Opinion

Harper and Prentice Refugees Find Jobs in Clark Government

BC Liberals running 'witness protection program' for ousted political staff.

By Bill Tieleman 22 Mar 2016 | TheTyee.ca

Bill Tieleman is a former NDP strategist whose clients include unions and businesses in the resource and public sector. Tieleman is a regular Tyee contributor who writes a column on B.C. politics every Tuesday in 24 Hours newspaper. E-mail him at weststar@telus.net or visit his blog.

"Conservative: A statesman enamoured of existing evils, as opposed to a Liberal, who wants to replace them with others." -- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary, 1911

Dozens of frightened refugees have been given political asylum by B.C. Premier Christy Clark, after losing all they held dear in their homelands.

But these aren't Syrians or citizens fleeing other beleaguered nations -- they are Conservative staffers from defeated right-wing governments in Ottawa and Alberta who have found a welcoming home with the BC Liberals.

Clark is providing the political equivalent of a witness protection program for political staff who lost their jobs after the Conservative governments of Stephen Harper and former Alberta premier Jim Prentice were rejected by voters.

Clark is relocating the operatives and offering them the chance to shift their ideological identities from Conservative to BC Liberal.

In the process, she risks upsetting the balance her party has achieved by uniting federal Conservatives and centre-right federal Liberals.

And Clark risks alienating new Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as he sees the Harper hatchetmen and women who trashed him now working on her team.

How smart is it to risk offending Trudeau's team, the people deciding how much federal infrastructure money will come B.C.'s way? Clark may find out in today's federal budget. But in any case, her Harperization of the BC Liberals is already well underway.

Pacific Political Report, a subscription-only magazine published by conservative political observers Will McMartin and Kristy Fredericks, broke the story in December when it reported on the first of a long list of Conservative staffers from Ottawa and Alberta named to key positions in Clark's government.

Among them:

Sebastien Togneri: The former aide to ex-Conservative public works minister Christian Paradis was the centre of controversy and forced to resign after The Canadian Press reported he ordered a media freedom of information request "unreleased." Togneri was investigated by the federal information commissioner, who found he had interfered in several access to information files without any legal authority.

Togneri was again the focus of unwanted attention when he was found to be working on the 2011 federal Conservative campaign in Alberta while still under investigation by the RCMP in connection with the FOI request. Togneri was dumped from the campaign; the RCMP investigation ultimately found no charges were warranted.

Togneri was executive assistant to B.C. Energy Minister Bill Bennett as recently as December, but is now working in Morocco doing "political party training" for the International Republican Institute, a non-profit chaired by U.S. Sen. John McCain, the former U.S. Republican Party presidential nominee. The IRI slogan is "Advancing Democracy Worldwide."

Vanessa Schneider: An ex-staffer for federal Conservative cabinet ministers Gary Lunn and Denis Lebel and also an ex-Fraser Institute staffer, Schneider is now communications director for Peter Fassbender's provincial ministry of community, sport, cultural development and TransLink.

Jay Denney: The ex-communications director for federal Treasury Board minister Stockwell Day is now chief of staff to B.C. International Trade Minister Teresa Wat.

Nick Koolsbergen: Harper's former issues management director drew attention when he started monitoring Senator Mike Duffy's trial during the August federal election campaign and Harper faced questions about whether Koolsbergen had acted improperly after he was spotted talking to a witness.

"Look, these are matters before the court and we don't interfere in them," Harper told CTV, while a Conservative campaign worker stated that "Mr. Koolsbergen was there to take notes, just like everyone else."

Now Koolsbergen is executive director of the BC Liberal government's corporate priorities and communications operations office -- in other words, part of the spin machine.

Rosa Ellithorpe: The former caucus director for the Alberta Conservatives is now research director for the BC Liberal caucus.

Emily Woods: Jim Prentice's former $133,000-a-year press secretary was appointed executive director, communications operations in the advanced education ministry last year.

Those are just a few of the political refugees who have found not just shelter, but highly paid jobs with the BC Liberal government.

Others with strong Conservative backgrounds now working in the B.C. government include Derek Cummings; Josh Stewart; Kent Verge; Bill Anderson; Martyn Lafrance; Jessica Faddegon; Zoe Kierstad; Nathan Clark; Carter Mann and Anish Dwived.

These political refugees also have a mission, and it's decidedly partisan.

As Pacific Political Report put it: "Much -- if not all -- of their work over the next year will be to help the Clark government and the BC Liberals prepare to win re-election in May 2017."

So if you heaved a giant sigh of relief at the defeat of the Harper Conservatives and the forced retirement of their right-wing crew, think again.

Because the only former Conservatives not working in the BC Liberal government appear to be those who haven't yet applied for a job.

PS: Only in B.C., you say? Last week I noted in a column about integrity that BC Liberal Party executive director Laura Miller had resigned in December after police laid breach of trust and mischief charges against her related to her previous role in the Ontario Liberal government. Police allege she was involved in deleting emails related to a scandal involving a decision to scrap two gas-fired power plants.

Last week the BC Liberals reinstated Miller, with Clark saying she has "a right to employment just like most other people do when we consider them to be innocent."

Miller said her legal defence plan is in place and she's ready to rejoin the BC Liberal Party.

"I'm now in a place to return to work and get busy on leading our strong and determined team as we build our 2017 campaign."

And so it goes in B.C.  [Tyee]

Read more: Politics, BC Politics,

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