Notley and Trudeau

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

When they walked in front of the cameras with smiles that threatened to crack their faces, my heart fluttered.

As they began talking about a new era of cooperation in British Columbia and their agreement to “use all available tools to stop Kinder Morgan,” Ban Big Money and bring in electoral reform, I almost began to tear up.

The short press conference Andrew Weaver and John Horgan held to announce the details of their historic agreement could change the trajectory of British Columbia history, if not the country, and the world.

But then I remembered the last time I had felt this way.

My mind jumped back to November 13, 2015, the day Trudeau — our newly elected Prime Minister — released his ministerial mandate letters, making public for the first time in Canadian history each minister’s marching orders for the government’s four year term: use fact-based decision making and be transparent.

Among his many promises, most critical to me and many of us in B.C. was this one: “No relationship is more important to me and to Canada than the one with Indigenous peoples. It is time for a renewed, nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous peoples, based on recognition of rights, respect, co-operation and partnership.”

After 10 years of Harper’s autocratic anti-democratic rule by fiat, the change in tone and form was palpable; it seemed too good to be true — and it was.

The broken promises and betrayals over the last 18 months have confirmed for me that democracy requires eternal vigilance, that politicians are followers not leaders, and that political promises are too easily broken.

All this flashed through my mind as I spent the rest of the day working with colleagues at West Coast Environmental Law to put together a briefing note on the various tools the soon-to-be B.C. government can use to stop Kinder Morgan. Then I went home and turned on CBC’s The National and I started fuming.

The first sound bite was Justin Trudeau in Rome regurgitating his hackneyed talking point of “facts and evidence” This time, he was saying the facts and evidence on Kinder Morgan hadn’t changed despite the change in government, signalling his continued support and intention to push through the pipeline over any British Columbia objections.

Frankly, I almost retched at Trudeau’s hypocrisy. It’s hard to stomach his epic flip-flop on the inadequacy of the NEB’s Kinder Morgan review. The only explanation for his transformation from a hard critic to a cheerleader is political opportunism. There is no other way to reconcile candidate Trudeau’s infamous August 2015 videotaped exchange with my colleague Kai Nagata with his current pipeline stance. The video made clear the future Prime Minister promised the National Energy Board’s (NEB) review of Kinder Morgan would be redone.

The betrayal gets worse. In a detailed follow up letter to Dogwood dated two weeks before Trudeau won a majority government – Liberal Party president Anna Gainey wrote about Kinder Morgan’s project:

“Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party of Canada have serious concerns with the process surrounding the approval of this pipeline. We cannot support the pipeline in its current form because the Conservatives have not ensured environmental, community or stakeholder consent.”

And here comes the kicker:

“We agree with what you, and Canadians across the country, have been saying for a long time: Canada’s environmental assessment process is broken.”

Yet, somehow the “broken”, unsupportable process miraculously repaired itself as Trudeau mounted the steps at 24 Sussex Drive.

The National also had Jim Carr, the Minister of Natural Resources, defending the Kinder Morgan review as the “the most exhaustive in the history of pipelines in Canada.” Candidate Trudeau’s own words and his party’s letter mock Minister Carr’s claim.

In reality, the NEB’s review of Kinder Morgan was about as fair and rigorous as a Trump national security vetting, without the tweets. I guess there is something about Ottawa that makes politicians like Harper and Trudeau think they can transform black into white just because they say so.

As for Trudeau’s promised “redo”? Although deeply flawed itself, Jim Carr’s slap dash “supplemental ministerial review” identified many important issues overlooked in the NEB process. The panel acknowledged they “hadn’t the time, technical expertise or the resources to fill those gaps.” Concluding, “[o]ur role was not to propose solutions, but to identify important questions that, in the circumstances, remain unanswered (emphasis added).”

Despite this, Trudeau went ahead and approved Kinder Morgan without addressing any of the six unanswered questions raised by the panel.

The notorious Frank Underwood from House of Cards would be proud of Justin and Jim, but British Columbians are pissed.

Many Liberal MPs from B.C. tried to warn the PMO about the inevitable backlash, but they have their own agenda and are ignorant of how B.C. ticks. Just like Harper’s fatal mistake of pushing Enbridge, the PMO seems to be banking on the issue dying before 2019. The Green-NDP alliance makes that unlikely.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley’s recent pro-Kinder Morgan proclamations were equally ham fisted. “Mark my words,” she said, “that pipeline will be built, the decisions have been made and it is the best interest of Albertans, Canadians and, in particular, British Columbians.”

