“Honesty, integrity, and accountability, the values, which should be the hallmark of this government, have instead been thrown under the bus by an arrogant majority, casualties in a misguided campaign to shield from accountability those who abuse this House.”~ Louise Slaughter
“The fatal attraction of government is that it allows busybodies to impose decisions on others without paying any price themselves. That enables them to act as if there were no price, even when there are ruinous prices — paid by others.”
It’s been a long time since there has been a singular issue that has created so much outrage and demanded so many unanswered questions of this government.
Even the ethnic outreach scandal dubbed Ethnicgate didn’t garner as much attention by the average citizen. New citizen blogger Merv Adey recently compiled a list of the growing number of examples where our BC government has gone completely off track, and I’ll add to that in a moment:
It’s clear now what I think we’ve all suspected. Christy Clark’s government is defined by its own governing principle, and that is the avoidance of accountability.
- 8 fired health researchers: 1 committed suicide (Rod MacIsaac) . No email records found in the senior civil service. No briefing notes or memos.
- 80 Community Consultations along the Highway of Tears by the Ministry of Transportation. A political staffer, George Gretes, is forced to resign (not fired), and now investigated for perjury after he allegedly triple deleted not only his own records, but Tim Duncan’s as well, and then lied to an Independent Officer of the Legislature about it.
- Zero emails from Christy Clark herself, out of 200 which were tracked, were submitted in response to FOI request.
- Christy Clark’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Michele Cardario, reportedly triple deleted without trace every single email she sent during the 2 years since she replaced Kim Haakstad who became toxic after the QuickWins memo was released by the opposition
- Minister of Transport Todd Stone admits to triple deleting emails regularly.
- While negotiating one of the larger tax giveaways to industry in the history of BC (LNG), Rich Coleman’s COS responded to an FOI request with 3 emails out of 800 which were tracked by Tech Services. He failed to respond with up to 797 emails to important energy industry players like AltaGas and PETRONAS.
- Clark’s government, (as Laila Yuile notes – 2 days before the George Gretes scandal broke), removed the application of Section 5 of the Offences Act to the evasion of FOI requirements. That is, they intentionally weakened the penalties for illegal destruction of documents. George Gretes may or may not go to jail for perjury, but he won’t go there for being part of Christy Clark’s political team and destroying public records for political gain.
And there is more since this list was compiled, news that was particularly unsettling when you consider the implications.
We now know that Ministry of Justice lawyers were sent to the Privacy Commissioners office in what appears to be an attempt to halt the release of the damning report:
When B.C.’s privacy watchdog was getting ready to release her bombshell report about triple-deleting emails by government political staffers, she was greeted by Ministry of Justice lawyers attempting to impede the report’s release.
BC NDP MLA Carole James raised the issue in the legislature Wednesday, and said the ministry had sent lawyers who “told her not to release the report.”
“My question is to the Minister of Justice,” she said. “Why did she ask lawyers in her ministry to stall off the commissioner’s report?
“Sending lawyers after the commissioner is truly a new low.”
In her report, Elizabeth Denham, B.C.’s privacy commissioner, revealed a widespread government problem of triple-deleting “transitory” documents related to the Highway of Tears.
“In the course of this investigation, we uncovered negligent searches for records, a failure to keep adequate email records, a failure to document searches, and the willful destruction of records responsive to an access request,” she said in a release.
“Taken together, these practices threaten the integrity of access to information in British Columbia.”
Yes, these practices do threaten the integrity of access to information, but the implications of Ministry of Justice lawyers trying to stop the release of this report are beyond disturbing.
Let me make this clear. This government did not want that report on the table during this legislative session where Liberal ministers would have to face questions and face public scrutiny. This government wanted that report held back until the session was over and hopefully evade on the record discussion. Who gave the order to these lawyers? We don’t know.
