Friday, October 19, 2007

Lobbying allegations get legislature off to stormy start

It's going to be a crabby 18 months until the next election, at least based on the first week of the fall legislative sitting.
The MLAs have only been back four days as I write this, but things are already pretty rowdy.
The New Democrats have been hammering at two issues - seniors' care and the alleged lobbying activities of former cabinet minister Graham Bruce.
And the government has been fighting back, especially on the Bruce affair. Aboriginal Affairs Minister Mike de Jong, a scrappy performer in the legislature, has led the defence.
It's a changed tone. After the 2005 election, both sides made a real effort to maintain basic civility in the legislature. Things appear to be heading, sadly, back to the bad old days.
The questions about Bruce's activities raise the kinds of issues that are always going to heat things up.
The Vancouver Sun kicked things off, with a report that Bruce had been lobbying the provincial government on behalf of the Cowichan Tribes since 2005. But, the paper reported, he had never signed up with the province's lobbyist registry.
The activities also raised potential problems under conflict-of-interest rules, the report noted. Former cabinet ministers are barred from paid lobbying at the provincial level for two years after they leave office. Bruce started working for the tribes within months of being defeated in 2005.
The lobbyist registry was a part of the Liberal election platform in 2001. They said that the public should know who was lobbying politicians and bureaucrats and what they were seeking. That way, people could judge for themselves whether anything questionable was happening.
It seemed a good idea. Lobbying has become increasingly big business. A lot of the consultants are people with close ties to the political parties - ex-politicians or political staff.
There was a perception that paying for access was part of doing business. Gordon Campbell said that should stop, and the lobbyist registry was the solution.
Bruce initially said he met with Campbell and two ministers to seek funding for the Cowichan Tribes' effort to host the 2008 North American Indigenous Games.
By midweek, the Cowichan Tribe issued a news release criticizing the NDP for raising the issue. Bruce was hired to raise money from local governments, corporate sponsors and others, the band said.
But in the legislature, the NDP cited minutes of tribal committee meetings in which Bruce is quoted as saying he was calling in favours from his former colleagues to get funds released. He was paid $121,000 for work for the tribe.
De Jong said there couldn't have been any lobbying, because B.C. had agreed in 2003 to provide $3.5 million to the games.
But that's not exactly what the government said in announcing the funding in June 2006. It acknowledged the 2003 federal-provincial agreement, but the deal wasn't quite the same as de Jong now claims. "It was agreed Canada and the host province/territory would each contribute 35 per cent to a maximum of $3.5 million," the news release said. Note, up to $3.5 million, not a promise to provide that much.
Bruce hasn't done any interviews since the first Sun story. He released a statement, saying he didn't have to register as a lobbyist. The act doesn't cover lobbying activities by First Nations or their employees, he said, and he spent less than 20 per cent of his time lobbying, the threshold for registration.
James has asked the conflict commissioner to investigate. The information and privacy commissioner, who has responsibility - sort of - for the lobbyist registry.
The whole affair - following similar controversy over former deputy minister Ken Dobell's failure to register - adds to doubts that the lobbyist registry is working.
And the Liberals' defence in both cases rests in part on the notion that the projects were worthwhile, so everyone should just ease up. That's an attitude that eventually gets governments in trouble.
Footnote: There's a whole other aspect to this affair. Much of the information has come from tribal committee meetings released by unhappy band members. The minutes suggest treaty funds borrowed from the government were used to pay Bruce until he could get the provincial grants.


Anonymous said...

When is a lobyist not a lobyist? Simple, as long as he is or was a Liberal in BC they know the party elected guys and gals will protest him or her.
It sure has given the local brand some great rules to follow. Bruce's own wrods has told them, there are rules, for many but not for a freind of the present government. Need some money to pay the old hack, get it from the treaty money and nobody will notice. Some band membe did notice and had the papers to prove it.I'm not holding my breath on Oliver's decision. dl

Anonymous said...

Basi, Virk and Bruce, are they any different than Dave Stupich's Bingogate?

Whether its trusted aides to BC Liberal provincial ministers being accused by the RCMP of selling Cabinet insider information to the highest bidder for the BC Rail deal, in exchange for plum jobs at the federal level, or a former minister calling in favours within months of losing his own riding of Cowichan-Ladysmith when he is required by LAW to sit off to one side for two whole years and not have anything to do with the current government, both cases are wrong in the eyes of the public, maybe even a jury.

Mr. Bruce is on "paid leave" from provincial politics in the form of his pension, which pays him $17 per hour to sit at home, and knit for all I care, for the next 22 years, which will eventuall tally up to $788,672 to his bank accounts.

Accepting $121,000 from the Cowichan Tribe and then returning the same amount in the same fiscal year sounds more and more like ..... Bingogate

Somena Woman said...

Hey Paul, good write up. I think the claim that Bruce was an employee of the band has been proven dispositively to be not true. See top of my blog for details. He had a company called "Granneke Management and Consulting" which was where the $12,500/month for the first 6 months was paid out. Also, since when do employees draw $121,000 in salary and then pay it back... No.. this is just a dodge by Bruce.

As for being a disgruntled band member... I plead guilty as charged.

Of course nobody wants to ask why band members would feel disgruntled.

You should read about the Abner Thorne situation - it was Kev Thone , Abner's son who got ahold of these documents and posted them. I simply pointed them out to media and the NDP...

And I might add - I had originally sent my complaints about this use of Treaty Money to the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs months ago, and they stonewalled me. So I felt there was simply no other choice but to go extremely public.

I am not running for office in Cowichan. I'm a full time student at Uvic - and severely crippled with arthrtis. It's true that I am disgruntled that band members like myself can't get help from the band with our disabilities... or rather it depends upon who you know and whose family you are from as to whether you get help...

Like I said - guilty as charged of being a "disgruntled band member" -- but there's good reason for being disgruntled.

And isn't that what most corporations or government like to say about most whistleblowers? We are all an unhappy lot of disgruntled people and ne're do wells.. It's a nice deflection away from the original issues isn't it?

Unless of course somebody bothers to ask.. "Why are they disgruntled".

And boy -- that would be a whole new "Perfect Storm" for Cowichan Tribes if that question was asked.

Best Regards and keep up the good work