Friday, September 19, 2008

Premier picks school in his riding for big benefit

The scent of old-style pork barrel politics is hanging over the premier's office.
The government has decided it would be a good idea to see schools threatened with closure used as community centres.
The five lucky schools selected for the pilot project would not only be spared the risk of closure, but get big money for upgrades and new facilities.
Typically, for Premier Gordon Campbell, the first step was a snappy name - Neighbourhoods of Learning. (Community schools by another name.)
Next, a $30-million budget.
But then, the obvious questions. Where should these pilot projects be located? Where students and communities need them? In the places school trustees decide are priorities? Nope.
Two of the three schools announced as pilot projects are in Gordon Campbell's riding. Two rural schools that will participate are still to be chosen.
One of the schools in the premier's riding, General Gordon Elementary, only made the list because Campbell said that's where he wanted the money to go.
It wasn't purely a move to steer money to a school in his constituency. Campbell said the parents there had pitched the idea for the community schools and deserved a reward for their initiative.
But the government's had already signalled its nervousness about the premier's intervention.
Education Minister Shirley Bond - always a loyal trooper - tried to maintain Campbell hadn't been involved at all in the decision to award the big money to two schools in his riding.
Vancouver school district trustees had raised the need for upgrades to General Gordon, she said.
But the school district contradicted Bond.
The superintendent said the district had raised concerns about a number of older schools in Vancouver that were threatened by the need for seismic upgrades.
The premier, not the school district, said General Gordon should jump to the front of the queue as part of the Neighbourhoods for Learning pilot. He had been lobbied by the parents, who had also noted their in with the top guy in pushing the Education Ministry to see things their way.
There are a lot of schools in the Lower Mainland and on the Island that need upgrading to keep children safe in the event of an earthquake. Some of them might close because of the problem. The government has leaned toward building smaller, cheaper schools.
Should the fact that parents' advisory council can get a meeting with the premier decide where the money goes?
Rural communities that have faced closures, long bus rides for kids and lost schools might have liked the chance to make their case for a larger share of the money. Though that could still come when the remaining pilot projects are announced - especially if the parents can get a meeting with an influential cabinet minister.
Too cynical? Maybe.
But it does look much look who you know matters more than what you need to give kids and communities a boost. Campbell's riding - Vancouver Point Grey - is among the most affluent in the province.
Meanwhile, out in Langley, a 5,000-seat arena and community centre is being built at a cost of $56 million. Great news for the community.
Especially because almost one-third of the money is coming from the provincial government. When he was forests minister, Rich Coleman decided to spend $15 million of forestry money on the arena. It would use wood laminate beams and be a great marketing tool, he said.
But the industry could likely suggest better uses for $15 million than an arena in the minister's riding. Unemployed forest workers - some 12,000 jobs have been lost in the last year - certainly could.
What should worry supporters is that neither of these were missteps Campbell would have allowed a few years ago. The Liberals risk becoming the government they once ran against.
And it's not hard to remember what happened to that government.
Footnote: The whole school closure issue is a problem for the government. It had been pushing school districts to be aggressive in closing and selling schools to pay for new facilities for the last six years. Now, after about 170 schools have been closed, a policy flip-flop calls for new uses and a moratorium on closures. It's sensible, but erratic.


Anonymous said...

Wow, yet another anti-BC Liberal story by Wilcocks. What a surprise. At least when Vaughn Palmer covered the same story he actually pointed out that the NDP was actually building new schools in NDP and not Liberal ridings. Of course doing research and being objective seem to be skills sorely lacking by Wilcocks. Time to retire

Gazetteer said...


Hmmmmmm.....pork barrel, riding-specific school construction is something that should not be allowed.

However, I'm not sure that this specific story has anything to do with building new schools - although that is a separate issue in Mr. Campbell's riding as well at the moment.

Regardless, as someone who has done a little digging into the issue at and has come to essentially the same conclusion, albeit with an added twist that involves a golf course and a park, I would be most interested to know where, specifically, you believe Mr. Willcocks' research is lacking.



Dawn Steele said...

Let's see if I have this right, Anon. It's poor journalism to hold a government accountable without checking back at least 10 years to see if the NDP did anything remotely similar? How similar does it have to be? Should he have mentioned Fast Ferries too? And what is the cut-off period? Shouldn't he have checked the Socred's capital funding record too? Did this occur under British rule? Were there parallels under the indigenous governments before them which might rationalize all this as just another case of "business as usual"?