Amrik Virk, minister of
evasion in charge of this mess, didn’t deny the allegations and Justice Minister Suzanne Anton did not respond to NDP questions. Where is the scrum on this? Where is the demand for an explanation beyond the NDP’s grilling?
Where is the explanation for this, period? Once again, Premier Clark has been off in China on a non-stop itinerary of photo-ops,a trade mission scheduled rather conveniently during one of the very few legislative sessions we seem to have -something she has been called on repeatedly in the past.
As the leader of this government, which is facing a growing lack of confidence by the public, it is not her job to be in China when the legislature is in session.She needed to be here, answering for her governments performance-or lack thereof.
Which is why it was quite interesting to see Environment Minister Mary Polak, respond to a question tweeted to several Liberal members on why the BC government removed the penalties for improper destruction of government documents. I asked for clarification and was met with silence.
The continual evasion and silence is both wearisome, and alarming. Government has hoped this would all die down while Clark was in China, but it didn’t. This entire series of highly questionable actions has been kept alive by concerned citizens,former journalists,and there are several ministers who face mounting questions.
Questions like the appropriateness of Clark appointing former BC Privacy Commissioner David Loukidelis to the review the handling of documents and Freedom of Information requests by the BC government.
Loukidelis served the province of BC very well during his time as a Privacy Commissioner,rapping governments knuckles many times. He was highly regarded when it comes to this past position in BC and has intimate knowledge of how government works -or doesn’t work – in this regard – on that front there is no question of his suitability with respect to relevent knowledge and experience.
The question is raised because following his service as the Privacy Commissioner, Loukidelis went onto become Deputy Attorney General – a move that had many critics calling foul.
The man who has been responsible for ensuring that the provincial government fulfills Freedom of Information requests since 1999 is now deputy attorney general for the B.C. Liberal administration.
David Loukidelis will go from being the independent appointee responsible for ensuring openness and transparency in a government that flagrantly violates FOI rules to being one of the top bureaucrats assigned to keeping documents secret from the media and the public.
And that is seriously wrong in at least four ways.
He served in this capacity until his resignation in May of 2012 and went onto other interests,but for those familiar with BC politics,his appointment to this review raised eyebrows because of this:
Loukidelis may be best known in B.C. for his role in the abrupt Oct. 2010 end of the bribery trial of former ministerial aides Dave Basi and Bob Virk. Along with deputy finance minister Graham Whitmarsh, he approved the $6 million payment to Basi and Virk’s lawyers as part of the plea bargain that halted the trial related to the BC Liberals’ 2003 privatization of BC Rail. Former finance minister Gary Collins was the next witness scheduled. ~ http://thetyee.ca/News/2015/02/10/Watchdog-Turns-Lobbyist/
Because the murdered and missing women along the Highway of Tears was reviewed at the Inquiry, it’s at the very least, insensitive to have Loukidelis on a review of how the government handled FOI’s and documents, some of which related to the Highways of Tears.
The irony is also stark that the BC government claimed poverty when it came to funding participants in the Pickton Inquiry, yet had more than enough funds to fuel the Basi-Virk trial and $6 million dollar payout that stopped that same trial… and saved several former Ministers and politicians from taking the stand-including Clark herself. But that’s another story.
Because Loukidelis played such a critical role in decision behind the Basi/Virk payout, many critics are also questioning Clark’s decision to appoint him to this review.
We’ve come full circle. And as we await the results of both Loukidelis’s review into the governments handling of documents and FOI requests – due December 15th,right at the height of the holiday season – and the Ombudsman report into the health firings-report date unknown, the questions will continue to mount. Yet silence reigns with the exception of Polak’s tweets last weekend.
With every new aspect of this story that comes out with absolutely no accountability to be seen yet, the question remains… will this government be found complicit…or simply incompetent?
***Merv Adey has a new post up, with more on Loukidelis and…. Graham Whitmarsh. http://www.bcveritas.com/index.php/2015/11/13/why-david-loukidelis-cant-be-the-right-choice-on-foi/
Backposts in this series: