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BC Libs Drove on with Fundraisers during Teachers' Strike

While school system was paralyzed, Clark's team went golfing for dollars.

By Andrew MacLeod 22 Sep 2014 | TheTyee.ca

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

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Premier Clark: one of her BC Liberal party's golf tourneys sold hole sponsorships to Woodfibre LNG, Teck, Innergex, Ledcor, CN Rail, Canada's National Brewers, the New Car Dealers, Encana, Progressive Waste, Molson Coors, TransCanada, White Spot, Rogers, Borealis, the Vancouver Giants hockey team, the Alliance of Beverage Licensees, Coast Capital and accounting firm MNP.

The tense dispute with British Columbia teachers did not appear to slow down the BC Liberal Party's fundraising efforts, including the opportunity for a foursome to pay $4,000 to golf with Premier Christy Clark.

The Sept. 18 party fundraiser at Predator Ridge Resort outside Vernon was billed as a golf tournament with BC Liberal leader and Premier Clark, but party officials last week declined to say whether the premier would be there or ever planned to attend.

Agriculture Minister and Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick was the advertised host. "Norm is and always was the host of the event given that it's in his riding," said party spokesperson Jillian Stead in an email. "As for the premier's availability, it's not my place [to] discuss that."

Nor did a spokesperson for the premier's office respond to a message asking whether she would be in the Okanagan last Thursday. The tournament did not appear on the events section of the party's website, which BC Liberal event planner Kirsten Hamilton said is normal for an event that sold out long ago.

The tournament did, however, get a listing on the Golf for B.C. website, which Go Daddy says is registered to Letnick. There it is described as the "Interior Leaders Golf Invitational."

The site, which says the tournament is presented by the company Progressive Waste Solutions, pitches, "Join British Columbia Premier Christy Clark and B.C. ministers and MLAs in a social gathering which includes world class golf!"

The $4,000 per foursome entry fee included minister and MLA caddies, green fees, golf carts, award banquet admission and a $400 credit towards either accommodation at Predator Ridge or extra tickets for dinner guests.

Poor optics

It is unclear why party officials would be cagey about Clark's headlining role at the tournament, but another source suggested the party likely decided to downplay the event -- by removing it from the website and distancing the premier from it -- to avoid the poor optics of holding a high-priced event while locked in a bitter dispute that had some 45,000 teachers on strike and 550,000 students missing school.

The government's focus on fundraisers during the months-long stand-off won the notice of at least some teachers. A crowdsourcing campaign on the GoFundMe website raised over $1,000 to buy a table at a Maple Ridge dinner with senior cabinet ministers Mike de Jong and Rich Coleman, plus Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows MLA Doug Bing. "While B.C. students are still not in classes the BC Liberals are having yet another golf course fundraiser," said the pitch which achieved its goal by Sept. 12. "Since MLAs and Liberal party members refuse to meet with us to discuss the future of education, we are seeking help to buy a table at the fundraiser to make our voices heard face to face."

Five teachers planned to attend, with three seats left to distribute in a draw for donors, it said. "You can rest assured that the [five] angry teachers who are planning to attend will be happy to share any and all of your valuable concerns with our most trusted leaders."

The strike closed schools for two weeks in June and three weeks in September. Over the summer very little negotiating happened, which BCTF president Jim Iker attributed to the government's unwillingness to come to the table.

The BCTF and the government announced Sept. 16 they'd reached a tentative agreement, and the BCTF ratified it on Sept. 18, paving the way for class to open today.

Aside from the strike, the rise of such high price events is itself a problem, said Dermod Travis, the executive director of IntegrityBC. The group advocates for stronger relationships between citizens and their elected representatives.

In June, Travis drew attention to a $5,000-a-plate dinner with Premier Clark for 21 select guests. The invitation promised, "There will be a generous opportunity to meet and speak personally with the premier, followed by dinner, remarks from the premier and your questions to her."

"We're not talking about political fundraising anymore," said Travis. "We're talking about buying access."

People who pay high ticket prices for dinners or golf tournaments are likely doing so because of who will be there, he said, adding they may have business before the government and the small numbers give them the best chance of having their pitch heard.

Too cozy, no transparency

"It becomes too cozy," said Travis, who noted it can be difficult for people or organizations who can't pay the entrance price to get time with the premier or cabinet minister. "It becomes an incestuous relationship where you have lobbyists with files before the government organizing fundraisers for the party that's in power and selling tickets to their clients."

Everyone in the triangle has to keep everyone else in the relationship happy for it to continue, he said. "That's the core of the problem."

Also, there's no transparency, Travis added, saying a step in the right direction would require parties to disclose who attends their events and to publicize when they happen. That would allow people to cross reference the attendance with the lobbyists' registry to develop some idea of what the attendees might be seeking from the government, he said.

Described as the second annual tournament at Predator Ridge with Clark, the event is one of the party's major fundraisers. Last September's Leader's Open Golf Tournament grossed $218,790, an amount that included more than $140,000 contributed by sponsors, according to the BC Liberal Party's annual financial report. A separate B.C. Interior Golf tournament, held a day earlier, grossed $263,000.

According to documents obtained by The Tyee's Katie Hyslop, one recent BC Liberal golf tournament included holes sponsored by Woodfibre LNG, Teck, Innergex, Ledcor, CN Rail, Canada's National Brewers, the New Car Dealers, Encana, Progressive Waste, Molson Coors, TransCanada, White Spot, Rogers, Borealis, the Vancouver Giants hockey team, the Alliance of Beverage Licensees, Coast Capital and accounting firm MNP.

Of the 102 fundraising events included in the 2013 annual report, the golf tournaments were among the largest earners, not far behind an event held at the Vancouver Convention Centre a month before the May provincial election which netted the party almost $500,000. The Resource Dinner held in October raised another $316,000.

For 2014, a steady stream of fundraising events appear on the party's website, including 10 events held in June, the month the strike closed schools for two weeks. There were three events scheduled in each of July and August, five in September not including Clark's tournament in Vernon, six in October and two in December.

Unlike the Predator Ridge event, others include details such as ticket price and whether the premier will be present. For example, on Sept. 30 there will be a $1,000-a-plate dinner at the home of Lorne and Melita Segal in the Southlands area of Vancouver. Premier Clark is booked to attend the event, the party's website says, which is a fundraiser for the Vancouver-Quilchena riding association, hosted by the local MLA Andrew Wilkinson.

"This event offers you a unique opportunity to meet the premier and many of her cabinet colleagues," according to the website. Dress is "business casual" and the dinner will be limited to 100 guests.  [Tyee]

Read more: BC Politics

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