Food for Thought – We Will Not Get Better Government Part III

The following article was posted on BCVeritas.com earlier this month.

We Will Not Get Better Government Part III

The theme is this: We cannot hope for government based on principle, if the media fail to hold government accountable.

AN UPDATE – March 11, 2016 (after which I’m busy over the weekend.. if comments are approved slowly, regrets.. I’ll get there) .

A day after posting this and getting wound up about it, some things to share.

Laila’s original post from 2013 (with a great comment thread) on Tyabji-Wilson and the sheep tanning business and how it all started.. There’s lots of interest here: the way local businesses felt frozen out of the funding, how Tyabji-Wilson and Gordon Wilson were in a financial pickle (facing foreclosure) prior to endorsing Clark, and how Gordon’s LNG appointment was supposed to be short term with measurables delivered prior to any extension (with a maximum of one year – ha) , while Tyabji’s sheep tanning project was supposed to grow a long term self-sustaining operation (not).

https://t.co/ygzN5T5L0c

Justin McElroy of Global Online follows including a video of Keith Baldrey “covering” the story. The online piece is okay, but Baldrey spins it as something funny. His curious approach to allegations of a conflict of interest in the awarding of a grant of $180K to Tyabji-Wilson is to speak by phone to her (the recipient of the lolly) and nobody else. He also introduces from left field a notion that this isn’t about patronage to Christy’s friends, it’s sour grapes because Gordon used to be NDP. Sorry, that’s not journalism. It’s not an attempt to get to the heart of the issue in a fair manner, with evidence , but rather a lame attempt to diffuse it.

https://t.co/Vfn5uI6Lcv

And here is Andrew MacLeod in the Tyee… Like Global Online, Andrew gets statements from Mike Farnworth of the NDP, and from Tyabji-Wilson. But tellingly, there is no representative from the government explaining why the conflict allegation from staff was over-ruled. It really puzzles me why Tyabji-Wilson would be the go to source about how a grant was awarded to her and why.

https://t.co/7W8xnP2o0O

Original post below…….

March 10th: Today, members of the press were live tweeting the goings on prior to Question Period in the BC Legislature…then when the questions began, except for Bob Mackin, everything went silent. Given the revelations that were happening about the inappropriate awarding of a grant of public money to the Premier’s biographer, you could be forgiven for thinking the intrepid crew were rushing to file their stories. I think you’d be wrong, though I’ll be the first to apologize if the tale gets the coverage it richly deserves.

In short, the NDP got onto an email trail sparked by curiosity about a “Buy Local” grant being lobbied for in an unregistered way by Judy Tyabji-Wilson , wife of Gordon Wilson. Gordon is the $150K/year LNG advocate who has managed the creation of an LNG Opportunities website with no LNG opportunities on it. Judy Tyabji-Wilson is the Premier’s biographer, ex BCL MLA and friend of the government and the Premier.

It gets better.. Judy Tyabji-Wilson was also advocating the formation of a non-profit to help some locals get skilled in the art of skinning sheep, so that they may find work… Despite warnings about conflict of interest from staff, and concerns that this amounted to a “business start-up” which was outside the mandate of the funds, she was appointed to run the operation ..She was the proponent, the president of the non-profit, the negotiator, and the largest financial beneficiary….and the business she started died on the vine after accomplishing very little and costing 40% more than initially advertised.

The full Hansard exchange is reproduced below. It stinks.

The BC media which took such pride in the tearful and fully televised press conference of Jenny Kwan when she was revealed to have gone on a trip funded by a DTES non-profit….should be chasing down Ms. Tyabji-Wilson, getting her in a room with the Minister of Social Development and the Premier, and grilling the three of them.

The same media that camped outside Glen Clark’s house over a case and brought a pacing Clark into your living room while the police searched for evidence of graft involving the building of a deck in that house, should be all over this story.

Instead, for now, the cone of silence has descended. The only thing we can do about that is to contact our respected media outlets and make sure this is investigated, because it looks like Government using tax dollars as a slush fund to improve the life of a friend of the Premier.

Hansard:

L. Popham: Over the past two years, the B.C. Liberals have announced a number of Buy Local grants for B.C. agricultural businesses. The announcements are made with great fanfare and photo ops.

Can the minister tell this House how much money government has spent on Buy Local programs?

