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BC Election 2017
BC Politics

Alberni Councillor Wants Answers on Water Bomber Contracts

Biggest Liberal donor got biggest payouts from government.

Jeremy Nuttall 4 May

Jeremy J. Nuttall is The Tyee’s Parliament Hill reporter in Ottawa, now back in B.C. covering the 2017 election.

This report is part of The Tyee’s reader-funded B.C. 2017 election coverage. To learn more about becoming a Tyee Builder, go here.

The biggest BC Liberal donor has also received the largest share of government contracts for wildfire-fighting water bomber services, and a Port Alberni councillor wants to know why.

Abbotsford-based Conair has donated $100,000 to the BC Liberals since 2005. The company has been paid $78 million by the government over the last five years, according to transfers recorded in the province’s public accounts.

Its competitor, Port Alberni-based Coulson Aviation, which operates the famed Hawaii Mars bomber, has contributed $11,950 to the Liberals and $6,350 to the NDP and been paid $6.7 million.

Another company, Alberta’s Air Spray has made no donations and received $39 million for work fighting wildfires.

Port Alberni councillor Chris Alemany worries the government is applying a pay-to-play approach when operating the province’s water bombing regime.

“To make a bad pun, I think there’s smoke there,” he said. “The hope is whether we can get to the bottom of it to see if there’s fire.”

Alemany has been using freedom of information requests to investigate the contracting. That was difficult, he said, as the government fought to keep some information secret.

That raised suspicions and led him to call for a full investigation into the contracts, Alemany said.

“Is the firefighting strategy being tailored to a company that is donating to the BC Liberal Party rather than being perhaps tailored to cost effectiveness or the best way to fight a forest fire?” asked Alemany. “The evidence from that would only be able to come from some sort of real investigation into how fires in the past have been fought.”

The Alberni Valley Times reported in 2014 that Jeff Berry, who had worked in the government’s forestry service for 36 years and headed the water bomber program, had been hired as Conair’s director of business development, a post he continues to hold.  [Tyee]

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