Opinion

98 BC Liberal Falsehoods, Boondoggles and Scandals: The Campbell Era 45

Part one of 15 years of public messes, sourced and explained. If we forgot any, please remind us.

By David Beers, Tom Barrett and Tyee Staff and Contributors 3 Apr 2017 | TheTyee.ca

David Beers is founding editor of The Tyee and Tom Barrett is a long time contributor to The Tyee and before that covered B.C. politics for the Vancouver Sun. Grateful thanks to other members of the Tyee community who assisted in compiling this list and checking its accuracy.

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.

THIS LIST HAS BEEN UPDATED AND COMBINED WITH THE CAMPBELL ERA RECORD. TO READ THE FULL TALLY CLICK HERE.

[Editor's note: Pipelines? Tax cuts? A free-range organic chicken in every pot? Elections are a great time to argue about policy options. Something all voters can agree on, however, is they’d prefer their government tell the truth, spend money responsibly, and avoid embarrassing breaches of ethics or the law. In B.C., one party has been in power for 15 years, more than enough time to reveal its proclivities. As an aid to voters, therefore, The Tyee researched the BC Liberal government’s record regarding falsehoods, boondoggles and scandals. We tallied 98 items and now invite readers to suggest more.

Some definitions are in order: By falsehood we mean promises broken or assertions that proved demonstrably untrue. By boondoggle we mean significant public money lost to waste, overruns, or ill-conceived initiatives. And by scandal we mean moments when government was revealed to have seriously broken rules or caused harm either deliberately or through neglect or incompetence. So please comb our list, and if you think we’ve missed one or two BC Liberal falsehoods, boondoggles or scandals over the years, drop us a note at editor@thetyee.ca with the subject line: “Add this to the list.”

Today we begin with the years when Gordon Campbell was BC Liberal premier, from 2001 to 2010. Tomorrow we finish with the era of his successor Christy Clark, 2011 to now. Along the way we’ve tossed in a few sidebar items that don’t quite match any of our three categories, but did cause our eyes to roll. Do send items we may have missed. We promise to add any that fit our definitions. Next Monday we’ll then publish the entire list, spanning 2001 to today. So read closely and rack your memory. With your help we might end up topping 100.]

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FALSEHOOD: Premier Misled Public on NDP Finances

Incoming premier Gordon Campbell misled British Columbians when he claimed the NDP had left his government financially in the hole. In fact, documents The Tyee’s Will McMartin gained through a freedom of info request showed the NDP had left a $1.5-billion surplus, a figure eventually confirmed by B.C.’s auditor general. Campbell handpicked a panel that tied itself in knots to project a “structural deficit” three years on, but before the report was done the BC Liberals announced deep tax cuts that, when the economy dove, wiped out the surplus.

SCANDAL: Toddler’s Death Tied to Deep Ministry Cuts

An independent review launched after the 2002 killing of 19-month-old Sherry Charlie in foster care blasted the BC Liberal government for “wrong” cuts to Ministry of Children and Family Development that “took the knife too far.” Improperly trained social workers failed to prevent the placement of the toddler with her uncle, who had a lengthy criminal record, before he beat her to death. The coroner’s inquest into her death criticized the government for closing the Children’s Commissioner. The subsequent independent review, headed by retired judge Ted Hughes, urged a new independent advocacy and oversight body, the Representative for Children and Youth, among 62 other recommendations to safeguard children in provincial care. The BC Liberals followed by crafting a bill to hide future such inquiries’ recommendations from the public.

SCANDAL: Cuts Create Huge Backlog of Child Death Files

When the BC Liberals closed the Children’s Commission to cut costs in 2002, hundreds of child death files were accidentally left unexamined for patterns that might prevent further deaths. The BC Coroner Service tried to take over the chore, eventually finding and reviewing more than 700 files that had slipped through the cracks. Whistleblowing forensic experts who helped expose the mess assembled a detailed case the coroner’s service was dangerously underfunded, which the minister in charge dismissed.

