer dollars, but BC Liberal Finance Minister Mike de Jong just says "tut-tut" and does little more than ask for some money to be returned or request a partial roll back of the pay for those caught out.
Stinky supplements
The latest in a long string of stinky salary supplements was last week, when we learned the chief executive officer of the BC Cancer Agency was hired in 2012 for $500,000 a year when the maximum allowed was $400,000.
The minister wants that salary rolled back $50,000, so it would then only be $50,000 over the limit. That's how de Jong gets tough.
Then it was the Royal B.C. Museum's turn, where its CEO also wrongly got a "secondary contract" worth over $50,000, including three business class flights to London, England a year.
But wait, there's more. Michael Graydon, the ex-head of the BC Lotteries Corporation, got a severance package even though he quit to take a job with Paragon Gaming, a private company doing major business with BCLC.
BCLC asked Graydon to pay back $55,000, but if he doesn't, well, nothing will likely happen.
'Troubling,' indeed
Before that, New Democrat MLA David Eby triggered a government investigation into the secret $50,000 payment to Kwantlen Polytechnic University president Alan Davis to take his current job.
Who was vice-chair of Kwantlen's board of directors that put through the undisclosed "pre-employment contracts"? Amrik Virk, now minister of advanced education and responsible for making sure such things don't happen!
Virk first denied anything was wrong and accused Eby of "fishing," but a government report confirmed it all -- yet he still has the cabinet job. And then-Kwantlen board chair Gord Schoberg, who was also involved in the contract, was not terminated.
"Troubling" and "disappointing" is what de Jong calls these cases.
But what's "troubling" and "disappointing" is that Premier Christy Clark has not fired either Virk for misconduct or de Jong for incompetence.
In fact, Clark said of Virk: "I have spoken to him and have absolute confidence in him and his ability to serve as minister of advanced education."
After all, who better to enforce the rules than someone caught breaking them?
Paying for incompetence
Ironically, the B.C. government wouldn't be in its current mess with Michael Graydon if it had taken my advice back in 2010 and fired him with cause and without severance after the BC Lottery Corporation was fined $670,000 for more than 1,000 violations of the federal Proceeds of Crime and Terrorist Financing Act.
The Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada fined the BC Lottery Corporation because it misfiled 1,020 reports for casino transactions over $10,000.
Graydon reportedly said that the reports were filed late because of technical glitches and human error. But the mismanagement still stands.

But hey, why worry about any of this? Taxpayers will pick up the BC Liberal tab for incompetence once again.


Sunday, July 20, 2014

Why BC Liberals Are Using Teachers' Dispute to Push to Privatize Public Education

The political equation driving Premier Christy Clark, solved.

Bill Tieleman’s 24 HoursVancouver / The Tyee column
Tuesday July 15, 2014
By Bill Tieleman
Privatization does not mean you take a public institution and give it to some nice person. It means you take a public institution and give it to an unaccountable tyranny." -- Noam Chomsky, American philosopher
The BC Liberal government can t fail when it comes to further privatizing public education.
That conclusion is clear as B.C. teachers face their summer of discontent on picket lines without strike pay, mediation, negotiations or any movement on class size and composition.
But for the government, it's the summer of privatization love. Look at the evidence:
Premier Christy Clark is thrilled that long-time foe the B.C. Teachers' Federation is staggering on the ropes in a 10-round boxing slugfest it can't win.
The government has already saved $100 to $200 million from the teachers' strike.
That money can be spent on anything from promoting liquefied natural gas internationally to self-promoting advertising.
Anything, that is but education -- unless you mean private schools.
They will actually be in line for even more government financial support -- because come September, thousands of parents frustrated by frequent job action by BCTF members will likely register their children in expensive but non-unionized alternatives.
And those "independent" schools already receive substantial government funding of nearly $300 million a year and teach 12 per cent of B.C. students.
And the BCTF calculates funding has jumped 45.6 per cent for private schools since 2005 while public school funding rose only 16.9 per cent.
Group One private schools -- which include most religion-based institutions -- get 50 per cent of their operating funds from government, while Group Two is composed of private schools charging higher tuition and tougher admission requirement -- they get 35 per cent funding.
What's the big selling point for those private schools besides no labour disputes?
Ironically, it's smaller class sizes and simpler class composition -- the two big issues BCTF members are on picket lines to improve, beyond their wages.
Public schools have to take all students, deal with multiple challenges from special needs kids to English as a second language students to dwindling resources all while managing large classes.
Private schools avoid those problems by picking and choosing who can attend, then charging tuition.
And with yearly fees at exclusive schools like St. George's -- where Clark's son is a student -- running at $18,995 for Grades 1 to 7 and $21,355 for Grades 8 to 12, they can easily outspend public schools per student.
'Choice' for those with money
St. George's Latin motto is simple: sine timore aut favore -- without fear or favour -- but the same can't be said of the BC Liberal government.
Maple Ridge-Mission MLA Marc Dalton is parliamentary secretary for independent schools -- a new position first created by Christy Clark in 2012 -- and his views on private school are rather blunt.
"I think this position of parliamentary secretary is a reflection of the emphasis the government places on family choice -- choice of education," Dalton said when first appointed.
How many other BC Liberal MLAs are sending or have sent their children to private schools while governing the public education system? The Tyee tried to find out with very limited success.
While some B.C. Liberal MLAs did forthrightly respond to a survey along with some NDP MLAs, a whopping 71 out of 85 MLAs did not -- including 43 who mention their children in online biographies.
This premier wins if public education loses
But ultimately the BC Liberal record on privatizing public education is about the policies adopted, not personal MLA choices, which may be more complicated.
That record is clear.
Make public education less attractive, hurt your union opponent, promote and fund private schools like your son's and save money the whole time -- that's a perfect score for the premier.


