The article below the line was first published in July 2018. Very little has changed, very few actions are taken in BC, except that more money is being spent on reviews. These are being conducted by people involved or associated with the authorities whose oversight failures brought us to the present situation.
For example, as deputy commissioner for Western Canada until 2012, Peter German was the RCMP’s top cop based in BC. In that time, the force was tarnished by numerous scandals, from sexual assaults and harassment to homicide. He’s taking a second look into money laundering and criminal influences in real estate, horse racing and luxury car sales. Again, it is designed to be “fact-finding,” not “fault-finding.”
In March, the BC Government announced a review of fracking “as it relates to induced seismicity and its impacts on water quantity and quality.” To conduct the examination, Energy Minister Mungall hired people who’ve been consultants to BC’s natural gas producers. She did not hire people who are experts in the causes and scope of gas fugitive emissions. A government that wants no change prefers to study an insignificant problem like siesmicity as opposed to one with real dangers, like methane escapes.
Michelle Mungall has others reviewers at work. Staff from the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources, the Ministry of Finance and BC Hydro are conducting a “comprehensive” review over the provincial utility. These are the people who allowed BC Hydro to slide into its current financial state, burdened by uncontrolled capital spending and private power purchase agreements that last as long as 2075. No doubt, that will be another fact-finding, not fault-finding, review.
BC NDP’s unwillingness to appoint a Commission of Inquiry to investigate corruption in public administration is one more sign of timidity, a thing becoming the Horgan Government’s hallmark.
We’ve seen much evidence of illegal money laundering at casinos, but no significant penalties have been assessed against corporation or individuals. Business as usual continues and good business it’s been for insiders.
Gang warfare continues and guns are a deadly reality for BC teens and young adults. With the recent shooting death of another innocent, we are reminded that all of us are at risk. Paul Bennett was the operating room nurse whose only apparent misdeed was to drive a truck like one used by a gangbanger.
For years, government tolerated the drug trade and associated criminal behaviour because politicians prized any form of economic activity. The billions gained by gangsters percolate through the economy and BC Liberals sold themselves as guarantors of continuing growth. Ethical behaviour mattered nothing to the Clark/Coleman group while political domination and personal opportunity were the preferred outcomes.
Let there be no doubt. Investments, whether from legitimate or criminal sources, are an important part of the BC economy. Proceeds of crime are laundered and moved from the underground with sources disguised. But, it is not only happening at casinos. Law offices and realtors have been implicated and countless retailers supply products that can be resold for clean cash.
As retired police detective Mark Mounce told us on Twitter:
Oh yes. The grey-haired upper echelon learned long ago that cash begets more cash. They’re ruthless, but not dumb
— Mark Mounce (@mcmounce) July 9, 2018
It’s not an accident that Metro Vancouver is the luxury car capital of North America.
Because of budget constraints, policing in British Columbia has been undermanned for years and the lower mainland’s patchwork coverage by RCMP and municipal forces is clearly ineffective. In my opinion, BC needs both regional and provincial police forces, run by officers who live permanently in our communities, not managed by federal politicians and empire builders based in Ottawa or aiming to get there.
Our law enforcement problems go beyond policing.
The underhanded sale of BC Rail sale was never adequately examined after the Campbell government handed over railway assets, including huge tracts of developable lands, in secret dealings with privileged friends.
Corruption of the judicial system was a part of the BC Rail/Basi/Virk affair. Its apparent conclusion involved unprecedented wrongdoing, including the government’s $6+million purchase of a guilty plea. That ended the trial, a move aimed at protecting key BC Liberals.
The large payment and waivers of collateral agreements held against real property contravened government rules then in place. Acts by order-in-council appointees required high-level approvals, including treasury board consent. None are recorded.
In addition, the BC Supreme Court and its partisan leadership closed eyes and pretended not to notice that a cash-for-plea deal had been negotiated. A handpicked judge approved the plea arrangement after incorruptible Justice Elizabeth Bennett was removed through a promotion orchestrated by Liberals. The agreement led to sentence of house arrest, which had so many exceptions, it only required convicted defendants be at home for a few hours after midnight.
But there’s much more.
BC Hydro has so far paid more than $5 billion dollars above market value to independent power projects, some of which had Liberal insiders involved when they originated.
