How rich elites took over BC…and the Liberals welcomed them

Imperial Metals' Murray Edwards, Real Eastate magnate Bob Rennie and Kinder Morgan's Ian Anderson
Imperial Metals’ Murray Edwards, Real Estate magnate Bob Rennie and Kinder Morgan’s Ian Anderson

The following is re-published with permission from author Roy Hales and The Eco-Report.

It’s been a fortnight since the New York Times carried the story. The author, Dan Levin, told Global News:

[quote]If this were in Russia or China or the Balkans or some developing-world country, it would just be written off as nepotism or corruption, but here [in British Columbia], because it’s not illegal, it seems to just get a pass.[/quote]

Corporate and union donations to political parties are banned in Nova Scotia, Manitoba, Alberta and Ontario, but not in British Columbia. NDP MLA David Eby believes the corruption runs much deeper than the $50,000-a-year “commission” Premier Clark has been receiving from her party’s campaign chest. In the firestorm of criticism following the Times story, she has swapped her stipend for what is potentially an equally rich expense account, but the issue remains: The rich and connected appear to run British Columbia.

All about access

NDP MLA and Housing Critic David Eby
David Eby, NDP MLA for Vancouver Point Grey

“We seem to be getting further and further away from the idea that citizens can directly influence government through traditional democratic avenues, whether it’s writing a letter or through a protest, or talking to a politician.  We are shifting towards a model where the people who get access to the Premier, to the cabinet, to decisions makers are lobbyists and political donors,” Eby told me in a recent interview.

“The government recently passed legislation allowing unlimited spending until the 30-day-writ period. Previously there had been a restriction on that spending.”

“I couldn’t get my head around why this is happening until we got the results from my conflict of interests complaint and that indicated that the Premier receives a very significant personal benefit from the existing system. She gets $50,000 from the Liberal party of BC, which comes from pooled political donations to that party. So she has a $50,000 incentive, each year, to not change the system. A change in the system would mean she would not have the money to take home because the Liberal party would not have as much money.”

Dermod Travis, executive director of the public watchdog group IntegrityBC, told the New York Times, “When anyone anywhere in the world can donate as much as they want to the system, you have an even bigger threat to the system…What it says to people is money talks and votes don’t.”

Did not respond

Neither the Premier’s Office or the BC Liberal party responded to, or acknowledged, the questions I emailed them.

Pamela Martin (red dress) & Premier Clark (r) 2012 courtesy Amber Strocel via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 Lilcense)
Pamela Martin (red dress) & Premier Clark (r) 2012 courtesy Amber Strocel via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 Lilcense)

This is a stark contrast to the highly efficient performance of individual ministries public relations personal during the past two years.

More so because,  according to a recent article in Common Ground, Premier Clark’s “communication army now numbers more than 200, 10 times the number of reporters in BC’s press gallery.” Many, like Clark’s old friend Pamela Martin, now the BC Liberal director of engagement, are well known media personnel.

Former BCTV Morning host Steve Darling and popular reporter Jas Johol have left journalism to run as BC Liberal candidates.

Eby explained, “The Liberals are confident that the volume of donations that they get insulates them from any public concern because they can just run repeated ads through-out the election cycle and convince people that they are not quite as bad as they might seem in the news reports. They do have millions of dollars to shift public opinion.”

$12 million war chest

Deputy Premier Rich Coleman did tell a group of reporters, including Metro News, that the New York Times story is “laughable.”

He explained, “We go out and work very hard to raise money and make those connections.”

According to a recent NDP press release, 1.5% of B.C. Liberal donors account for half of the more than $12 million the party raised in 2016.

“A tiny number of millionaires have our premier in their pocket, and it has to end,” said NDP leader John Horgan.

Real Estate donations and housing crisis

BC income growth declines to last place in country
Photo: Tourism Vancouver

Eby pointed to the province’s high priced housing as an illustration of what this means.

“We went through a two year period of trying to convince the provincial government that we were in a housing crisis. International money was driving prices beyond the reach of local buyers. Housing prices were putting the local economy at risk. The government made fun of us and said it was crazy.”

“I believe that the reason for the lack of action on the housing crisis is that 7 of their 10 largest donors are real estate development companies. The people who made these donations had a very strong interest to keep the high prices going because they were profiting quite handsomely. During the period that the government didn’t act,  the average house price in Vancouver went up $600,000.”