Nice try Ms. Notley, but where do you get off thinking you can speak for the best interests of British Columbians? I know you’re working hard to drag your province’s laissez faire energy policies into the twenty-first century, but you’re not going to succeed by linking your political survival to something you have no influence over. How exactly are you going to force the B.C. government to approve the 60+ provincial permits Kinder Morgan still needs for construction? Sorry, but you have no power here.

Let’s get real. British Columbians are tired of eastern politicians and federally appointed bodies trying to to force unwanted projects through our unwilling province. And we won’t sit idly by while Big Oil, Notley, pro-oil publications and, of course, Trudeau’s federal Liberals double down, falsely claiming Kinder Morgan is in the “national interest.”

Expect a chorus of pundits and politicos, mostly located east of the Rockies, claiming B.C. has no power to stop it. But don’t believe them. In fact, remind them they said the same thing about Enbridge’s Northern Gateway.

When are the arrogant elites in Ottawa going to stop underestimating the power of the No Tanker/anti-Kinder Morgan movement?

Stephen Harper underestimated British Columbians and it cost him 19 of 21 tidewater ridings and almost 150,000 votes in B.C. And now it has cost Christy Clark 24 of 34 tidewater ridings and ultimately a majority government.

Trudeau has grossly underestimated the depth of the Kinder Morgan opposition and the resolve of British Columbians. So mark MY words — Ottawa’s broken promises on electoral reform and a Kinder Morgan redo could prevent him from retaining his majority in 2019. Incumbent federal Liberal MP’s should have a few sleepless nights after looking at this map:

And while politicians are meeting with lobbyists and hosting cash-for-access dinners, Dogwood staff, volunteers, allies, partner groups and First Nations are talking to everyday British Columbians and building our army of resistance ready to fight political interests trying to push our country backward instead of forward.

When Green Party leader Andrew Weaver said “If Rachel Notley thinks there’s nothing B.C. can do to stop Kinder Morgan, I suggest she look at section 35 of the Constitution,” he was absolutely right. And he wasn’t just flipping the bird to Big Oil and Alberta’s arrogant view that what’s good for them is good for all Canadians. He was showing British Columbians that we finally have a government willing to fight for us and not for the interests of Big Money.

Like most people, I too carry the scars of disappointment from a long list of broken political promises. My flashbacks of Trudeau’s betrayals while watching CBC’s Kinder Morgan coverage are almost painful.

Hopefully, this time is different. The ultra thin margin between the parties means that the soon-to-be government can’t risk breaking its promises. One MLA abstaining, one MLA crossing the aisle or going rogue could topple the government or defeat an important bill. This gives us enormous leverage and opens new doors for holding a government to its promises.

It won’t be easy, we’ll face unexpected obstacles, but if we commit to connecting people together, and creating a framework for them to collectively exert power, we can start creating the province we dream about for our kids.

This is the moment we have been preparing for. It’s our time.

We are big, we are strong, we are resilient, we are organized, and every day we grow more powerful.

If Ottawa, Texas or Alberta want to go toe-to-toe once again, I’m raring to go.

How about you?

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times Read More »

Thank you. Now, let’s get to work.

It looks like British Columbians may finally get a government ready to fight for what’s right in B.C.

Today, Christy Clark announced her intention to bring back the B.C. legislature as soon as possible in June, face a confidence vote and hand over power to the BC NDP, backed by the BC Greens.

Clark said she would not ask the Lieutenant-Governor for another election, and would be honoured to serve British Columbians as the Leader of the Opposition.

It’s a historic day in B.C.

Coincidentally, today is also the 18th anniversary of me joining Dogwood as its first-ever staff member. All day, the faces of thousands of people I’ve met doing this work have been flashing through my mind like a movie.

Thank you, for everything you’ve done to get us to this moment.

Minutes after Clark spoke, NDP leader John Horgan and Green Leader Andrew Weaver held a ceremony at the B.C. legislature.

Their governing agreement, now signed by a majority of MLAs, declares they will use all legal and political tools available to stop Kinder Morgan’s crude pipeline and oil tanker proposal — and ban corrupting Big Money from politics once and for all.

It also lays the groundwork for B.C. to transition to a more just, sustainable 21st-century economy, move forward with Indigenous reconciliation — and electoral reform. And given Andrew Weaver’s words today about reestablishing B.C. as a climate leader, I can’t see the U.S. thermal coal industry getting a free ride through our province for much longer.

Together we’ve been working toward this opportunity for years. There are many struggles still ahead. But for the first time in a long time, I feel like we have a chance to start building the province most of us want to live in — instead of just fighting the people trying to drag us backwards.