Monday, July 14, 2014

Dumb or Devious? BC Liberals' Happy Hour Raises Prices and Suspicions of Downing the Competition

Donnelly Group bus shelter and print ads went up quickly!
New rules mean less real price competition for big chains by small independents. Hmmmm.

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column 

Tuesday July 8, 2014

By Bill Tieleman
"He was a wise man who invented beer."
- Plato, ancient Greek philosopher
Is the B.C. Liberal government really incredibly dumb, bringing in "happy hour" rules that actually increase -- not lower -- the price of beer, wine and cocktails by imposing new minimum prices?
Or have the BC Liberals actually rewarded some of their biggest financial supporters by reducing competition based on price, to the benefit of some of the province's largest bar and restaurant chains and at the expense of independent pubs?
A consumer group thinks the evidence points to a Machiavellian move hurting both consumers and smaller liquor outlets alike, by increasing prices for a pint of beer by $2 or more and a pitcher of beer up $5.
The entire liquor industry should be in an uproar over the June 20 introduction of minimum pricing making B.C. beer prices per ounce the highest in Canada at 25 cents, more than double the roughly 11 cent price previously, which was simply the cost of the beer itself.
That means a 20-ounce pint of beer now costs a minimum $5 plus tax.
But instead the brewing revolt is being led by a consumer group -- the Campaign for Real Ale Society -- and some small pubs and bars, while the big chains are either surprisingly silent or remarkably happy, with one taking out full page newspaper and bus shelter ads proclaiming "Prohibition is over."
CAMRA spokesperson Paddy Treavor says drinkers should be suspicious.
"I believe that the B.C. government either willingly -- or were duped by special interest groups -- into making prices higher," Treavor said from Powell River Sunday. "The big chains put their thumb on independent and smaller outlets."
"They don't want to have to compete with places that were offering $3.50 drinks -- now they can put the blame on the government for higher prices," he added.
Safely expensive
John Yap, the Richmond-Steveston MLA and parliamentary secretary for liquor reform to Attorney General Suzanne Anton who guided the changes, defends the higher priced happy hour on "safety" grounds despite no evidence previously lower prices were a problem.
"This is one of the most important public safety and health aspects of the recommendations that we brought in with the modernizing of our liquor laws," Yap told Global TV on July 4.
"We have not had rules on minimum pricing and now we introduced them based on our balanced approach on modernizing our liquor laws," Yap said.
I have my doubts about "balance" and "modernizing" being the reasons for higher priced happy hour, so I have filed a Freedom of Information request seeking all correspondence between Yap, Anton, their ministry and liquor interests to see if any communications took place prior to "unhappy hour" being introduced. 
Meantime, you can protest by joining my new Facebook page Fix BC Happy Hour, where over 1,100 people have already signed on for affordable drinks.