Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Dobell hits back, but questions continue

Ken Dobell came to Victoria this week in a bid to end questions about possible real or perceived conflicts of interest in his two roles - as a special adviser to Premier Gordon Campbell and a consultant and registered lobbyist for the City of Vancouver.
The NDP has been all over the issue since the legislature resumed sitting after the Easter break. Some of their questions have been fair; some have over-reached. The government has done a consistently poor job of answering.
Dobell, who retired as the province's top bureaucrat in 2005, held what he billed as his first press conference in 37 years in the public sector to take on the critics. By the end, a fair-minded observer might still be left with questions.
Dobell has a good reputation. And part of his argument can be boiled down to the claim that he's a person of integrity who has taken steps to avoid any conflicts. He sees no conflicts, so they don't exist.
As Dobell prepared to meet the press, the premier's office handed out a memo from Campbell's deputy minister, Jessica McDonald, offering a similar argument.
McDonald said Dobell told her and the Vancouver city manager about the risk of a perceived conflict of interest as he was being paid both to advise the premier and help Vancouver get provincial support for a major arts project and social housing initiative.
She decided there was no conflict.
In the case of the effort to develop a multi-million-dollar cultural precinct, because of "the significant alignment of interests between the province and the city on this important joint project."
And in the case of the social housing initiative, because "his disclosure enabled me to be aware that his views on this file emanated from his work advising the city and could be respected as such."
McDonald's memo, written last Friday, would be helpful to anyone conducting an impartial review of the issues.
But it's not likely to satisfy people who are concerned about potential conflicts.
It's good that McDonald was aware that Dobell's comments on housing "emanated from his work advising the city and could be respected as such." But what about others in government who read or heard Dobell's thoughts, directly or indirectly, on the housing in initiative? Were they all aware that he was speaking as a consultant to the city on the issue and not as an adviser to the premier?
McDonald's note also says she dealt with the issue last October, six months after Dobell started work for the city.
There are also questions worth asking about the cultural precinct project. Dobell said when Vancouver hired him, at $250 an hour, the city manager told him that Campbell and Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan had talked and both wanted him to work on it.
But should the premier really be in discussions that reach the conclusion that the best way to move the project forward was for the city to hire a consultant who has been his close associate for more than two decades?
Dobell also tried to deal with concerns that there was a risk of conflict in his simultaneous roles as paid advisor to the premier - with a desk in the government's Vancouver offices - and lobbyist for the city.
Simple, Dobell said. He's not a lobbyist, he's a "content consultant."
But Dobell did officially sign up as a lobbyist on the government's registry, saying he intended to try and win support from Campbell, Housing Minister Rich Coleman and Tourism Minister Stan Hagen on behalf of Vancouver. (Dobell didn't register until months after he reported started lobbying work, an apparent violation of the act now being investigated.)
He was simply following advice from the city's lawyers, Dobell said this week.
The government has created this problem. It should be doing a better job both of answering legitimate questions and considering how to avoid such issue in future.
Footnote: Aboriginal Affairs Minister Mike de Jong has been handling all the questions for the Liberals, for the most part relying on indignation and bluster. But hopes the issue would just go away appeared less likely Tuesday as the NDP asked questions about other people who had moved from senior public sector posts to related work.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

DObell who signed on a little late as a Lobbyist now tells us he sin't a lobyist, he's a CONSULTANT. What a load. The guy has his fingers in many pies, works out of the premiers office from time to time, and lobbies( sorry Consults) for the City with himself representing the province. WE of course pay for all this consulting, lobbying and expect to beleive him in his comments about being square on all deals. Only works on three things with the provicne says Dobbell yet government letters show other wise. The mayor asked me to do the job. Up pops a letter that says the mayor and the premier were involved. Just another fat cat highly paid by Gordon. BC seems to cllect tehm like flies to a septic tank