Kinder Morgan, Imperial Metals among biggest donors

The New York Times suggested that the provincial governments recent reversal of its’ position on the proposed Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion is connected to some timely campaign donations:

[quote]On Thursday, Ms. Clark’s government approved the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain oil pipeline project, after opposing the proposal at hearings last January. Political donation records show that Kinder Morgan and other oil industry supporters of the project had donated more than $718,000 Canadian dollars, about $546,000, to the BC Liberal party through March 2016.[/quote]

Aerial image after Mount Polley mine tailings spill (Cariboo Regional District)
Aerial image after Mount Polley mine tailings spill (Cariboo Regional District)

Another big contributor is Imperial Metals, owners of the Mount Polley mine.

“When fossil fuel companies are able to throw their money around in our political process, it is a detriment to both our democracy and our climate. It makes our job that much harder,” Peter McCartney of the Wilderness Committee told me. “For a province with such an abundance of natural beauty that is in the cross-hairs of global mining, forestry and fossil fuel companies, that’s a recipe for disaster. It’s very clear British Columbia is far behind other jurisdictions who have banned big money in politics. It’s about time we caught up,”

Site C: latest example of big money’s influence?

Eby did not know if there were sizeable campaign donations behind the provincial government’s obstinate determination to build the Site C Dam.

“I haven’t done that research, but I’d be shocked if there weren’t. I get shocked if there is a major infrastructure project and the person awarded the successful project does not have a history of making donations and does not make a donation in the following year. It just doesn’t happen,” he said.

A recent Insights West poll found that 73% of British Columbians support sending the Site C dam for an independent review of both costs and demand, as recommended by the Joint (Federal and Provincial) Review Panel’s report.

The Clark government has steadfastly avoided this and Harry Swain, former Chair of the Joint Review Panel, has become one of the project’s most outspoken critics.

The Union of BC MunicipalitiesBC Hydro Ratepayers Association,  250 professors from across Canada, Union of BC Indian ChiefsAssembly of First Nations and National Farmers Union are among the many organizations that have voiced their opposition.

Law suits, govt errors may sink Site C Dam
Peace Valley ranchers Ken and Arlene Boon face the expropriation of their home for Site C Dam (Damien Gillis)

This is of limited comfort to Ken and Arlene Boon, whose farm in the Peace River Valley was expropriated by BC Hydro on December 15. They are the third generation to live on this property, which could soon be submerged beneath the dam’s reservoir.

“We are permitted to stay in the house until May 31st.  Then we will move back to our little strip of remainder land to a second small house we have there.  Biggest hope for us is the upcoming election…and maybe we will not even have to move this spring?” said Boon.

He added, “We have to take big money out politics to help take away corruption, or even perception of such.  We are slowly being drawn further into the world of election cycles where big money wins the day, and of course that is just wrong on many levels.  In fact, why do we even allow (corporate?) campaign contributions, and all the problems that arise from that?”

At least one of the companies connected to Site C has made extensive contributions to Clark’s political party. DeSmog Canada reports that KPMG – the accounting firm that reviewed the anticipated costs of Site C for BC Hydro – and its related companies donated $284,994 to the BC Liberals between 2004 and 2014.

Hitting the jackpot

The worst example that Eby has seen was a contract put up by the BC Lotteries Corporation.

“During the tendering process, one bidder made a $50,000 dollar donation to the BC Liberal party. They won the bid. Even if those two processes were completely insulated from each other, that looks pretty bad to someone from the outside. Sometimes the appearance of conflict of interest is as corrosive to public confidence as an actual conflict of interest.”

Having someone make a donation like that in the middle of a bidding process “really stinks.”

$20,000 a plate

“I think this government can’t be trusted to look after the public interest because they are so under the influence of their donors.”

He cited the example of the dinner parties that the BC Liberals now hold at private residences. Do you think participants are paying between $10,000 and $20,000 just to see Christy Clark and her senior cabinet ministers? Or are they hoping to get something for their money? Who do you think the Premier will pay more attention to, someone who writes a letter or the person who pays $20,000 for the opportunity to say, “Listen, I think the province should be doing this, or shouldn’t be doing that.”

“Corruption isn’t handing a bag full of money to someone and saying give us this project. It’s often a relationship built over time, through a series of things like donations and buying tickets for fund raisers and so on. That results in a relationship that causes someone to want to favour one particular proponent. It may not be one to one, but if a company has made 10 donations totalling more than $700,000 over three or four years, that’s going to have an influence over how the government feels about that company and whether or not they get government contracts,” said Eby.

Banning corporate and union donations

After the provincial legislature resumes sitting, on February 14, NDP Leader John Horgan will bring forward a private members’ bill to ban union and corporate donations and limit the amount private individuals can contribute.

This is the seventh time his party has brought a bill of this kind forward. For obvious reasons, they do not expect much support from the Liberal side of the House.