Natural gas producers that once contributed billions to the provincial treasury have almost stopped paying resource rents, because of royalty credit programs and administrative land lease renewals used in place of public tenders. Taxpayer losses measure in the billions of dollars. Many billions.
As an example of another set of issues, Times Colonist reported on land sold below market value to Liberal supporters:
Taxpayers got “hosed” last year when the B.C. government sold 14 parcels of land in Coquitlam to a Liberal donor for $43 million below the appraised value, the NDP alleged Tuesday.
Wesbild Holdings Ltd. purchased the properties on Burke Mountain for $85 million, even though an independent appraiser pegged their value at $128 million.
Sarah Miller wrote about another questionable act, a sweetheart deal government gave a Swiss company that has annual revenues of C$120 billion. For each million litres of fresh water it takes, Nestlé pays British Columbia $2.25. No more need be said about that one.
This week, we learned that between 2007 and 2017, more than $5 million in disability benefits were paid to children injured on the job. As a favour to business contributors, Liberals lowered the work-start age from 15 to 12 years.
Adrienne Montani wrote about one result:
Cory was 13 when he started working doing construction cleanup for up to 35 hours per week. Though the law requires an employer to obtain a letter of permission from a parent before hiring someone under 15, he wasn’t asked for one. He was promised a video game as payment — he never received it. On one occasion he fell through scaffolding and landed one storey below. His boss offered him a beer, which he didn’t drink. He was in pain for about a week. No WorkSafeBC accident report was made.
A culture of “don’t much care” developed among the people responsible for managing public funds and social services. That involved an environment where dishonest and self-serving activities were encouraged while efficient deliveries of programs to ordinary citizens were discouraged.
To alter the existing culture and make improvements, the one-year-old Horgan government must get over its reluctance to hold predecessors to account. The NDP is too worried about vested interests raising complaints. It’s understandable, Liberals and their friends, including many in corporate media, rode the fast ferries horse for two decades.
They also hammered current Health Minister Adrian Dix for almost that long over a backdated memo-to-file, authorship of which led to his resignation from public service. He acknowledged his mistake, offered apologies and took employment outside government. He was still apologizing more than a dozen years later because partisan news people pretended it remained a genuine issue.
In addition to output from Liberal friendly groups like the ICBA, several campaigns were mounted by shadowy astroturf groups pretending to represent “mothers, fathers, retirees… from all parts of BC.” Charlie Smith wrote about the one run by elderly Christy Clark adviser Jim Sheperd, a former CEO of Canfor and Finning.
These groups regularly lied to the public, claiming the province experienced a disastrous economy during NDP administrations in the 1990s. If you doubt that lies were told, read my article, Remembering the desperate nineties. It shows that political opponents paint a different picture than the one shown by Statistics Canada.
Some Liberal activists in media have been saying that a corruption inquiry would take too long and cost too much. These people are from the same organizations that refuse to report on billions of dollars in tax expenditure subsidies taken and accrued by fossil fuel producers in northeast BC. They were also cheerleaders for the private power business and today neglect reporting these bad deals cost ratepayers close to a billion dollars a year.
So, Premier Horgan please be aware that the opposition Lib/Cons and their friends will never offer fair comment or support, even if you cross the water from Sooke to Tideview Point on foot.
Clearly, many of us in BC believe that a Charbonneau style inquiry is necessary to restore honest government. That Quebec inquiry uncovered “widespread and deeply rooted” corruption and made 60 recommendations. Unfortunately, the Liberal Government in Quebec City has been slow to implement changes and has even targeted whistle-blowers who speak of continuing corruption.
What we need now from John Horgan and associates is an inquiry required to make regular interim reports and a final one within two years. Don’t fund it for spin doctors and lawyers paid extravagant fees while they maintain lucrative practices. Focus on experienced accountants and investigators and give them powers to access documents from government and private organizations.
Create a committee of the legislature and hold public hearings. If you must, go back for inspiration to North Carolina Senator Sam Ervin’s work. He helped bring down Joseph McCarthy and later, Richard Nixon. The Watergate Committee investigation didn’t spend tens of millions of dollars and it took only 16 months.
Act now Premier Horgan. The people of BC deserve it.