BOONDOGGLE: Illegally Ripping up Teachers’ Contracts Set off 15 Years of Upheaval

The BC Liberal government tore up a contract with the province’s teachers allowing them to bargain size and composition of classes, touching off a 15-year dispute that included strikes and legal fights all the way to Canada’s Supreme Court. The teachers won, but a generation of students were shortchanged as government evaded spending billions on more teachers. When the dust cleared, taxpayers got stuck with $2.6 million in lawyers’ bills.

BOONDOGGLE: Nixed Health Contracts Caused Misery, Broke Charter

The Campbell government violated Charter rights when it killed health union contracts it inherited in 2002, ruled Canada’s Supreme Court in 2007. But not before those cuts caused suffering for patients. A probe into grim conditions in a Victoria senior home, for example, blamed disruptions caused by contracting out care jobs. The illegal law hurt unions but likely created slim if any savings for taxpayers.

SCANDAL: Premier Jailed for Drunk Driving

Nabbed for weaving down a Hawaiian highway way over the blood alcohol limit, Gordon Campbell pled no contest, apologized, but refused to resign. A year later his government explored softening B.C.’s drunk driving laws, but backed off when the public caught wind.

FALSEHOOD: BC Liberals Promised Not to Sell BC Rail, then Did

Running in 2001, the BC Liberals promised to “not sell or privatize BC Rail.” Once elected, that’s just what they did, to Canadian National Railway for $1 billion. “Did we break that promise?” offered a BC Liberal MLA. “Yes we did, plain and simple.”

SCANDAL: Police Raid Legislature, BC Lib Staffers Bribed

A byzantine probe into corruption in the sale of BC Rail by the BC Liberal government began with Mounties raiding the B.C. legislature in 2003 and ended with 2010 guilty pleas by two ministerial aides. Dave Basi and Bob Virk admitted to giving insider information to bidders on the $1-billion deal in exchange for benefits. They received house arrest for two years, and Basi a $75,600 fine. In vain, the NDP demanded a public inquiry.

FALSEHOOD: Mirage Tax Cuts for Middle-Class

Gordon Campbell never mentioned tax breaks for the rich when seeking to topple the NDP in 2001, just pledging them for the middle-class on down. But days after taking office he gave every citizen the same 25 per cent tax cut. A few years later only the well off were benefiting because, for everyone else, the cuts had been eaten up by increases in various taxes and fees.

SCANDAL: Fraudster Given Big Contracts, Key Post

The BC Liberal Ministry of Children and Family Development improperly awarded $300,000 in contracts to Doug Walls, a former BC Liberal riding president related by marriage to Gordon Campbell, and wrote off a $1.2-million debt to a society Walls controlled. Despite warnings Walls likely committed fraud in a bankrupted business, to which he’d eventually plead guilty, the ministry put him in charge of $500-million Community Living B.C. After the story broke the minister in charge resigned, was eventually cleared and returned to cabinet. His deputy was fired.

BOONDOGGLE: Privatized Welfare to Jobs Program a Bust

A BC Liberal government report revealed outsourcing job training for unemployed people on government support lost taxpayers millions, and contractors’ success level was barely better than if the poor sought work on their own.

BOONDOGGLE: BC Paid Germans $542 Million for Faulty, Fuel Hungry Ferries

Rather than invest in B.C.’s own shipyards, the BC Liberal government awarded a $542-million contract to a German firm to build three superclass ferries, arguing it was the right deal, period. But once delivered, the ships had major problems including noise, high fuel consumption and vibrations that kept the ferry company from putting them into full service. Supposed to save BC Ferries fuel, the German vessels guzzled much more than similar sized ferries on the same routes.

FALSEHOOD: Nixed Pledge Not to Expand Gambling

BC Liberals promised voters in 2001 they would not expand gambling in the province, but the next year, leaked letters showed, minister Rich Coleman was already backing off that stance. By 2005 the government was allowing a massive increase of slot machines in casinos and pushing to stock bingo halls with electronic slot machines an expert termed “highly deceptive.”

