Thursday, September 26, 2013

Ben Chin, Communications Director to Premier Christy Clark, testifying live now at Ontario Legislative Inquiry into $585 million cancellation of power plants

Ben Chin, Communications Director to Premier Christy Clark, testifies at Ontario Legislative Inquiry into $500 million cancellation of power plants - Thursday September 26, 2013
It isn't everyday that a senior BC government official in the premier's office testifies before an Ontario Legislative Inquiry into a decision that will cost taxpayers up to $585 million - but today that's what Ben Chin is doing.

You can watch Chin testify under some tough questioning from opposition members live right now - as of 12:30 p.m. BC time - at the Ontario hearing.

Why is Ben Chin testifying?  Because of his role as Vice-President Communications at the Ontario Power Authority, a job he got after running unsuccessfully for the Ontario Liberal Party in the 2006 election.


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Brian Topp Spins BC NDP's Election Loss in "Leaked" Report

Former campaign manager Brian Topp should have never got the job 
Brian Topp
Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

Tuesday September 24, 2013

By Bill Tieleman  

"The hardest thing about any political campaign is how to win without proving that you are unworthy of winning."
- Adlai E. Stevenson, two-time U.S. presidential candidate.
The biggest conclusion one can draw from the leaked report of B.C. New Democratic Party election campaign manager Brian Topp is that he never should have got the job.
Last week Topp's 42-page confidential document for the BC NDP was somehow obtained by not one but two major newspapers and an influential Ottawa political blog just after leader Adrian Dix announced his resignation last week.
Reading the report makes it clear that Topp is undertaking the biggest salvage job since the Costa Concordia cruise ship was removed from the rocks off Italy's coast, trying to re-float his damaged political consulting career.
Topp attempts to subtly yet inexorably paint Dix as sinking the campaign almost singlehandedly, but the reality is that Topp -- not Dix -- was actually running it.
And while Dix -- whom I supported for leader -- took responsibility by quitting, the Topp spin merely "deeply" regrets some mistakes in "hindsight."
Yet those errors were fatal, and many of Topp's recommendations are little more than Political Campaigning 101 fundamentals.
For example: "The next campaign must contrast the choices and remind voters of the government's record in clear, compelling and straightforward language from the first day of the campaign."
Or: "Our proposals were framed as spending commitments rather than as outcomes that meant something to the lives of families."
No kidding!
But wasn't Topp hired because he was a veteran campaign manager and strategist who knows all this stuff? Did he need to lose a "can't miss" election to rediscover the basics?
And if Topp disagreed with the premise of the campaign and the leader's approach that were well known months before, why did he take the assignment?
Questionable company
That Topp even was allowed to continue as campaign manager after announcing in February he had formed the public affairs company Kool Topp & Guy with Christy Clark's disgraced former chief of staff Ken Boessenkool and BC Liberal Party advisor Don Guy was the NDP's and Dix's biggest election mistake.
Boessenkool resigned after an "incident of concern" involving a female staffer in a Victoria bar; and Guy, a longtime Ontario Liberal strategist, spoke behind closed doors at the provincial Liberal convention in 2012 on how to defeat the NDP. He later joined Christy Clark's election team.
Boessenkool famously remarked that Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper's greatest achievement in office was to kill a national child care program, while Guy was embroiled in an Ontario public inquiry into the cancellation of two natural gas power plants at a cost of over $585 million to taxpayers. Interesting company for Topp to keep, let along partner with.
When Guy flew into B.C. to do communications and research for Clark's successful election campaign, it meant that two owners of the same firm were fighting on opposite sides of the ballot, while the third owner cheered on his former boss Clark -- knowing either way one of his partners would win.
But the NDP was apparently too nervous to find another manager without Topp's baggage before the election, even though it should have.
Lazy polling
