A note on political patronage and cronyism.
“I would argue that one of the issues which the public should be much more emphatic about with all politicians… is patronage, appointing people to high positions because they supported your campaign or helped you raise money.”
Yesterday will remain a fond memory for me in terms of news: Duffy squealing with glee, waving documents that should have had Stephen Harper’s testicles rising back into his body. It’s always a moment when the house of cards starts falling and the guilty rush to beat each other to the punch, turning and eating their own in a rush to save their own skin. Brutal, not unlike the natural world we live in.
However, here on the west coast, the news centered around the purely political patronage appointments given to Ben Stewart, John Les and Gordon Wilson.
Ben Stewart of course, gave up his seat as MLA so Clark could run in his safe riding after losing in her own, here in Vancouver, after the last election. No big surprise that he would find a soft landing – sources in Beijing tell me the social scene is quite robust for government appointees of any kind, in particular for Canadian contacts deemed with beefing up Asian investment. For the sake of Canada,let’s hope he doesn’t fall for a ‘honey pot’ like other government agents have over the years…
The more interesting story to me, was the appointment of Gordon F.D. Wilson, to the position of “Buy BC advocate” for LNG, with a meagre yearly salary of $50,000, which is a drop in the bucket in terms of government salaries, period. Why? Because Buy BC .. or Buy Local… runs in the family. More on that in a moment.
Wilson is without a doubt, an interesting choice, considering we really don’t have an LNG market yet.. all those sparkles and unicorns have yet to appear, problems are cropping up and it remains to be seen how much LNG BC will, in fact, ever produce. Considering how late to the table BC is in comparison to Australia, the US and other countries with developed markets, and the pricing hurdles BC LNG must overcome, it’s even more apparently a token offering than anything else.
Also interesting is that Wilson has been, over the years, a bit of an environmental advocate -at least for their farming property along the sunshine coast- which would seemingly put him at odds with the fracking industry in principle. He and Judi have long-standing political connections to Christy Clark and the BC liberals, although not always amicable.
It was back on May 5th that Gordon Wilson announced he was ” Coming Home” via a YouTube video. http://www.straight.com/news/379206/christy-clark-endorser-gordon-wilson-faced-recent-financial-troubles
Of course, there was no mention in the video that Wilson had been facing financial difficulties via the foreclosure proceedings on his property that were revealed by Bob Mackin in the Georgia Straight link above, and also in Business in Vancouver. Unpleasant, sad and very unfortunate news to all who knew Judi and Gordon as friends in person and online, it made for divisions in friendships when the news broke, but was still relevant because of the timing of the endorsement. Sources indicated that the For Sale sign on the farm came down within weeks of the endorsement but no one asked why, or how.
Greatly under the radar however, was the already ongoing work of his spouse, Judi Tyabji, who had been hired as a consultant to push an initiative as part of the Buy Local Program announced by the BC Government originally in 2012, that didn’t really take off until the spring of 2013. This was when the BC Liberals felt a certain degree of concern over potentially losing the Comox Valley riding to the NDP in the upcoming election and both parties began concentrating their efforts on the riding tremendously.
Sources indicate that in the Comox Valley, many an eyebrow was raised after the awarding of a $100,ooo grant in March of this year to Sunshine Organics to facilitate the promotion, purchase and/or delivery of locally produced goods, other than the Comox Farmers Market. Sunshine Organics ( and Judi) were to endeavor to promote and ‘brand’ produce and products grown on the Sunshine Coast and the Comox Valley.
Reported by the Comox Valley Echo: http://www.comoxvalleyrecord.com/news/199251051.html?mobile=true
“Sunshine Organics received a grant of $100,000 from the B.C. government presented by Comox Valley MLA Don McRae to promote local agriculture and connect the consumer with producers.
“It’s a buy local campaign and we’re trying to maki it as wide-reaching as possible,” owner Melissa Call explained to media.
“The money will be used for the campaign for promoting coastal-grown products,” she added.
Call said they have around 80 customers each in the two communities, and are looking to grow thanks to the grant.
Judi Tyabji, president of Pebble in the Pond Environmental Society in Powell River, attended Tuesday’s announcement.”