SCANDAL: Soliciting Illegal Donations, BC Liberals Dupe Town Officials

BC Liberals illegally solicited campaign funds from municipalities, including Kitimat, where officials say they were misled into giving, thinking the money was for a government forum. After The Tyee’s report a BC Liberal official quickly resigned and other news media turned up further donation illegalities by the party.

SCANDAL: Farmworkers Deaths Tied to Safety Loophole, Cuts

The 2007 deaths of three immigrant farmworkers in a van crash likely would not have happened if the BC Liberal government had closed a seatbelt safety loophole. And the tragedy shed light on deep cuts to farm worker safeguards. As the CBC reported: “In 2001, the newly elected Liberal government did away with a program that routinely inspected the vans. Since then, four people have died and more than 30 have been injured in accidents involving the transportation of farm workers in B.C.”

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The ‘Golden Tree’ by artists Dean and Christina Lauzé in Abbotsford, BC, now stands as the first memorial in Canada recognizing seasonal farmworkers – in particular those who died in the 2007 tragedy. Photo by David P. Ball.

FALSEHOOD: Promised Toddler Death Reforms Abandoned

Four years after toddler Sherry Charlie was beaten to death by the relative the province had entrusted to care for her, the resulting Hughes Review of the foster care system urged dozens of reforms that the BC Liberal government pledged to adopt. But just a year later, in 2007, those reform promises were dismissed by the Ministry of Children and Family Development’s top bureaucrat, who wrote that “the recommendations were not possible to achieve.” The ministry’s approach was “strongly influenced” by the Hughes Review, the bureaucrat stated, but it won’t “be used as a blueprint for transformation.” Two years later investigative reporter Sean Holman concluded the children’s ministry “never got fixed” and four years after that, in 2013, the Tyee ran a special investigation headlined: “Near Daily, a Child Is Hurt or Dies in Care of Province.”

BOONDOGGLE: Hired Big Pharma Advisors Urge Defunding Saver of Lives

B.C.’s independent Therapeutics Initiative reviewed medicines used by Pharmacare, saving, in just one case, an estimated 600 lives and $500 million by blocking a bad drug. But a task force BC Liberals stacked with drug firm reps recommended killing the watchdog. The chief of the task force eventually landed a post with Pfizer Global. Therapeutics Initiative did later see its funding pulled for a year but restored after public pressure.

BOONDOGGLE: Feds Threw in with Fake ‘Green’ Mega-Project

When the Harper government gave B.C. $200 million for green efforts, the BC Liberals opted to pour most of it into a mega-project British Columbians also were bankrolling, the Northwest Transmission Line. Billed as an alternative to dirty diesel generators in a few small communities along Highway 37, the massive costs for such a small fix didn’t add up until critics pointed out the line was really a huge subsidy to proposed polluting mines with big electricity needs. How huge? Original estimates nearly doubled, soaring to $736 million.

SCANDAL: Pioneer of Privatized Welfare-to-Work Training Disgraced, Fired

JobWave was fired in the Interior by the province after a 2007 probe found the firm falsely billed, padded fees and fudged results. JobWave had been among the first hired by the BC Liberal government to privatize job training for the poor. Despite the disaster, one JobWave insider was selected a 2009 Liberal MLA candidate, and lost.

BOONDOGGLE: $90-Million Hydrogen Buses a Failed Greenwash

For the 2010 Olympics BC Liberals purchased 20 hydrogen powered buses costing roughly $4.5 million each. The total could have paid for 120 hybrid diesel-electric busses with lower maintenance costs and overall emissions. After breaking down a bunch, they were scrapped for diesels.

FALSEHOOD: Promise to Protect Elk in Big Timber Deal Wasn’t True

When forest minister Rich Coleman released more than 28,000 hectares of private timber land owned by Western Forest Products to become suburbs, his brother was high up in the corporation. Both denied a conflict. The auditor general found the decision went ahead without sufficiently considering the public interest. And after minister Coleman pledged elk habitat would be protected, the government excused the company from doing so.