Hon. N. Letnick: The Buy Local program is part of the huge success of agriculture in British Columbia. This last year alone we’ve seen a record increase in agrifood sales by 5.9 percent, $12.3 billion in agrifood sales — that $12.3 billion, the majority of which is right here in British Columbia and across our country, not to mention the record $3 billion in sales that we had exported to countries around the world. In particular, our partners in the United States took $2 billion of that.

We’re very proud of our Buy Local program — $6 million that was committed over the last three years, another $2 million committed in this year’s balanced budget, and we look forward to increased sales once again in the 2016 year.

Madame Speaker: Member for Saanich South on a supplemental.

L. Popham: On October 27, 2014, the Investment Agriculture Foundation wrote to a recipient of a $100,000 Buy Local grant called Sunshine Organics and outlined various problems with the company’s bookkeeping. The foundation copied Ministry of Agriculture officials and asked that the grant be returned to government.

Can the minister tell this House if these sorts of grants are regularly being taken back by government?

Hon. N. Letnick: I’d just like to continue on the great benefits of the Buy Local program — $6 million over the last three years, another $2 million committed in this year, but not only do we see $8 million from government treasury going to help agricultural producers connect with local people, that’s being more than matched by industry. It’s estimated that the $8 million of taxpayer dollars going through the Buy Local program will be more than $20 million in total, when you factor in the partnerships that we are getting from the private sector.

We fully support the Buy Local program. We fully support British Columbians doing what comes naturally, which is to buy B.C. products, and we’ll continue to do that on this side of the House.

Madame Speaker: Saanich South on a further supplemental.

L. Popham: Four days after the Investment Agriculture Foundation told Sunshine Organics that they wanted their money back, the deputy minister for Agriculture emailed the minister’s chief of staff and executives with government communication about the issue. This email has been completely severed under the policy advice section of the Freedom of Information Act.

Can the minister tell this House why his deputy minister’s advice on this grant would need to be severed under FOI?

[1035]

Hon. N. Letnick: Obviously, I don’t have any influence on the independent FOI branch and the decisions that they make, but I want to continue on the Buy Local program since the member opposite has given me this opportunity.

Last year we had a record year in increases in asparagus, beets, cauliflower, peppers, cattle, milk, chicken, salmon and a record year in honey production, which the hon. member loves to expose. Over two million pounds in honey last year — 3.8 million pounds in 2015, almost double.

We’ll continue to grow agriculture on this side of the House, and I just wish the member opposite would say yes to Buy Local, like all the other products that we do on this side of the House.

HSE – 20160310AM 008/hbw/1035

in honey last year, 3.8 million pounds in 2015 — almost double.

We’ll continue to grow agriculture on this side of the House, and I just wish that the member opposite would say yes to Buy Local, like all our other products that we do on this side of the House.

R. Austin: We were also a bit confused by this severing. After all, why would the deputy minister, a senior assistant deputy minister, the minister’s chief of staff and senior government communications officials need to be briefed about a $50,000 grant to a small Powell River company?

Then we looked to the email trail, and who was emailing all those people, trying to ensure that Sunshine Organics got its grant? Ms. Judi Tyabji Wilson.

Can the minister tell this House why Ms. Tyabji Wilson, who was neither an officer of Sunshine Organics nor a registered lobbyist, was so active in pursuing a grant that was later withdrawn?

Hon. N. Letnick: Again, I’d just like to repeat what I said before. I have no role in the independent FOI and what’s severed.

I’d like to continue on the great achievements of agriculture on this side of the House. Farm cash receipts in B.C. We had a record year for tree fruits; cattle and calves; dairy; hogs; honey, as I said — a record year in net cash income for our agricultural farms, increasing to $312 million last year. That’s with more 32,000 hectares of land in the agricultural land reserve since 2001.

We will continue to protect agriculture on this side of the House. We will continue to make sure that we grow food for all British Columbians right here in British Columbia.

EMPLOYMENT PROGRAM GRANT AND
CONFLICT-OF-INTEREST CONCERNS
REGARDING JUDI TYABJI WILSON

M. Mungall: The story starts to get a little bit stranger. It turns out that at the very time government was talking to Ms. Tyabji Wilson about the grant for Sunshine Organics, they were awarding Ms. Tyabji Wilson her very own grant. On June 26, 2014, the former Minister of Social Development awarded Ms. Tyabji Wilson $128,000 in grants to start a social enterprise called Tanned, Wild and Woolly.

Can the Minister of Social Development tell the House what, exactly, government expected would be achieved with this $128,000 grant?

Hon. Michelle Stilwell: What I can tell the member opposite is that the community employment partnerships that we run through the ministry are an important part of the employment partnership, EPBC.

