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News

Education Minister's Top Aide Made Lucrative Jump to Lobbyist During Teachers' Strike

Fassbender's aide began direct-award consulting contract days after leaving minister's office.

By Bob Mackin 29 Jun 2016 | TheTyee.ca

North Vancouver-based journalist Bob Mackin, a regular contributor to The Tyee, has reported for local, regional, national and international media outlets since 1990. Find his Tyee articles here.

While British Columbian teachers were on strike in the summer of 2014, BC Liberal staffer Matthew Stickney made a lucrative career move.

Until the end of July, Stickney was Education Minister Peter Fassbender's $72,000-a-year chief of staff, involved in the government's strike strategy.

He resigned, and days later was working for a lobbying company under a no-bid contract to advise the government on "strategic communications, stakeholder relations and bargaining strategy" related to the teachers' dispute.

Documents released under Freedom of Information show Stickney quit Fassbender's office and became an associate vice-president with FleishmanHillard. He billed the government $19,230 in August and September 2014.

Stickney was the only person listed in the contract, which had a term of Aug. 5 to Sept. 30, 2014. It was signed Aug. 26, 2014.

Stickney's billings were equal to $2,415 a week during the period -- 74 per cent more than his pay as Fassbender's top aide.

After on-again, off-again mediated talks, the government and BC Teachers' Federation announced a new six-year deal on Sept. 16. It is not known what services Stickney provided. Only two invoice emails he sent were released under the FOI request.

IntegrityBC executive director Dermod Travis said Stickney's sudden jump from political staffer to consultant and lobbyist sends the wrong message.

"The message that it's sending is that of expressway tickets to six-figure salaries in private industries," he said. "To work in a minister's office and do good service to a minister for a couple of weeks, months or years and then hit the jackpot."

Contract awarded without an open competition

The contract background documents say Stickney's deal was considered a contract "Negotiated and directly awarded without competitive process because the ministry believes but cannot strictly prove that only one contractor is qualified and a notice of intent is posted."

Procurement rules require posting notices of intent to award contracts directly if they are worth $50,000 or more. Government rules only "recommend" posting a notice if the job is $25,000 and up and Stickney's $24,000 contract was not covered by the policy. The payment was also not disclosed in the annual public accounts spending list, which excludes payments below $25,000.

Stickney did not respond to requests for comment. He was hired in December as chief of staff to Delta MP and federal Liberal sport minister Carla Qualtrough. Stickney was a BC Liberal ministerial aide for three years, the last under Fassbender.

FleishmanHillard's Vancouver branch general manager Mark Reder would not talk about the contract or Stickney's assignment.

"That's something for the client to discuss," said Reder, who is active in the BC Liberals' West Vancouver riding association, a party donor and a government appointee to chair the Transit Police Board.

Almost a year before Stickney's transition, Gabe Garfinkel quit his job as Premier Christy Clark's executive assistant and became a FleishmanHillard associate vice-president the next month.

Reder refused to answer questions about the company's hiring strategies. "I'm not going to talk about that, the qualifications and the work people do is really our business," he said.

British Columbia has no law requiring a cooling-off period for provincial politicians and bureaucrats before they switch careers and become lobbyists.

"It's one more example of a revolving door between the B.C. government and lobbyists," said NDP critic George Heyman. "The question arises when Mr. Stickney takes a contract through a lobbying company to provide policy advice to the Ministry of Education -- is he working for the people of B.C., is he working in the interests of the lobbyists? Exactly whose interests is he working in?"

While at FleishmanHillard, Stickney's lobbying clients included Information Services Corp., Port of Vancouver, BC Pharmacy Association, First West Credit Union, Ripe Rides, the Digital Media and Wireless Association of BC and David Borins Law Corp.

A request to interview Fassbender was refused by chief of staff Joan Dick. Dick, a BC Liberal ministerial aide since 2001, is the mother of Carling Dick, who was registered to lobby for Uber between Feb. 23, 2015 and Jan. 28, 2016. Fassbender assumed responsibility for negotiating with the controversial car-sharing app in January.  [Tyee]

Read more: BC Politics

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