SCANDAL: Libs Deregulated Private Schools, Students Ripped Off

A government report found B.C.’s billion-dollar education industry had its global reputation tarnished by schools that oversold their credentials or left students in the lurch. The BC Liberals had killed government oversight that could have prevented the misery, rolling the dice instead on “self-regulation.”

BOONDOGGLE: BC Ferries Revamp Inflicted ‘Hardship’ on Customers

In 2003 the BC Liberals turned BC Ferries from a Crown corporation into a private, taxpayer subsidized company with an American CEO. This was supposed to make for less financial drama and happier customers. It’s been the opposite ever since, given a spiral of hiked fares suppressed ridership, debt grew to billions, and ferry dependent communities suffered significant hardship,” a commission found. That American CEO was overpaid at $1 million a year, deduced B.C.’s comptroller general, to which the CEO replied with words like “nonsense,” “craziness” and “dumb.” Ungrateful, given the premier had recently chucked an extra $20-million taxpayer subsidy at BC Ferries to quell citizen anger a bit by cutting fares for just two months.

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BC Ferries is now a private, taxpayer-subsidized company thanks to the BC Liberals. Photo by Judy B – The Travelling Eye in Your BC: The Tyee’s Photo Pool.

SCANDAL: Premier’s Go-to Guy Broke Lobbying Laws

Ken Dobell, premier Campbell’s “right hand man” when he worked in the B.C. government, later broke the law lobbying. He avoided federal prosecution by writing an essay about it, and went unpunished despite pleading guilty to violating B.C.’s Lobbyists Registration Act. The Crown prosecutor (whose firm was later revealed to be a long time BC Liberal donor) said there was ample evidence to press influence peddling charges, too, but opted not to do so.

SCANDAL: Solicitor General Resigned over Land Deal Investigation

Former Chilliwack mayor John Les received special treatment in an Agricultural Land Reserve rezoning decision and as mayor encouraged staff to see laws as mere “guidelines,” a special prosecutor found in 2010. The start of the probe prompted Les to step down from his cabinet job at the time: B.C.’s top cop. He ended up not charged with any crime.

BOONDOGGLE: Deals Worth Hundreds of Millions, No Cost Benefit Analysis

B.C.’s auditor general found the government awarded a $149-million contract to a private medical records managing firm without a business case for why. Just one of several big contracts the 2008 report said lacked due diligence.

BOONDOGGLE: Olympics Outsourced, Lib Bagmen Helped Americans Profit

Premier Campbell promised B.C. businesses the Olympics would be their gold rush, but some of his top political aides hired themselves out to U.S. groups to help them win the spoils. Many foreign firms landed millions in contracts over B.C. competitors, to whom the BC Liberal government granted no advantages.

BOONDOGGLE: Payments Ballooned to Private Records Provider

BC Liberals said contracting out admin for Medical Service Plan and PharmaCare programs would improve service at a fixed price. But almost immediately surging customer complaints against U.S.-based Maximus B.C. Health Inc. triggered fines and half way through the 10-year, $324-million contract yearly costs had exploded 60 per cent.

FALSEHOOD: Libs Bragged Economy Was Growing as It Shrunk

An election looming, BC Liberal finance minister Colin Hansen assured their economy was expanding with “all leading economists” forecasting more of the same. Not true. B.C.’s economy was in recession. After the BC Liberals won re-election, Hansen revealed that while campaigning he did know revenues were tanking.

SCANDAL: Top Cop’s Driver’s License Yanked, Resigns

BC Liberal solicitor general John van Dongen, the province’s top law enforcement official, resigned from cabinet amidst the 2009 election after his driver’s licence was taken away for speeding offences. He was re-elected.

SCANDAL: Solicitor General’s Campaign Team Violated Election Rules

Kash Heed stepped down as solicitor general in April 2009 amid allegations of Elections Act violations by his campaign staff. In May 2010, charges were laid against two staffers and a contractor, and Heed was cleared of any wrongdoing. The next day he was back in cabinet — for all of 24 hours. Then the special prosecutor who handled the investigation quit, revealing that his law firm had donated to Heed’s campaign. Heed resigned again. Heed was eventually cleared of criminal wrongdoing by a second special prosecutor.