In this particular situation, there were five individuals who were struggling to gain a foothold in the job market. They received five weeks of training and work experience to then move forward with the project that is very well managed and evaluated according to strict guidelines within my ministry and has very professional standards.

M. Mungall: Well, in addition to being the spouse of the Premier’s LNG advocate, Ms. Tyabji Wilson is the president of Pebble in the Pond Environmental Society. She proposed forming a social enterprise that would spend $128,000 to train, as the minister said, five employment insurance recipients in how to tan sheepskins. But here’s the thing.

As part of the exercise, the new social enterprise would need to hire a full-time project supervisor to train the five employees to market the sheepskins, manage the grant and so on. Can the Minister of Social Development tell the House who the society hired to manage the $128,000 in taxpayers’ money?

[1040]

Hon. Michelle Stilwell: It’s not uncommon for there to be amendments that are made within a community employment partnership on an ongoing basis as we work through the projects. There are certainly staff reports that are received by my staff that talk about the monthly activity, as well as the financial impacts and any reports that go on through the project as it’s going. Any amendments have to be approved by staff before changes are made.

HSE – 20160310AM 009/amm/1040

the project as it’s going, and any amendments have to be approved by staff before changes are made.

K. Conroy: Well, the society that Ms. Tyabji Wilson founded decided that the best person to manage this project was — wait for it — Ms. Tyabji Wilson. The Minister of Social Development awarded Ms. Tyabji Wilson a $128,000 grant to train five people, and the chief financial beneficiary ends up being Ms. Tyabji Wilson, who developed and applied for the grant in the first place. Does the minister think that perhaps paying Ms. Tyabji Wilson $67,000 to supervise this project was a conflict of interest?

Hon. Michelle Stilwell: The chief financial benefactors in this program are the five individuals who received the training and the skills development that they need to get a foothold in the job market.

Again, my ministry follows very strict guidelines and ensures that the processes are followed and that amendments, when they are made, are reviewed by staff and approved appropriately.

Madame Speaker: Member for Kootenay West on a supplemental.

K. Conroy: Well, the minister’s staff does follow strict guidelines, and her staff did think that Ms. Tyabji Wilson was in a conflict of interest. One of her staff wrote: “There is a direct conflict of interest with the president of the non-profit being hired as a supervisor on the project. This one looks especially bad, as the president was the one that submitted the application and has been the negotiator for the project.” Does that minister agree with her staff’s assessment?

Hon. Michelle Stilwell: Like I mentioned earlier, the staff receive monthly activity and financial reports. They follow very strict guidelines. They follow the processes to ensure that the participants, who are the most important people in this process, the ones who are gaining the job skills and the supports so that they can move on in the job market — that we are following the standards and the guidelines and ensuring that process is followed.

S. Robinson: Now, the minister’s staff didn’t just comment on conflict of interest. They also wrote: “I have some serious concerns about this project as it appears to be a business start-up, and I would question whether this is really the intent of the job creation partnership.”

The minister’s staff went on to question whether there was even a viable business plan, because they noted: “If it’s going to be profitable even as a social enterprise, it needs to have a solid financial and business plan.”

Can the minister tell the House why, according to her staff, she appears to have funded a failed business where the primary financial beneficiary was Ms. Tyabji Wilson?

Hon. Michelle Stilwell: Again, it is my expectation that my staff are doing their due diligence and following the guidelines and the protocols that are involved with the community employment partnerships. The focus is always on the training of the individuals who will receive future skills to move on into the job market. That is vitally important to the employment program of B.C. It’s part of our skills-for-jobs blueprint. It is how we are ensuring that people in this province are getting the job skills that they need to be productive in society.

Madame Speaker: Member for Coquitlam-Maillardville on a supplemental.

S. Robinson: Ms. Tyabji Wilson appears to be a very, very busy woman. As disclosed in her application, she planned to give this project $2,000 worth of consulting services, courtesy of her management consulting firm, Maradadi Pacific. And while she says she was working full-time as the Tanned, Wild and Woolly project supervisor, she was resigning as CEO of her software company, Tugboat Enterprises, selling it to a local investor, and she was being hired as the chief operating officer of the new firm Quantum Key Data Recovery.

[1045]

Ms. Tyabji Wilson was already working as a management consultant and as the COO of a software company. Can the minister explain how she believes that Ms. Tyabji Wilson would also find the time to work full-time as a taxpayer-funded project supervisor?