I started working at Dogwood in 1999, helping First Nations and local communities fend off multinational lumber companies that were looting their territories and pillaging peoples’ shared watersheds.

Our mission was to help people organize at a local level, so they could defend their home — while carving out space for the kind of community they wanted to raise their kids and grandkids in.

That work was basically hijacked when a company called Enbridge showed up with plans for a massive oil sands pipeline across Northern B.C., backed by Big Oil, their cheerleaders in Ottawa and the Government of China. They wanted to send supertankers brimming with diluted bitumen through the Great Bear Rainforest. It was a fight we simply couldn’t afford to lose.

After years of working behind the scenes with First Nations, environmental heroes and some of the smartest lawyers I’ve ever had the privilege to meet, in 2007 we dropped everything to launch the No Tankers campaign.

What began with a few people around kitchen tables soon morphed into showdowns in corporate boardrooms, millions of No Tanker loonie decals, thousands marching in the streets, and debates in Parliament.

While we were still fighting Enbridge in the North, Kinder Morgan showed up from Texas with its proposal for an even bigger oil tanker project in the South, opening up a two-front battle.

There were many, many nights over the course of the last 15 years where I was scared we would be overrun.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, backed by the RCMP, the spy agencies and the CRA, launched a relentless campaign on behalf of Big Oil to grind us down and pave the way for diluted bitumen exports. It was only thanks to you that Dogwood survived.

But while we tangled with Harper, the world changed. Oil prices crashed, perhaps permanently, as demand began to plateau and renewable energy started coming online. World leaders signed the Paris Agreement. And First Nations won victory after victory in the courts, greatly enhancing their power and authority as decision-makers over the shared lands and waters we call home.

All the while, Dogwood was busy building grassroots organizing muscle in key places around the province, ensuring local people can maximize their clout at key moments — including elections.

Through the 2014 municipal elections, 2015 federal campaign and 2017 provincial election, Dogwood showed over and over that local people, working outside the party system, can help crank up voter turnout — and elect leaders who share our values and are ready to fight for our home.

But that success didn’t happen overnight.

We started investing in permanent, on-the-ground organizing work in places like Saanich North back in 2008, Courtenay-Comox in 2012 and North Vancouver-Lonsdale in 2014. Many other groups, parties and individuals contributed to the outcome of the most recent B.C. election, but I will always be proud of the Dogwood organizers who worked year in, year out to create the conditions for change.

Now’s our chance to seize the moment. With a new government we have the opportunity to lock in structural reforms that remove power from international corporations, lobbyists and party operatives — and put it back in the hands of First Nations and everyday British Columbians where it belongs.

There will be lots of sabre-rattling in the days to come from the oil industry, the Alberta government, pro-oil publications and of course Justin Trudeau’s federal Liberal administration, which is sticking to its guns on Kinder Morgan. But B.C. has faced worse before. If we stick together and focus on helping local people build grassroots power, I know we can win. Thanks for being part of it.

It’s been a wild ride. I look forward to what comes next.

Thank you. Now, let’s get to work. Read More »

Christy Clark

Dirty donation déjà vu

I love all kinds of movies, but my hands-down favourites are about underdogs. Any movie where the little guy takes on a big, bad villain and wins gets a double thumbs up from me.

Most classic Westerns fit the bill: picture hapless frontier folk facing down greedy, well-armed bandits. While B.C. has recently been dubbed the “Wild West” of political cash, we locals have contended with unsavory shenanigans since at least 2001.

You see, although Dogwood “officially” launched our Ban Big Money campaign last spring, we’ve been trying to shine sunlight on B.C.’s sleazy political donations for more than a decade.

Once Upon A Time In The West

Back in 2006 after a comprehensive, line by-line review of BC Liberals’ 2001 and 2005 annual donation disclosure, Dogwood filed a complaint with Elections BC documenting how the BC Liberals systematically underreported donations in both 2001 and 2005.

Our investigation found the following:

  • Almost half a million dollars in donations ( >500 inaccuracies) the BC Liberal party failed to properly report in its 2001 financial disclosure as required by law.
  • Those mistakes amounted to almost a third of the $1.6 million donated directly to Liberal candidates in that election.
  • The BC Liberals hadn’t properly disclosed approximately six per cent of the party’s donations in 2001. The largest inaccuracies involved donations to candidates who later became cabinet ministers.
  • The BC Liberals’ 2005 financial report revealed similar systemic reporting mistakes.
  • Random spot checks of the NDP’s 2001 and 2005 filings did not reveal similar systemic reporting mistakes.