Two men connected with the Heed campaign ended up pleading guilty. In August 2011, Heed was fined $8,000 for going over the spending limit in the 2009 campaign.

FALSEHOOD: The HST Debacle

During the 2009 election the BC Liberal Party was asked by two industry groups if it planned to replace the Provincial Sales Tax (PST) with a Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) that folded in the federal GST. The feds were pushing it, but a lot of people in B.C. worried an HST would hit their pockets hard. The party’s official response was “A harmonized GST is not something that is contemplated in the BC Liberal platform.” Shortly after they were re-elected the BC Liberals announced an additional seven per cent tax would be added to the existing five per cent PST for a combined 12 per cent HST — but it would now apply to hundreds of goods and services previously exempted, including basic telephone and cable, restaurant meals, Canadian air and rail travel and much more.

Accused of keeping the plan secret, Premier Campbell assured the HST “wasn’t on my mind” and “not anywhere on our radar… as we went through the election” but documents later showed the HST was being discussed before and during the election at the highest government levels. Two months before voting day, the B.C. finance minister was briefed on a C.D. Howe report projecting the HST could hurt B.C. jobs and wages for over five years. Post-election, the same minister sold the HST as the best thing to boost the economy. Anger and distrust forced Campbell to resign before voters rejected the HST in an historic B.C.-wide referendum spurred by the first ever successful Citizens’ Initiative petition.

SCANDAL: The eHealth Scam

Ron Danderfer was a senior civil servant, in charge of the B.C. government’s eHealth program, which involved computerizing health records. James Taylor was an official with the Fraser Health Authority. Jonathan Burns was a doctor doing business with the health ministry and Fraser Health. Things got sticky when media reports exposed some suspicious links between the three. As it turned out, Taylor’s wife got a $250,000 job with Burns without going through the proper government procedures. Danderfer and Taylor both enjoyed vacations at Burns’s condominium in Kelowna. In the end, all three men pleaded guilty to corruption-related offences.

BOONDOGGLE: Taxpayers Ate $388-Million Overrun on Centre that Opened Not Fully Safe

As the original $495-million budget for the Vancouver Convention Centre kept rising, the federal contribution was capped, leaving the province to pick up the near $400-million overrun. A 2007 auditor general’s report suggested last-minute building changes and a rush to meet a tight Winter Games deadline helped costs skyrocket.

An eager premier Campbell opened its doors April 3, 2009 to tens of thousands of visitors not told safety inspectors had ruled fire risks still needed fixing.

FALSEHOOD: Mi’kmaq Children’s Choir Snubbed

Please come and sing in the opening ceremony of our Olympics! According to several reports, that’s the invitation premier Campbell extended to the kids of the Se’t A’newey First Nation Choir while visiting Newfoundland. But the official invite never came. After Mi’kmaq Chief Mi’sel Joe demanded an apology Campbell said he was sorry “if there was a misunderstanding.”

FALSEHOOD: Olympics Economy Boost Oversold by Factor of Five

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Promises of a grand Olympic windfall never quite materialized. Photo by the Blackbird in Your BC: The Tyee’s Photo Pool.

BC Liberal leaders whipped up support for a taxpayer-backed Olympics by projecting $10.7 billion in generated economic activity. Months before the games they quietly lopped $6.7 billion off the promise, then, when pressed, vaguely mused it would be “billions and billions.” Billion and billion, actually. Post-Olympics, a government-ordered independent study pegged resulting economic activity at $2.3 billion over seven years, or annually about one-sixth of one per cent of B.C.’s then-GDP. Ignorance is no excuse. Since 2002 the B.C. government owned a tool to nail down such forecasts, but didn’t use it.

BOONDOGGLE: Half Billion Spent on Giant Lemon

First the BC Libs said BC Place could be re-roofed for $100 million. A year later, 2009, a fancier German approach was unveiled, for $365 million. But taxpayers’ real bill inflated to over $563 million. All that cash, and the roof still leaked water and grease, the giant videoboard can’t get rained on, and the full business case remains secret as the stadium annually bleeds money, projecting a $52 million loss for 2017. The BC Lions had better attendance before the reno.