“There are two models. One is where you only permit limited donations from individuals and the other is where you have public funding on a per vote basis. Every vote you get, for example, would result in a 30 cent contribution from the public purse,” said Eby.

“The BC NDP support the model of limited personal donations, not a public funding model. I think that strikes the right balance. You still have to get out there and people have to want to support you, but it also sets limits to your political contributions.”


19 thoughts on “How rich elites took over BC…and the Liberals welcomed them

  1. Everyone complains and just keeps voting the same criminal parties. Why our B.C.T.V news
    never reports how 15 % of all Canadian revenue goes to interest to International banks unnecessarily. WE ,at one one point could borrow money interest free from Bank Of Canada
    is beyond me. OH ! I forgot ,they are busy reporting fluff pieces,repeating the weather and traffic over and over again and thinking they are stars.OH YEAH-THEY ARE OWNED BY A BIG BIZ TYCOON WHO HAS BOUGHT AND PAID FOR OUR POLITICS.
    Please quit voting or simply vote any new party. Get organized,angry and demand the increasingly militarized cops arrest the REAL CRIMINALS ,and not some pot smoking teenager.

  2. Site C is not complicated. The diversions to the real issue only make it seem that way. Accenture of Enron infamy runs BC Hydro. They are directing everything BC Hydro. The intention is to create such a mess the BC Government will be forced to sell it to private interests. That is everything that is behind Site C. Clark is being played to “Push it past the point of no return”. She is expendable. The boys and girls behind Accenture will end up owning BC Hydro. Bennett (WAC) is likely rolling in his grave. I wrote these words in 2009;

    British Columbia under WAC Bennett entered into a 30-year agreement between the Federal Government and US Government that gave the downstream benefits to US Utility Companies for the 30-year term. This allowed BC to build the power generation facilities that BC enjoys today. BC Hydro, the public owned company regained these downstream benefits and began the pure profit period from this forward thinking plan of WAC Bennett 30 years after the completion of the last Dam required to be built, the Mica Dam, which was complete in 1973. In 2003 BC became the holder of its electrical power future.

    Shortly after, in February 2003, BC Premier Campbell signed a 10-year management agreement of this fabulous resource to Accenture, an American/Bermuda Company that is a spin off of Enron, that reputable organization that mastered the art of creative accounting. All intelligent business people understand that the costs of management can be juggled and fudged to create any cost scenario desired, so it is no stretch to imagine that Accenture can and will modify the management structure to maximize corporate profits at the expense of British Columbians. ”

    So – today we see the results of selling off the control of BC Hydro. This plan was started many years ago. The “Crown” of BC’s resources about to be lost.

    1. Why this extremely important message has remained so low key is unimaginable. I know, most of us are too busy working to pay off mortgages and keep the kids in ballet lessons or hockey school, but if this information goes unheeded and ignored there won’t be any ballet lessons or hockey schools! People, get off your rumps and get enlightened! May 8th is only 3 months away. Site C may already be ‘beyond the point of no return’.
      Please, for your sake, and my grandchildren’s, get educated and put a stop to this ridiculous venture! STOP SITE C It’s not needed, is a terrible waste of money and resources. You, the taxpayer, owe it yourselves to breath life into the future of this province.

  3. I find the use of Bob Rennie’s photo at the top of this article to be unfair and misleading. There is no mention anywhere in this article of Bob Rennie, or his company, The Rennie Group. Kinder Morgan and Imperial Metals are called out specifically, and thus the use of the other two photos is appropriate, but without any specific evidence against The Rennie Group, inclusion of Rennie’s photo borders on libel. Furthermore, The Rennie Group is NOT a “real estate development company”, which is what Eby specifically calls out. The Rennie Group is a real estate marketing and sales company. It markets new condo developments, and is also a real estate brokerage. They do not “develop” (i.e. build) any real estate. Thus, Rennie’s inclusion is even more erroneous, because his company doesn’t even fit the description.

    1. Come off, it Earl! Bob Rennie is the self-anointed king of the Vancouver real estate cartel AND THE CHAIR OF BC LIBERAL FUNDRAISING, for Pete’s sake! Nobody’s picture is more appropriate here.

      More reading for you from The Tyee:

      “The fundraising chair for the Liberals is condo marketer Rennie, whom The Tyee recently reported gave the party $73,500 in 2015. ‘Bob Rennie’s a great example,’ Eby said. ‘Here’s a guy who is one of the most famous condominium sales agents in North America who is running the fundraising for the Premier who refuses to put a tax on speculative investors driving up the prices of condos in Metro Vancouver.'”