What the Comox Valley Record didn’t state, was that Judi Tyabji, (who was present for the awarding with no explanation as to why that was in the article ) and owner of Sunshine Organics, Melissa Call, are both founders of the Pebble in the Pond Society, of which Judi Tyabji is president. http://www.pebpond.com/About%20PIP.html#Melissa
In fact, when Judi applied to appear in a delegation before the Comox Valley Regional District earlier in October with the Sunshine Organics crew, again no mention was made that both Melissa Call and Judi Tyabji were co-founders of Pebble in the Pond Society together. http://www.comoxvalleyrecord.com/news/227839851.html
Records of the application verify Tyabji was working as a consultant for the Suncoast Grown ‘brand’ promoting products grown on the island and the Sunshine Coast. ( Very convenient that a short ferry ride separates the Comox Valley from Powell River.)
Interestingly enough, at the same time as this delegation was to appear before the Regional District, Judi issued this tweet referring to ‘political planning’ in the valley…:
Now, anyone who makes the Comox Valley their home knows what a tight community the area has, and how supportive the local producers are of each other in the efforts to create a sustainable industry that supports local farmers. It’s an area with incredible natural bounty. So, why would the awarding of this $100,000 grant back in the spring raise eyebrows of locals?
Because sources indicate that at the time of this large grant to Sunshine Organics, the local farmers market in the valley had been told they couldn’t apply for a grant because 1) there was no more money and 2) ‘the funds had already been allocated.’ ( where?)
And that would impact all local producers at the time.
It wasn’t only in the Comox Valley that this grant award stood out, it was all over the province, since most commodity growers like the Potato Growers and Strawberry Growers only averaged around $35,000 grants to forward their own ventures in buying local. In speaking to contacts all over BC since this came to me yesterday, it was apparent that the outrage and questions spread beyond the Sunshine Coast and Comox Valley, to producers in the interior as well.
It is also worth noting that no producer would speak on the record, for fear that they might lose funding in future years, for criticizing or even questioning the situation. And that sentiment was repeated with farmers and producers I spoke with all over the province.
I ask you, how does an atmosphere of fear among local food producers, assist in furthering BC food production? It boggles the mind!
Sadly, the SunCoastGrown twitter feed ( @SunCoastGrown) has only garnered 538 followers and while no one can speak to how the grant enhanced the Sunshine Coast Organics business, sources in the Comox Valley indicate the money could have been better spent helping local farmers by awarding it to groups or societies that could effect real change in the valley for producers.
Twitter accounts are free, posting tweets don’t cost anything and local community newspaper ads aren’t that expensive. A facebook page set up by Sun Coast Grown can also costs nothing and has around 500 members with 2 people talking about it.
The grant from the government was also supposed to be matched by the business that received it – something people all over the Comox Valley and Sunshine coast are questioning how that was achieved.
Judi and Gordon have been local sheep farmers on the Sunshine Coast for years in addition to their other businesses, and understand at the basic, core level of small/local farmer production what that means, and what sacrifices and labours that entails.
On that level, one knows that they also understand the challenges small and local producers encounter, particularly with the CETA agreement that is completely supported by the BC Liberals. Local cheese producers in particular on the island – among others- will likely feel the impact of much more inexpensive European cheese and other products flooding the local markets.
Many local food producers in the Comox Valley state they feel that the awarding of the grant to Sunshine Organics and their partners, has had little impact in the Comox Valley overall despite several producers being included in the delivered boxes. With the awarding of this patronage appointment to Gordon Wilson, the emails were flying into my email box yesterday and last night.
Where did the $100,ooo grant go? What is it being spent on? Who benefitted from it? Is Judi’s salary as a consultant coming from that grant money?
Sunshine Organics is a private business, not a non-partisan organization, and stands to profit from increased business. There is nothing wrong with this, but when government grants go to private businesses, there must be some degree of accountability.
No one I spoke to had any answers, leaving me with only a line of mounting questions.
Why was the relationship between Judi Tyabji and the owner of Sunshine Organics never openly revealed?
Who specifically is Judi working for? Sunshine Organics, or the BC government?
Since no one is talking, and I can’t contact Judi Tyabji – she blocked me after I posted Bob Makin’s story on the foreclosure to Facebook – your guess is as good as mine. But the business connections between Tyabji and the owners of Sunshine Organics -via Pebble in the Pond – and the granting of the $100,000 dollars to Sunshine Organics must certainly be subject to public examination, considering the other personal,business and historical connections that exist between Tyabji, Wilson, and Christy Clark, as well as between Sunshine Organics, Pebble in the Pond, and their directors and owners.
The paid and created appointments by Christy Clark this week to those who have proved their loyalty to her in the past must be examined for their partisan nature, Gwen O’Mahoney aside. ( she received an unpaid appointment)
In this case, particularly because Sunshine Organics received $100,000 in a government grant, and Judi Tyabji is directly involved in a side business relationship with the owner of that company.