Thursday, January 27, 2005

The Vinning afffair: Strange goings on in the premier's office

VICTORIA - Think you had a lousy week at work?
It could be worse. You could be Prem Vinning, hired on Monday to a great-sounding job in the premier's office, and gone by Wednesday after admiting using a fake name to lob a spftball question to Premier Gordon Campbell on a call-in show.
Liberals should be steamed at the decision to hire Vinning in the first place, which showed wretched political judgment.
The whole mess was reported by Sean Holman, the obsessive watcher of B.C. politics, on his always interesting web site
Vinning was hired as director of Asia-Pacific trade and economic development in the premier's office, a brand new job. The idea that B.C. need a better focus on Asian opportunities makes sense.
But the logical place for that initiative is in the economic development ministry, which has other trade responsibilities and all the needed support staff.
And the logical candidate would likely be someone other than Vinning. That's no slight on his accomplishments. Vinning is fiftyish, one-time housebuilder and part-owner of Jackpine Forest Products up in Williams Lake. He was born in India, grew up and went to school in England. It's not the resume of an obvious candidate for the job of driving trade with Asia.
Vinning has other credentials though. He has been a hugely influential figure in federal Liberal politics in B.C. for 15 years or so, able to deliver nominations and influence elections. Vinning ran unsuccessfully for the federal party in 1993, and has been a power behind the scenes since. If you were looking for support from the IndoCanadian community in B.C., Vinning was probably the first person you called on.
Campbell apparently did. The Liberals publicly blamed star candidate Mary Polak's defeat in the Surrey-Panorama Ridge byelection on a loss of support in the IndoCanadian community. In December, Campbell held meetings to try and win back a voter group that feels ignored by the government they helped elect. And Vinning was a key person on the guest list.
The meetings did not go well, at least according to a report in the IndoCanadian press.
Barely a month later, four months before the May election, Vinning winds up in a good job in the premier's office, working in a field where he does not seem to be the most obvious candidate. Suspicious minds might wonder if part of his allure was the chance to improve Liberal political fortunes - and then wonder if taxpayers should really be paying for that effort.
On top of those concerns, add a lingering controversy. The federal government came up with a $55-million program to help B.C. cope with duties levied under the softwood dispute in late 2002. The first business to get money - and the only one in the first round of payments - was Vinning's Jackpine. (All the other recepients were community groups.) The company got a $2-million loan for a new plant. Two months later, it went to court to seek protection from its creditors. The committee that approved the loan said it was never told about the financial problems.
And then came Campbell's weekend talk show appearance. Vinning, two days before starting his new job, called in. But he used a different name, calling himself Peter. "I'm in the trucking business and, you know, the economy is going great guns and that's good." But what will the premier do about transportation delays, he asked.
"A very, very good question," said Campbell, before launching into a pitch for the Liberals' transportation plans.
Two hours after Holman posted an item on the call, Vinning resigned.
There's a sad haplessness about it all, from the creation of the job through the hiring of Vinning and on to the phoney call dsigned to make the boss look good.
If the Liberals' plan to win back IndoCanadian voters, there going to have to do a lot better.
Footnote: Campbell says he didn't recognize Vinning's voice. Lots of other people did, from both political parties. Perhaps the mini-scandal will convince all parties to end the dubious practice of having political operatives call talk shows to offer easy and supportive questions whenever their masters are on the air.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Gordo has fibbed about things he wasn't going to do then went ahead and did them. The list is quite long so his claim not to know the guy is just one more. Wonder who hired the guy? May have been Martyne Brown if not Gordo. Maybe Brown didn't recognize the voice either.