It was Topp who astonishingly rejected the mainstay of modern political campaigns: polling key swing ridings daily during the election to determine trends. I broke this news in The Tyee after the election.
Since then I've learned the NDP undertook significant swing riding polling during the 2009, 2005 and even the disastrous 2001 election campaigns -- but not in 2013.
Meanwhile, the Liberals were doing daily tracking polls in 25 key ridings, giving them instant feedback on messaging, NDP vulnerability and where to allocate resources.
But the NDP continued believing they were well ahead and bound for glory, until 8:30 p.m. on election night, when the easy victory turned into an historic defeat.
And yet Topp's report doesn't even mention the lack of swing riding polling, let alone why it was rejected as a tool for the first time in over a decade.
Nor does it explain the reasons behind a late campaign switch in pollsters from Environics to Strategic Communications.
Both did province-wide polling similar to public polls conducted by Angus Reid Public Opinion and Ipsos that wrongly showed the NDP ahead through the whole campaign, though StratCom's numbers had it a much tighter race and even put the Liberals slightly ahead by a point five days out before the NDP regained the lead.
Topp's report instead obliquely says: "Critics of our campaign have had a lot to say about what they think they know about our tracking polling during the campaign. In hindsight, there were more fundamental issues with the way we researched this campaign that should not be repeated."
(Ironically, the only time Dix got a boost in the party's own polling was after the televised debate -- which not coincidentally was the only time Dix launched a withering attack on Premier Christy Clark. While some retroactively argue Dix lost the debate, several polls, public and the NDP's formerly private poll, show clearly that Dix bested Clark.)
Removed from BC
Topp also picked and directed the "war room" staff of political operatives who prosecuted the campaign, including fellow Jack Layton veterans Brad Lavigne and Anne McGrath from Ontario.
And as campaign manager, Topp also chose Toronto ad agency Open to produce the BC NDP's lacklustre election ads. Open created federal NDP election ads in 2011, when the party vaulted into second place, with Topp a senior advisor to Layton.
Topp also declined to come to B.C. early to get started on the campaign, instead participating remotely from Toronto before flying in a few weeks before the writ dropped.
And again the NDP wrongly acquiesced, presumably thinking British Columbia couldn't be that different from Ontario or a national campaign. It is.
The decision to roll out the NDP platform planks in the hostile territory of senior BC Liberal cabinet ministers -- where there were bad optics and limited supporters -- was another Topp choice, though one that he grudgingly acknowledges in the report, albeit with a dismissive reference.
"We paid a price for our plan to campaign in senior ministers' ridings (my idea, for those who are looking for the specific witch to burn on this issue)," Topp says.
As I've written at length, Dix made plenty of mistakes -- demanding long in advance a campaign that didn't go negative, switching positions mid-election to oppose the Kinder Morgan pipeline -- and took ultimate responsibility for it by resigning his leadership last week.
But Dix wasn't driving the campaign bus, writing the ad copy, advancing the tour stops and running the war room!
A tough job, but...
Ultimately in a campaign every leader, no matter how strongly held their views, has to defer to the campaign manager.
That was no different in 1996 when I was communications director to NDP premier Glen Clark in the upset election win over BC Liberal leader Gordon Campbell. Glen Clark had clear ideas about that challenging election but campaign manager Hans Brown called the shots.
So it's admittedly a very tough job filled with difficult decisions and huge consequences where just one mistake can cost an election.
Topp is a talented man who has been around political campaigns for decades, as well as almost becoming leader of the federal New Democrats, coming second to Tom Mulcair in 2012.
And having known Topp for over 35 years, I take no pleasure in drawing my conclusions.
That Topp failed in a critical election for BC New Democrats was tragic; that he take responsibility for certain "errors of strategy" but avoids doing so for other critical decisions avoids is disturbing.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Canadian Taxpayers Federation Demands Accountability, but Not for Itself