Elections BC responded to our complaint just as they did with recent allegations of illegal donations: by launching a comprehensive review of all parties’ donation reports.

The Searchers

The results were mixed. Elections BC confirmed the BC Liberals had violated the law in 2001, however, they chose not to impose a penalty. Elections BC stated in their May 16, 2006 letter to Dogwood:

“[We] concur that the [BC Liberal] party did not consistently report correct amounts for combined contributions… to the party and its candidates in the 2001 General Election … It was a systemic error that resulted in some contributions to some candidates not being included in the party’s combined report…”

But some good did come of it. Dogwood’s 2006 complaint had a big role in making sure all party donations are now available online in a searchable database: the Financial Reports and Political Contributions System.

Now with public pressure mounting, the BC Liberals have introduced legislation that would mandate “real time” disclosure of donations (instead of the current once-a-year disclosure). But their supposed efforts to increase transparency are too little, too late.

A Fistful of Dollars

Transparency alone wasn’t enough to rein in the sleaze in 2006, nor will it be in 2017. The reason British Columbia remains the Wild West is because the underlying rules are outdated or non-existent. While many provinces — and the federal government — have brought in tough new reforms, British Columbia laws have stagnated.

With lax enforcement of what few rules there are, the sleaze scale has increased dramatically: Last year donations over $100 accounted for $11.7 million of the BC Liberal party’s $12.15 million total. That included $1.7 million from just 11 top donors in 2016.

Right now in B.C. the picture is clear: it’s powerful corporations, lobbyists and high net worth individuals who are running the show.

But to double down on a cliché, there might be a new sheriff in town.

High Noon

This month Kathy Tomlinson reported in the Globe & Mail that a number of lobbyists made individual donations to the BC Liberals, then took reimbursements from corporations. That would break one of the few laws we do have, designed to stop people from concealing the true source of donations.

Lobbyists like Mark Jiles (whose clients include the B.C. Salmon Farmers’ Association) and Byng Giraud, (a lobbyist for Woodfibre LNG, an Indonesian firm hoping to build a gas plant near Squamish) admitted they paid for tables at fundraisers on personal credit cards, then billed the same amount back to clients.

That may just be the tip of the iceberg. Watchdog group Integrity BC has identified 727 suspicious donations to the BC Liberals, totalling more than $1.5 million. Those files have now been handed to the RCMP, which is taking over the investigation from Elections BC.

Dogwood has asked police to investigate donations by Kinder Morgan Canada president Ian Anderson, as well as six other lobbyists and staff connected to the controversial Trans Mountain expansion.

There are also allegations of irregularities related to $150,203 that accounting firm KPMG donated to the BC Liberals between 2005 to 2010. David McShane and Eric Watt are named in the Elections B.C. database as the KPMG executives who signed the cheques. But McShane died in 2004.

Watt, who acted as Premier Christy Clark’s financial agent in her 2011 leadership campaign, retired from KPMG in 2012. In 2014 the BC Liberal cabinet named him to the Knowledge Network board. KPMG also billed the provincial government $2,692,289 through April last year for accounting services.

With more such revelations appearing every day, public anger is approaching a tipping point.

True Grit

Back in 2006 we had to rely on mainstream outlets to publicize the issue, which they didn’t. Now Dogwood has enough supporters that the circulation of our e-mails, videos, blog posts and podcasts is starting to rival some media organizations.

Reporters are taking an interest, too. The New York Times, Globe & Mail, National Post, National Observer, CBC, Global, CTV, CKNW, Tyee, Metro and Vancouver Sun have all featured the current scandal in their headlines.

We haven’t won yet, but momentum is on our side.

Eventually the only option will be to ban big money from politics once and for all. When that happens, it will not be because political parties suddenly had an epiphany, but rather because people like you, and organizations like Dogwood and Integrity BC, organized a focused opposition demanding change.

Dogwood’s goal is simple: ensure whichever party forms government in May does so on a promise to fundamentally reform B.C.’s archaic political financing and access to government laws. With your help and some hard work, we know we can win.

If you want to put the big, powerful, arrogant, well-connected donors in their place, it’s going to take grit and determination. British Columbians like you and me are going to have to be the underdogs who force the issue and mobilize against any half measures that may be offered to distract us. We have to be the heroes of this story.

It will be a struggle, but we’re up for the challenge and we know you are too.

Dirty donation déjà vu Read More »

Christy Clark

Corporate cash addiction corrodes B.C. politics

Would you pay $20,000 to eat rubbery chicken, drink a couple glasses of wine, shake some hands and listen to boring political speeches?

No, probably not.