      Just because someone slapped an Order of BC on him doesn’t make him immune from criticism. He deserves as much or more than anybody.

      1. …….aaaaaand in keeping with the Liberals helping their campaign contributors we have THIS announcement from “Her Highness” on Chinese New Year.
        The “about face” on a foriegn tax only took the Libs 6 months to rescind.
        Say goodbye to affordable housing all you voters out there in La La Land but dont worry.
        Bob Rennies commissions just keep goin up up up!
        Its not about the ‘little people” its about rewarding “friends”

      2. Thanks for the clarification, Damien. It’s unfortunate that the author, Mr. Hales, failed to include information like that in this article. Without that context, this just looks like a random drive-by editorial shooting.

    2. You must be joking, as Rennie is directing the BC government to direct TransLink to build a $3.2 billion ALRT/ART SkyTrain subway under Broadway, so Rennie can build condo’s at proposed station sites.

      Not only there’s not the the ridership to justify a SkyTrain subway, it will furthe burden TransLink with massive operating costs as subways, complete with lighting, elevators & escalators, ventilation and sump pumps are hugely expensive to maintain and operate.

      Sorry, Rennie and his donations have done great damage to metro Vancouver, with taxpayer’s picking up the tab.

      And for general education, ALRT/ART SkyTrain is a proprietary railway, which technical patents are held by Bombardier Inc, and engineering patents owned by SNC Lavalin, which the current Premier’s chief advisor, Gwyn Morgan is a former CEO!

      One wonders how much money they “payed to play”?

  4. I don’t see how any election could be “fair” as long as it depends on the amount of money an individual party has to spend .. irregardless of where it comes from.

  5. And don’t forget to mention how Jim Pattison, aka Judas Pattison, has set up the BC wine industry to fail. The BC government allowed Save-on-Foods to virtually monopolize the sale of BC-only wine for a short time before eliciting a trade action from the US for preferential treatment. His high-priced lawyers couldn’t see that coming? Yeah, right. Now they’ll have to stock their stores with cheap plonk from China, all the while pushing for rules that won’t let BC suppliers sell their stuff anywhere else? And that’s supposed to help them how?

  6. these politicians and their financial buddies don’t see any downsides for raping the public utilities, raiding the treasury and generally screwing the population. Public opinion be damned. When they are finally booted out they go to work for one of their buddy corporations. wow, now thats punishment.

    1. Your right.Please quit voting ,or please vote any new party.Have people demand media ask real questions and courts (yeah I know they are a joke and only for the elite) hold these clowns responsible.

  7. ….and it took an article from the NEW YORK TIMES to rock the Liberal “boat’.
    Its a shame the local media are too busy sitting on their hands or picking lint from their navels to actually go out and report…..News.
    Pathetic….but what the hell.
    200 Liberal pr people and counting…….
    Apparently there’s always work as a lickspittle Liberal public relations hack in the Liberal govt waiting for them if they finally have the testicular fortitude to quit their current news reporting job and take a ferry ride to Victoria.
    A backlash is building. Voter disgust is visceral.
    I saw Steve Darling at a north burnaby strip mall a few weeks back. He didnt look happy.

    As for Site C….I have no doubt that SNC Lavalin have their dirty little claws buried deep within that govt project since they’re already involved with BC Hydro contracts ( as well as BC Ferries, etc.)
    A nice cushy 250k per year SNC directorship for Christy when she leaves politics?
    Only time, and or the New York Times will tell.

    1. About the BC media I have asked myself this question over repeatedly over the past decade;

      The only reason I can think of is the local media pundits have compromised themselves by being financially involved in the liberals projects.

      I mean what other reason could there be? Baldry, Palmer, Smyth, McMartin and others could take a buyout at any time. But instead they remain in place for what exactly? To not report on the government? Again what other reason could there be? I have failed to think of one.

      It has to be money and not their wages. It is things they are invested in…..

      1. I’m thinking most of them probably have massive mortgages hanging over their heads and dont dare rock the boat….

        Afraid of being Banished to Kitwanga….at least the housing is cheap.

        1. Palmer is a couple of years younger than myself and makes way more money than I ever did. My mortgage was paid off many years ago and if this smart guy has not done that yet he ain’t so smart. Palmer took over from Marjorie Nichols and I remember his first article about how he hoped to be able to follow in her footsteps (not). With the relationship that these so called journalists have with the current government, I would love to see their stock portfolios. Do you think they many have bought shares in new IPP’s or any other venture that they may have had information on. I would bet that this group do not have mortgages and are worth millions. Only guessing!

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