The failures of the previous government were rightfully dealt with by voters in 2001. I find it astonishing that anyone would suggest that events from a decade ago could in some way excuse or mitigate playing politics with children's lives today. How can you so totally dismiss Paul's efforts to hold the government we have in office here and now accountable because he omitted a contextual historical detail? Talk about throwing the baby out with the bathwater!

Indeed, had Paul made more effort to research the historical record for other cases of politicians building schools in riding held by their own party, the first thing he might have come across was this:

For Immediate Release
July 22, 2008

Ministry of Education

VICTORIA – Students and staff will soon be safer in four more B.C. schools, thanks to $11.2 million in seismic upgrades, Nanaimo-Parksville MLA Ron Cantelon, West Vancouver-Garibaldi MLA Joan McIntyre and Fort Langley-Aldergrove MLA Rich Coleman announced today.

“School safety is a priority for this government,” said Cantelon. “That’s why we’re taking a comprehensive approach to seismically upgrade schools throughout the province through a $1.5- billion, 15-year investment.”

“The upgrades will strengthen the structure of these four schools,” said McIntyre. “This will help ensure that these schools provide safer learning environments for students and staff.”

“We are working to ensure that schools are safer learning environments for students and staff,” said Coleman. “These schools are four of many that will receive seismic upgrades over the next year.”

Anonymous said...

The point I am trying to make is that with balanced journalism you make the effort to look comparatively how the former government dealt with similar issues.

For example with Playground funding Wilcocks was quick to criticize how the Liberals picked schools for the funding BUT he of course made no mention that the NDP didn’t have the problem because they didn’t fund one single playground zero. That is pretty relevant and something that people like Vaughn Palmer and Tom Fletcher mentioned fairly and objectively when they wrote on the same topic.

Last week Wilcocks bashed the Liberals for having a budget surplus but of course does not mention the NDP running a deficit in all but two of the 10 years they were in power. Does Wilcocks seriously think a surplus is worse than 8 years of deficit that added $ 17 Billion is BC debt?

Same with this schools story. Once again more objective and balanced journalists like Vaughn Palmer point out that the NDP announced 6 new schools back when they were in government and all were in NDP ridings; again a relevant point.

This is just basic stuff but to be far and objective and you need to compare the record of the former government to illustrate the difference (or similarity ) in decisions made

The problem is that to do this you need to actually do a bit of research and be motivated to be objective. Wilcocks consistently fails to do this and instead bashes the Liberals to the point that people like me see him nothing more as a lazy hack instead of a credible journalist the likes of Tom Fletcher; Vaughn Palmer or Les Leyne. Wilcocks should either step up or retire.

paul said...

Better explanation the second time, anon.
I just don't consider what happened in the 1990s relevant, for the most part. Just as, when I was writing about the dazzling incompetence of the NDP government, I didn't see the relevance of writing about the actions of the Socreds they replaced.
People should be electing a government to do a competent, pragmatic, principled job, not just to be less bad than what went before. That's the light in which I view them.
I've had similar conversations with Liberal staffers, in which they've defended some action by saying the NDP was worse. Is that really the standard they aspire to - not as bad as a really terrible government that was despised by voters?
Paul Willcocks

Anonymous said...

Mr. Wilcocks,

I appreciate your responding to my post. However I believe the actions of former governments on similar issues is relevant and I would like to illustrate two examples as to why.

One is going back to the playground funding. As you should know; the NDP did not fund one single school playground. Why was this? Could it be that both governments knew they could not afford to do ALL of the playgrounds at one time and as such might have to choose selectively which ones ? If this is the case than maybe the NDP was afraid their choices could be criticized and they choose not to fund any simply to avoid political embarrassment. Conversely the Liberals may have been willing to accept that by and large most choices would be good; however a few imminent poor choices and resulting political embarrassment is worth the price to get much needed new playgrounds into our neighbourhoods.

Another example is raw log exports; naturally from a philosophical standpoint everyone is opposed; however when you take some time to actually research the issue; certainly if you were a Forests Minster your deputies would be the first to provide that information you can get a better understanding why both the NDP and the Liberals have continued to allow this practice to continue

Same story for Private Clinics with WCB clients. While governments and elected representatives may change; the issues and challenges often remain the same. The fact that the NDP did not add any new doctor spaces for a decade IS relevant when consider that it takes 7-8 years for a doctor to finish her or her training.