FALSEHOOD: Vow to Cull High Paid Bureaucrats Vanished into Murk

Admitting B.C. faced two years of deficits, premier Campbell pledged to save money by eliminating positions of one out of five of the province’s senior bureaucrats. Nine months later The Tyee combed government records and found the goal only halfway achieved. No, we’re “quite confident” we’ve done it, replied the minister in charge, offering zero evidence.

SCANDAL: Ministry Hire with Criminal Past Breached Privacy of 1,400 Clients

A Ministry of Children and Families worker with a criminal record who used a forged criminal record check to get his job was caught keeping at home 1,400 files with sensitive personal info on low-income clients. To Richard Wainright’s rap sheet a judged added fraud as the government scrambled to shore up lax security.

SCANDAL: Loose Health Record Repeatedly Slammed

The BC Liberal government’s tendency has been to push for looser privacy standards for health information. But B.C.’s privacy commissioners have warned repeatedly that the government has the wrong attitude when it comes to protecting citizens’ health information.

BOONDOGGLE: $65 Million to Spin off, Spin down BC Hydro Outfit

The BC Liberals, elected in 2001 with a pledge to protect BC Hydro, instead broke it into parts. Responsibility for the province’s electric transmission lines was shifted, along with 276 employees, to the newly created BC Transmission Corp in 2003. Seven years later, BCTC was folded, its mission returned to BC Hydro. B.C. taxpayers and BC Hydro ratepayers were stuck with the expense of setting up, operating and dismantling a Crown corporation that proved unnecessary – about $65 million based on BCTC’s annual filings under the Financial Information Act.

BOONDOGGLE: Taxpayers Paid $6.4-Million Legal Bills for Guilty BC Liberal Aides

Upon entering guilty pleas that prematurely ended the Railgate corruption trial as several high profile BC Liberal witnesses were slated to testify, Dave Basi and Bob Virk paid not a penny for their defence. In the controversial plea deal, the public picked up the tab.

SCANDAL: Some of 21 Babies Who Died Could Have Been Saved

Twenty-one babies died in their sleep, and not enough was done to protect them, B.C.’s independent watchdog for children and youth found. Her report on deaths of 21 children under two years of age between 2007 and 2009 highlighted the role of poverty and intergenerational trauma in their families, and called for a much more integrated and coordinated approach to child welfare in the province. Had that been in place, some of the babies “very likely” would have lived, said the author. All the deceased children were known to the Ministry of Children and Family Development but warning signs were missed.

BOONDOGGLE: Pacific Carbon Trust Punished Cash-strapped Hospitals, Schools

Part of Gordon Campbell’s climate change plan forced government bodies to buy carbon credits from the Pacific Carbon Trust in an attempt to claim the government was carbon neutral. Not only did this put a burden on the already-strapped institutions, but a lot of the credits they were forced to buy turned out to be really expensive and pretty dubious. The Pacific Carbon Trust was quietly wound down a few years later.

BOONDOGGLE: Taxpayers Dinged Millions to Reverse Hated HST

Voters resoundingly rejecting the HST in a 2011 referendum that cost taxpayers $8 million, and B.C. was forced to pay back $1.6 billion to feds who’d tied the money to the province adopting the tax. B.C.’s finance minister predicted the admin costs of going back to how taxes were collected pre-HST would be $30 million a year. In 2010 the BC Liberal government blew $780,000 on a pro-HST flyer to be sent to every household, but scrapped it. Taxpayers also funded a $5-million ad campaign billed as “neutral” HST info but slanted pro-HST. All to reverse the tax surprise so ill conceived it drove premier Gordon Campbell from office.

Click here to read 53 more BC Liberal falsehoods, boondoggles and scandals during the time Christy Clark served as premier. If you know of one or two we have forgotten, please email editor@thetyee.ca with the subject line “Add this to the list” and we will consider adding it to our final tally next Monday.  [Tyee]

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