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BC political consultant worked for controversial Ukrainian party

VICTORIA – Former New Democratic Party consultant Brad Zubyk's work for the NDP-hating Independent Contractors and Businesses Association is drawing criticism from past allies, but he's had at least one more controversial client—on the other side of the world.

“I am extremely disappointed with Brad's strange political trip to the right,” wrote Bill Tieleman on his blog. A political consultant and pundit who writes for 24 Hours and The Tyee, Tieleman worked with Zubyk in the 1990s through the NDP.

At immediate issue was Zubyk's work for the ICBA, which ran attack ads ahead of the May 12 election aimed at discrediting the NDP, but Tieleman also made a list of transgressions including Zubyk's work for federal Liberal candidates and his testimony in support of Bill 42, the government's so-called 'gag law' on election advertising.

Unmentioned, however, was Zubyk's work for Viktor Yanukovych's Party of Regions in the 2007 election in Ukraine.

Three years earlier, the 2004 Ukraine campaign had seen then prime minister Yanukovych's chief opponent Viktor Yushchenko banned from television, accused of being a 'Nazi' and allegedly poisoned with dioxin. Allegations of electoral fraud led to two weeks of massive street protests, the Orange Revolution, garnering much international media attention.

In a re-vote, Yuschenko defeated Yanukovych to become president.

The election Zubyk worked on in 2007 for Yanukovych's party was much cleaner, Zubyk said. “The election after everybody got a clean bill of health by an army of election observers,” he said. “They're developing democracy.”

As an outsider working on an election, he said, you really just want to see things go smoothly. “That's good for the country as a whole.”

He has also done democracy-building work in Indonesia through a non-partisan agency, he said.

“The thing about it is we all have to make a living,” said Kit Spence, a political campaigner and consultant who says he recruited Zubyk to work with him on the Ukraine contract. Their work was with local politicians, he said, not the party leaders. “Brad has to work with whomever's going to pay him in some ways.”

(Spence, by the way, said he is seeking the nomination to be the federal Liberal candidate for Saanich-Gulf Islands in the next election. He managed Briony Penn's 2008 campaign, but she recently announced a decision not to run again. "I've always been more interested in being a front-room person," he said. "Someone's got to do the backroom stuff, so I do it.")

Domestically, Zubyk said, his politics are pretty simple. “My instinct is centrist and moderate,” he said. He's a federal Liberal and that's where he spends most of his volunteer political time, he said. He helped on Gregor Robertson's Vision Vancouver municipal campaign because he liked where it was going, he said.

Provincially, Zubyk was involved in the NDP under Mike Harcourt's leadership. Now, he said, “I'm not that involved with any party in B.C..”

He stands by his Bill 42 testimony. “My belief is money creates problems and limits should be put on it,” he said. Spending limits should apply to candidates, parties, and third parties, he said.

He testified that a strong campaign could be run for $150,000, which is what led to the work from the ICBA. A Canadian Federation of Students local and other groups also hired him, he said.

None of it was to “dig deep” or develop campaign messages, he said. “Most of it is more nuts and bolts,” he said. He did things like help clients figure out where and when to run their ads, he said. “That's who I am. I run a communications business.”

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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