Point being that democracy is all about choice; and the public deserves to know how other governments dealt with the same issue. If no government in BC history has banned raw log exports than that is really saying something. If only one government in BC history did ban them that too would be saying something. If we are truly going to hold our elected officials to account than the public deserves to know how former governments have dealt with the same issue; that provides more context to have informed opinions in the democratic process.

I would also point out that Vaughn Palmer; easily BC’s most respected Political Journalist does this on a regular basis. This is why and how he has become so respected as his objectivity and fairness is rarely questioned. As you know Mr. Palmer also holds governments to account but always does so in an above reproach fair and objective manner. I offer this criticism to you constructively in the hope that you will make greater efforts to do the same; although it will require more work on your part to do so.

off-the-radar said...

I couldn't disagree with the repeat anonymous poster more. You are an incredibly fair and unbiased political commentator and I prefer your articles to any other BC political columnist.

The playground process was inept and is, unfortunately, illustrative of the provincial government's continuing incompetence on a number of fronts.

To look at the playground funding example more closely:
* one-quarter of schools, especially those from less affluent neighbourhoods do not belong to BCCPAC, so they were excluded from applying for playground funding. These are the very schools who most need some provincial funding as they often cannot fundraise as much as schools in wealthier communities. How could these schools be excluded? Because the provincial government is wedded to an ideological perspective and handed the work off to BCCPAC rather than having it administered through the public service.
* Then those schools who did belong to BCCPAC had to go through a labourious application process---but schools were simply chosen at random. What a waste of parent and staff time to complete an unneeded application.

As Paul notes, who gives a damn what the NDP did 10 years ago? I swore I would never vote NDP again after the Clark government. But you know what? Campbell's government is worse.

I expect competent government NOW.

Fast ferries? I could care less. What matters to me now in 2008 is the Hydro give away of our water resources as the world is about head into a massive energy crisis and the continuing whittling away of ALR when we will need every inch of arable land to grow food. And the convention centre cost over runs. And John Les, and Basi-Virk and the care of seniors, and, and, and.

I want a government that cares for all its citizens including those who are most vulnerable. BC has the highest child poverty rate of the ten provinces. At more than 20% it is similar to the US and Mexico. Quebec, on the other hand, has halved its child poverty rate in the past ten years.

This is the best place on earth?

Good government takes more than slogans and press releases.

paul said...

Thanks, anon, for the comments and the constructive tone.
I think another issue involved in this discussion.
I'm not actually writing about parties; I'm writing about policies.
My view is we tend to chose sides in B.C politics too often, rather than accepting that valid policy positions can be offered by any party and that within a party there should be room for disagreement.
Raw log exports is a useful example. The current and former governments both allowed them, although the current government has allowed an increased volume, particularly by removing so much forest land from tree farm licence agreements.
The issue is effective policy, balancing the long-term loss of manufacturing jobs against the short-term protection of fewer logging jobs and deciding how much pressure can be brought on companies to invest.
Perhaps I can make more of an effort to note past policy approaches and whether they worked or not.
Paul Willcocks

Anonymous said...

Thanks again Paul for acknowledging my comments. I think Off-The-Radar perfectly illustrates the point I am trying to make.

For example the writer justifiably takes aim at some of the negatives associated with the playground funding and then implies that he/she does not “give a damn what the NDP did 10 years ago” what this writer misses is that had the NDP funded playgrounds; there would not have been as critical of a need today to have playgrounds. For example in my kids school the old playground was torn up because it was deemed unsafe. Fortunately my kids school did get some of that funding. I should also add that had the NDP looked after this situation there might now have been equitable public policy in place to fairly distribute the funding. Thus to suggest that the past government action or inaction has no bearing on the current government policy is completely in error.

The writer next targets Government’s current run of the river hydro policy. Once again the actions; or in this case the inactions of the former government are very important. As you should know Paul the former NDP government did not create any new power generating capacity whatsoever; furthermore their largely political based BC Hydro rate freeze did not allow for sufficient investments to keep existing electrical infrastructure properly updated either. Once again these past government decisions do play a role in the current government decisions.

