Opinion

Christy Clark’s World of ‘Alternative Facts’

Consider today’s throne speech promises in light of the premier’s past prevarications.

By Bill Tieleman 14 Feb 2017 | 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.

“Prevaricate: to speak or act falsely or evasively with intent to deceive, from Latin praevaricari — to walk crookedly.” — Collins English Dictionary

Today the BC Liberals deliver their throne speech and the big question is how much Premier Christy Clark will prevaricate in pre-election promises, using Donald Trump-style “alternative facts.”

I kindly say prevaricate in the spirit of the legislature’s rules, which include Standing Order 40 forbidding the word “lie” from being used by any MLA about another member.

But after Clark was caught last week falsely claiming the BC New Democrat opposition hacked the Liberals’ website and was forced to apologize, what else will she say to get elected?

There are many other recent examples where the premier was “a stranger to the truth,” to be politely parliamentary.

And in a time when Trump’s special advisor Kellyanne Conway can smilingly claim press secretary Sean Spicer didn’t lie but was merely providing “alternative facts” — that were outright falsehoods — about how many people attended the presidential inauguration, B.C. voters should be extra suspicious about pledges from Clark, and all politicians.

The Throne Speech is Clark’s last big chance to offer voters goodies if they re-elect her. My sources indicate there could be everything from a personal tax cut to increases in disability benefits — remember last year’s transit pass clawback?— and social assistance, more money for roads, schools and hospitals and a plan to eventually eliminate the unfair Medical Services Plan premiums — something every other province has done long ago.

Can you believe Christy Clark’s claims? You judge.

On top of wrongly accusing the NDP of computer hacking the Liberal website looking for data, when it was independent MLA Vicki Huntington whose staff discovered private citizen’s information was available on unprotected sections of the website, Clark has a habit of making stuff up.

In last fall’s BC Liberal TV ads, Clark said “Controlling government spending is really the foundation, is the bedrock of what we’re trying to do.”

That’s alternative facts at work. Under Clark, capital debt is up dramatically from $45.2 billion in 2011, when she became premier, to $65.3 billion in 2016 — a 45 per cent increase in only five years. By 2019 it is expected to reach $72 billion. Nice control!

There’s this ridiculous November Clark nose stretcher.

“We are finding fentanyl in marijuana,” Clark told media in November. “Vancouver Police did a major seizure. They found cocaine with fentanyl, heroin with fentanyl, methamphetamine with fentanyl and marijuana with fentanyl and so one of my concerns with marijuana has always been that people don’t know what they are getting in their product.”

Wrong again. The Vancouver Police Department, the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, the Ministry of Health and the BC Coroners Service all dismissed Clark’s preposterous pot claims.

“I can tell you the VPD has not seized marijuana that has been tested and shown to be laced with fentanyl,” police spokesperson Constable Brian Montague said politely in response to Clark’s completely unsubstantiated statement.

And in September, Clark crowed to a BC Liberal crowd that her “welfare to work” program was a stunning success.

“So far 3,350 single parents, 91 per cent women, are finding their way through our doors, off welfare and into a job,” she said.

The truth? Fewer than 500 women had found employment. Even a government news release was more accurate than Clark: “Since September 2015, the Single Parent Employment Initiative has served nearly 3,400 single parents. About 400 people are currently in training programs, nearly 500 participants have already found employment and others are working with a case manager to best determine their future career path.”

There’s 2015’s triple delete scandal, when the Information and Privacy Commissioner found that Clark’s own deputy chief of staff, Michele Cadario, had been engaged in the “permanent deletion of almost all emails she sent in the course of her work,” breaking laws that require retaining such records. Other senior staff were also triple deleting, which frustrates any Freedom Of Information request from media, opposition MLAs or the public and hides the information from any future investigations of government’s actions.

Then-commissioner Elizabeth Denham’s report Access Denied stated that Cadario “has not personally retained a single email she has ever sent from her government email address.”

But Clark’s response was to ignore the facts. “I do think that everyone was trying to operate within the [Freedom Of Information and Protection of Privacy] Act,” she said. Cadario remains Clark’s trusted deputy — undisciplined despite the commissioner’s findings.

Cadario “has said her interpretation of the act is different,” Clark claimed.

Even on a matter like a national park — a federal issue — Clark just can’t help floating fictitious facts, in this case using them to justify her intervention to try to block the proposed park.

In an Osoyoos Times story headlined “Survey cited by premier on national park doesn’t exist,” the newspaper reports Clark claimed in a television interview in July that most residents did not support a proposed national park in the South Okanagan — and that surveys backed her position.

“Well what we heard... a majority of people did not want a national park there,” Clark told Global Okanagan anchor Rick Webber.

“But the survey showed a majority did,” Webber replied, referring to a McAllister Opinion Research poll from April 2015 that actually showed three-to-one support for a national park among residents of Boundary-Similkameen and three quarters support in Penticton.

“Well, there’s competing surveys,” Clark said with a laugh. “I mean, that’s the challenge for us.”

But the Osoyoos Times filed a Freedom Of Information request looking for the competing surveys or polling that Clark referred to — and they simply don’t exist.

“Although a thorough search was conducted, no records were located in response to your request,” the paper was told by Cindy Elbahir, a manager of information access for the government.

The Premier’s Office was left to do damage control, with little success:

“Premier Clark’s comments were referring to the extensive amount of community consultation, dialogue, media commentary, and public feedback on the South Okanagan National Park proposal that has taken place over the past few years,” its statement said. “Her comment was not intended to suggest government was relying on a single survey or poll to guide its actions on this issue.”

And then the mother of all whoppers: Clark’s promise in the 2013 election campaign that the liquefied natural gas industry would create 100,000 jobs, $1 trillion in economic activity and a $100 billion “Prosperity Fund.”

“It’s no fantasy,” the BC Liberal platform even promised, saying “The government has set a goal of at least three LNG facilities online by 2020.”

No fantasy? How about fanciful fabrication? Or complete #FAIL? Because there are no LNG plants, no final investment decisions by companies to build them outside the small Woodfibre plant in Squamish and no 100,000 jobs or billions of dollars for B.C.

So when it comes the B.C. throne speech today, remember Premier Clark’s penchant for promises that are prevarications — alternative facts that fail to materialize.  [Tyee]

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