Troy Lanigan
Jordan Bateman

Not-for-profit CTF scolds government for dubious spending, but keeps its own books tightly shut.

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

Tuesday September 17, 2013

By Bill Tieleman

"We've definitely lost donors who would like to see more transparency." 
- Canadian Taxpayers Federation CEO Troy Lanigan
You can't turn on your television or radio or read a newspaper regularly without discovering some nefarious spending by government uncovered by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
Its B.C. director, Jordan Bateman, is a regular fixture in the media, denouncing taxes and public sector spending.
But who watches the watchdog, making sure the organization dedicated to "lower taxes, less waste and accountable government" is equally accountable to the public it seeks to influence?
Apparently, almost no one.
While the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, or CTF, boasts that it speaks for 84,000 supporters, it has just five -- count 'em, five -- actual members who decide its policies.
And the CTF does not hold an open annual general meeting, policy conferences, or any other membership gatherings that one might expect from a group that's constantly in the news demanding transparency from others.
Those five members form a board of directors who determine its budget, strategic plan and communications.
Donor names are secret, staff salaries are not posted by name, and while the CTF strongly denies being corporately funded and insists that 94 per cent of their donations are less than $1,000, there is no way to determine if that's true.
CEO Troy Lanigan defends CTF's structure however, saying in an interview that "very, very seldom" do they get requests for open meetings from supporters, who last year gave the federal not-for-profit corporation almost $4 million.
"It's ultimately accountable to funders. Donations are voluntary. People choose to be on our list; they drop off all the time," Lanigan said Friday from Victoria.
'We have a philosophical bent'
It's clear the Canadian Taxpayers Federation is also fundamentally right-wing in its politics.
Federal Conservative Immigration Minister Jason Kenney is a former CTF CEO. New Brunswick Conservative MP John Williamson, an ex-communications director for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, was federal CTF director. And Sara MacIntyre went from B.C. CTF director to become Harper's press secretary and then BC Liberal Premier Christy Clark's communications director for a time.
B.C.'s Bateman is a former president of BC Liberal cabinet minister Rich Coleman's Langley constituency association.
The current five directors who are the CTF's only members include John Mortimer, president of LabourWatch -- a group that promotes union decertification -- and a past Canadian Alliance candidate.
Erin Chutter [formerly Airton], a mining executive who has worked for the federal Conservatives and BC Liberals, and an ex-24 Hours Vancouver columnist, was a director until April 2013.
There don't appear to be any current or former staff or directors remotely connected to the New Democrats or unions.
Lanigan said it's no secret the Canadian Taxpayers Federation is right-wing.
"We have a philosophical bent. I don't like being called a small-c conservative -- I prefer libertarian," Lanigan said.
"We obviously agree with the Conservatives on some issues, but not all," he added, pointing to a current campaign roasting now ex-Conservative Senator Mike Duffy over his expenses.
He insisted that CTF staff drop political party memberships and donations when they join, but admitted: "I cringe when our people go run in politics [afterwards]. But if people look at it objectively, we also go after conservative politicians."
Do lefty 'counterparts' disclose?
Lanigan pointed out the CTF has also supported many New Democrat initiatives to improve government accountability, such as B.C.'s pioneering Freedom Of Information laws in the 1990s, pension and tax reforms made by the Saskatchewan NDP, and federal NDP leader Tom Mulcair's private member's bill to make the Parliamentary Budget Officer fully independent.
Lanigan also said the organization had a better relationship with former Liberal finance minister Paul Martin than with current Conservative Finance Minister Jim Flaherty.
But even a cursory look at the CTF website shows most of its campaigns target taxes, government spending, debt and public sector union wages and benefits -- all with a conservative/libertarian approach.
"A lot of our debates are with unions in the public sector. They are effective on issues and we clash with them," Lanigan said.
Lanigan pointed to the Council of Canadians and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) as counterparts on the political left that are doing the same kind of advocacy work.
But the Council of Canadians promotes individual memberships and has an annual general membership meeting in October, plus dozens of local chapters that meet regularly. It reports raising $4.5 million last year, but rejects either corporate or government funding while accepting union contributions.
The CCPA also encourages people to join as members and has charitable tax status which requires different reporting under federal rules. It raised just over $5 million last year, with individuals the single largest source of donations, said CCPA's B.C. director Seth Klein, while also accepting union contributions.
Klein disputed Lanigan's terming the CCPA a "counterpart" of the CTF.
"We're first and foremost a research institute, not a campaign and lobby organization," Klein said Monday, noting that any research funded by donors is disclosed.
Selective opposition to taxes
Back at the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, even its opposition to taxes is selective.
The CTF astonishingly refused to oppose the Harmonized Sales Tax imposed by then-premier Gordon Campbell's BC Liberal government, despite widespread popular opposition.
Then-CTF B.C. director Maureen Bader dismissed efforts by Fight HST -- which I helped create -- to stop the tax.
"The HST is not going away. It doesn't matter how many petitions there are, or how outraged people are -- and they are really outraged about it -- the government is not going to back down," Bader said in 2010.
In 2009, Bader actually praised the HST: "In theory, it's a good thing. In the short term it's bad for families, but over the long run it should help with economic growth and increase incentives to work and invest in the province."
Fortunately the CTF didn't discourage over 700,000 voters from signing the Citizens Initiative petition that forced the vote that killed the HST.
Lanigan admitted his organization's position on the tax split members in B.C.
But when the Nova Scotia NDP government announced an HST increase, the CTF opposed it and cited the hike as one of its main reasons for opening an Atlantic office in Halifax.
Watch the watchdog
It all makes one wonder how the Canadian Taxpayers Federation can roast politicians in public for lack of transparency with a straight face while keeping its own decision-making and accountability very private.
"We're not spending taxpayer dollars, and donors have a choice to give us money or not," Lanigan said.
And asked who is the watchdog on the CTF itself, Lanigan replied: "People like yourself, the media, some governments who fire back."
A close look at the organization's structure certainly indicates it's worth watching.


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Disabled Seniors in Fraser Health Authority Only Ones in BC Paying $300 "Wheelchair Maintenance Fee" Imposed by BC Liberal Government

Only in Fraser Health Authority, you say? Pity.
Disabled seniors only pay $300 annual wheelchair maintenance fee in Fraser Health Authority

FOI request shows government allowed the maintenance fee to be imposed in 2010.