Much as the Fast Ferry scenario; had the $400 million wasted on the Fast Ferries been successful in producing three useable ferries than it is conceivable that we would not be again spending more tax dollars to buy three more ferries. When you consider the significant increases in ferry fares the historic facts are very relevant to today’s public policy decisions.

I agree with you Paul that you can leave the parties out of it; however I do appreciate your comments that you will make greater efforts to note past policy approaches as they very much do have an affect on the decisions that need to be made today.

Anonymous said...

Many seem to forget that, in the 90's, the NDP were elected because the BC Liberals (nee Social Credit) were ruining the province into the ground. Added to that was the Asian meltdown which hurt the BC economy as well as many other parts of Canada. It was in this decade that Alberta was giving its welfare recipients one way bus tickets to BC.
The schools I know of had playground for their students, this was not a problem.
The Fast Ferries were an attempt by Clarke to develop some manufacturing in this province. I believe with a bit more work they could have been made useful but they were auctioned off on the day that Campbell's sentence was announced. The press was given a distraction from Campbell's conviction.
Now, in Prince George, a new High School is being built. It is in a Liberal riding and it will cost
$ 30 + million. It is not necessary as there are few students in the catchment area. They could easily be bused to 2 schools a few blocks away. The French immersion program could easily be put in one of those schools. The money could be used to upgrade the other secondary schools in the district. But those connected have their way and that is what this article is about.

Anonymous said...

Well, I agree wholeheartedly with your Liberal-friendly anonymous that more context is always a good thing. So the next time you write about Gordo's road to climate change Damascus, I expect the first sentence will discuss his pedigree as a climate change denier. The next sentence could talk about the climate change action plan the (evil, dastardly) NDP developed but which Mr. Green Campbell promptly shelved.

Similarily, when you write about First Nations issues and the "New Relationship", I expect you'll want to remind your readers how the BC Libs sued to prevent the Nisgaa treaty from coming into effect and then launched a divisive and costly referendum which set treaty-making back a full year if not more.

Oh, and I can't wait 'til you write about drunk driving. Send me a note and I'll point out some great graphics you can use.

When Mr. Anonymous Liberal-friend cites Tom Fletcher as an example of "balanced" journalism, I nearly L'ed my A right off my body. Fletcher, fine writer that he is, does not pretend to be balanced. He leans so far to the right he needs a counterweight to prevent himself from generating his own gravitational pull. Not that there's anything wrong with that: he self-identifies as a conservative, writes with a conservative voice and pushes conservative ideals. Just don't pretend he's walking a fine line down the middle of the road.

Paul, I'd commend to you the writings of Eric Alterman, who contends that the reason the US conservative movement is so strong is because they browbeat the media with claims of "bias" even if those claims have no basis whatsoever. Suddenly middle-of-the-road writers are agreeing to, out of a sense of balance and fair play, insert some mention of past wrongs by the other side so they don't appear to be biased. It's brilliant. Scary, but brilliant. I'm not suggesting for a moment your anonymous correspondent is an agent of the Liberals: I'm sure he/she learned to mouth Liberal talking points from watching SportsCentre.

Dawn Steele said...

Some good points made. I think Paul is right - if I'm just looking at these things from a policy perpective, I don't really care which "side" happens to be taking the flack for the problem, so consideration of who did what 10 or 20 years ago is really not that relevant to me.

For the political partisans - and for a political columnist like Vaughn Palmer - it's all about point scoring and being fair about keeping track - much like an endless hockey game with the journalist as referee. Whenever Vaughn writes about some slip of the Premier's, he always manages to find an old quote of Campbell's that criticized the NDP for doing exactly the same thing 10 years ago. It's nice irony, if a tad gratuitous from a policy perspective, because if it's wrong today, it's wrong and nothing he said or didn't say a decade ago changes that.

It's a different style and both have their place and I think both are excellent journalists - I just don't find the partisan team sport perspective very helpful in resolving the policy aspect, because you can always find something the other side did to justify whatever mis-step you're trying to defend for your team at the moment. And when the "opposing team" actually does something right, it becomes very difficult to give praise where it's due.

Gazetteer said...

I don't think I can add anything to what Ms. Steele had to say above.

This has been a really excellent thread that demonstrates how honest debate can raise the level of discourse.

Thanks everyone - I learned a lot.

And thanks to Mr. Willcocks, also, for writing a column that dealt with a specific issue without falling back on the tired old tenets of "he said/she said" journalism.