HSE – 20160310AM 010/jah/1045

Wilson was already working as a management consultant and as the COO of a software company. Can the minister explain how she believes that Miss Tyabji Wilson would also find the time to work full-time as a taxpayer-funded project supervisor?

Hon. Michelle Stilwell: Balance in life is always a challenge. I’m an Olympian. I’m a minister. I’m an MLA and a wife and a mother, so we all find ways.

There have been nearly 200 projects that have been improved through the community employment projects and 900 individuals who have gained experience — 900 individuals who now have better roots on the ground to gain a better future for themselves. The community employment partnership program is working, and every single project that is there, we work through it with the individuals to ensure success.

S. Simpson: Not only was there a clear conflict of interest based on the views of the minister’s staff, the project was more than 40 percent over budget, ballooning from $128,000 to $181,000. Can the minister tell this House how that was good use of taxpayers’ money?

Hon. Michelle Stilwell: Again, with these community employment partnerships, we often see that there are amendments that are made as projects encounter unforeseen circumstances — over a course of the project, such things as additional operational costs or participants leaving the project due to outside employment opportunities. We have to be flexible with these projects, and that’s what we do within the ministry.

Madame Speaker: Vancouver-Hastings on a supplemental.

S. Simpson: Clearly, the minister’s flexibility on this is pretty high. The mismanagement wasn’t just financial, with a $53,000 cost overrun, it didn’t deliver on the performance side either. The premise of Tanned, Wild and Woolly was to keep a thousand sheepskins out of the landfill and make them into a marketable product.

The reality is that they managed to process 148, less than 15 percent of what was originally promised. Can the minister tell us whether the B.C. Liberal idea of performance is 40 percent over budget for less than 15 percent of the promised deliverables? Is that the Liberal idea of success?

Hon. Michelle Stilwell: What is successful is that five individuals received 50 weeks of training that will benefit them for life ongoing, building the skills that they need in the future. That’s what’s important.

M. Farnworth: Actually, maybe the Premier will be happy to answer the question I’m about to ask. The reality is that, although just over 100 or 15 percent of the sheepskins were eventually tanned, only 27 of them were ultimately sold. Not very successful.

But, as part of the Premier’s biographer’s contract, one of the things that she did manage to do was to write a jingle for this company. Perhaps the Premier can tell the House: was the jingle a version of Baa Baa Black Sheep or “The Premier Had a Little Lamb”? It really doesn’t matter, because whatever it was, the taxpayers of this province have clearly been fleeced on this project.

Hon. C. Clark: No, I understand that it was the theme song for the upcoming sequel to V for Vendetta.

Madame Speaker: Member for Port Coquitlam on a supplemental.

[1050]

M. Farnworth: Well then, perhaps the Premier can tell this House, now that she’s been on her feet, why would her government award a grant to the Premier’s biographer after the ministry determines that she would be in a

HSE – 20160310AM 011/alw/1050

Madame Speaker: Member for Port Coquitlam on a supplemental.

M. Farnworth: Well, then, perhaps the Premier can tell this House, now that she’s been on her feet, why her government would award a grant to the Premier’s biographer after the ministry determined that she would be in a conflict of interest? Perhaps she could tell the House why her government funded a start-up company that violated the conditions of the program? Perhaps the Premier can tell the House why her government then decided to increase the grant by 40 percent after it had been found to be in a conflict of interest?

Can the Premier tell this House why the taxpayers of this province were so badly fleeced by the Premier’s own biographer?

Hon. C. Clark: Well, I don’t have a biography, but I promise that when I do write my book, the member opposite will certainly be in it, and there will be lots of stories to tell about this time we’ve had in the House.

The minister has answered the questions that the members have put. I will say, in tribute to her and the work that she does…. A tremendous amount of focus on making sure that…. People who are struggling to get ahead, people who live with disabilities, people who are finding a way into the workforce are a major focus.

Interjections.

Madame Speaker: Members.

Hon. C. Clark: Our minister is someone who not only is a wife and a mother and a minister of the Crown. She’s also an Olympian. She understands how important it is that people who live with disabilities get every single opportunity that they can to be able to enter into the workforce, participate in it and lead the kind of fulfilling life that work offers for people. That’s been a central focus for this minister. We are very, very proud of the work that she does and very proud of the work that the staff do in her ministry in supporting that.

We are changing lives in British Columbia through the work that she does. On behalf of everyone, at least on this side of the House, I’d like to say thank you.

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