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / TheTyee column

Tuesday September 10, 2013

By Bill Tieleman

"Last fall we felt it very important to sit down with the health authorities and go through the list of things that were allowed to be charged as extras so that there would be consistency across the province." -- B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake, July 23, 2013
Why is the Fraser Health Authority the only one in B.C. charging seniors in residential care an outrageous $300 annual "maintenance fee" just to use a donated wheelchair?
Why should seniors in a Fraser Health Authority facility pay $300 a year when those using wheelchairs in another facility a mile away in the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority don't face the fee?
What happened to Health Minister Terry Lake's vaunted "consistency across the province" when Vancouver Coastal said there was no way it would implement the same fee?
Why did the Ministry of Health tell Fraser Health to charge the wheelchair fee and then not admit it until a freedom of information request proved it in July?
Why did Vancouver Coastal and the Interior Health Authority both back off on their own plans to impose a wheelchair fee and say the ministry and authorities are reviewing the situation?
And the biggest question: will Minister Lake end this offensive fiasco and order health authorities to stop any wheelchair maintenance fees?
The obvious answer that explains this mess is that the BC Liberal government is so desperate to balance the budget that it ordered health authorities to pick the disabled seniors' pockets.
And it's also clear that the province enabled the wheelchair maintenance fee to be imposed back in 2010 -- but until encouraged by the health ministry, no authority has been heartless enough to charge it.
Minister Lake says there is a "hardship provision" so no one who can't afford to pay the fee will have to.
Yeah, right. Let's be clear: most of these seniors already give up 80 per cent of their after-tax income to be in residential care and have only a $200 monthly comfort fund for all incidentals like shampoo. That's where the extra $25 a month would come from, and it would be a hardship for all of them.
The solution is equally clear: Minister Lake should stop trying to squeeze money out of seniors who hardly have any, but need a wheelchair in their remaining days.
Ministry led fee imposition
But will he? The reality that the Ministry of Health asked Fraser Health to impose the fee, as outlined in an FOI request response obtained by journalist Bob Mackin:
"A proposal to introduce Wheelchair Rental Fees at the Owned & Operated Residential Care Sites was submitted in the [Program Budget Marginal Analysis] process," reads a May 6 Fraser Health briefing note on wheelchair maintenance fees in residential care facilities.
"Subsequent to that submission, the MOH [Ministry of Health] requested FH to implement wheelchair maintenance fees to align with a similar proposal made by [Vancouver Coastal Health]. This request was based on a desire to have similar practices in all Health Authorities and to align with the practices in [Community Care and Assisted Living Act] facilities."
New Democrat leader Adrian Dix questioned a defensive Minister Lake in the B.C. Legislature on July 24 about the wheelchair fees FOI disclosure:
A. Dix: "When this wheelchair tax was announced -- and I guess the minister may be arguing it's not a medical or health care need -- the government blamed the health authorities.
"They said: 'It's the health authorities that did this. It wasn't us; it's the health authorities.' Oh, not all the government said that. The Premier said it's something that's done by almost all the health authorities in the province and had been done for a while, which would have been a better defence, except all the facts contained within it are wrong.
"In fact, we know that the very briefing note says that residents were to be informed by April 1. We know that this did not happen. Conveniently for the government, no one knew about the tax until after the election.
"Fraser Health said that the decision to impose the wheelchair tax -- in the document -- was made after discussions that began in late 2012, presumably after Fraser Health got its marching orders.
"Can the minister tell this House when the decision was finalized, and can he tell the House -- a very simple question: did the government order the other health authorities to do the same thing?
Hon. T. Lake: "This is a chargeable fee that is allowed under the regulations in British Columbia. There was a patchwork of approaches across the province.
"If there was a non-profit-owned and -operated facility, they may charge a fee. If there was a private facility that had publicly funded beds, the residents were expected to have their own wheelchairs. In the health-authority-owned and -operated beds, again there was a patchwork of approaches.
"The ministry sat down with health authorities and said: 'We need a consistent approach to make sure that all residential care patients are being treated equally and fairly across the province of British Columbia.' We are working with the health authorities to make sure there is clear communication with residents and their families about the allowable charges.
But I repeat: no one that is unable to pay a wheelchair fee will pay a wheelchair fee in British Columbia."
Tax wheels on
Well, in just days every senior in the Fraser Health Authority will be paying the $300 a year wheelchair maintenance fee, while seniors in other regions will not.
Do you find this whole fee imposition repulsive?
Join hundreds of other people who oppose the fee on my Facebook group Wheelchairs for BC Seniors and send the government a message.