How about $5,000 or $10,000 a table? Or $1,000, $1,500 or $2,500 a plate?

Still no?

Me neither. But CEOs of British Columbia’s biggest corporations routinely hand over big cheques to hobnob with Christy Clark and her cabinet at BC Liberal party fundraisers. Or more recently, with John Horgan and the BC NDP.

If this is not legalized bribery, I don’t know what is. Certainly the $2,500, $10,000 or even $20,000 price of entry isn’t paying for the food and drink. So what’s it for?

The corrosive impact of money on politics has been in the news a lot lately. In Ottawa, Prime Minister Trudeau is on the defensive for allegedly violating his own rules at a $1,500-a-ticket private fundraiser attended by a number of Chinese billionaires seeking access and favours from Trudeau’s government.

One wealthy attendee, Zhang Bin, has strong ties to the Communist Party in China and reportedly donated $1 million to the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation soon after the exclusive event. Another tycoon in attendance, Shenglin Xian, received final approval soon afterward to open a bank in Canada. The Liberal Party maintains that government business is not discussed at these fundraisers.

Nonetheless, Federal Finance Minister Bill Moreau and Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould have also garnered headlines and negative editorials across the country for participating in these cash-for-access events. So have many of Kathleen Wynne’s Ontario cabinet ministers.

Down south, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders built their campaigns around slamming the role big donors play in driving policy in Washington D.C. Yet here in British Columbia – the wild west of political fundraising – Christy Clark’s BC Liberals are raking in unprecedented amounts of political money from dozens of corporations (foreign and domestic) with businesses regulated by her government, including from oilminingcoalLNG and real estate sectors. Pay-for-access dinners happen frequently in British Columbia, generally without a peep from the press.

John Horgan’s NDP slipped into the cesspool last week when his laudatory announcement to end the grizzly bear trophy hunt was hijacked by news that he was hosting a $10,000 VIP fundraiser with undisclosed “resource industry leaders” later that night.

While fracking, mining and timber companies can’t win any immediate concessions by wining and dining opposition leader John Horgan, perhaps they are just hedging their bets in case he forms government after the May election. It is worth noting corporations also dramatically increased donations to the NDP immediately before the 2013 election – when the NDP was widely predicted to win.

For someone like me who believes in transparency, integrity and public service, it’s all pretty depressing.

But the news is not all bad. In September, the Green Party of BC announced that, effective immediately, they would voluntarily impose a ban on donations of any kind from corporations and unions.

It was an important step that raised the ethical bar higher for all other political parties in our magnificent province. Unfortunately, they are the only party so far to have mustered the courage for bold change.

Critics of the Green Party have dismissed their voluntary ban as a stunt, citing the dearth of union and corporate donations the party receives. But in 2015, the Green Party received $10,549 (just under 3 per cent of their total donations) from unions and corporations, and these donations totaled $23,568 (~ seven per cent of the party’s income) in 2014. These totals, while small, are not insignificant for a small party.

So while it’s certainly easier for the Green Party to take a principled stand, other opposition parties wouldn’t be crippled by following the Green Party’s lead.  While the Libs got an astonishing $5,308,788 (53.19 per cent of total donations) from non-voting corporate and union donors in 2015, the NDP raised only a tiny fraction of that – $520,156 (17 per cent of their total).

Bernie Sanders showed us small donors will flock to progressive leaders who take a strong ethical stand against crony capitalism. Bernie’s campaign raised over $200,000,000 (the equivalent of almost one dollar from every eligible voter in the U.S). Using a similar formula, the BC NDP could raise at least $3,100,000 from B.C. voters, more than offsetting the corporate and union money they currently collect.

The BC Green Party reportedly raised $50,000 from individual donors after their voluntary ban on corporate money. In other words, in a few days the Greens raised more than four times the amount corporations gave them last year and double the sum raised in 2014.

The BC Conservative Party would face an even smaller shortfall, only having to backfill $4,250 (7.85 per cent of total income) if they refused to accept corporate or union money.

To give them credit, the BC NDP has tabled a private member’s bill five different times that would ban non-voters from making political donations and cap individual donations. If elected, leader John Horgan promises to clean up political fundraising for good. But in the meantime, he continues to solicit union and corporate money, arguing he can’t “unilaterally disarm” in the face of Christy Clark’s fundraising blitzkrieg.

Unfortunately, the NDP seems to be ignoring the old Albert Einstein quote about the definition of insanity – doing something over and over again and expecting a different result.

Clearly the BC NDP approach is insane by Einstein’s definition. As they have almost every year for decades, the NDP is exponentially losing the arms race to Premier Clark’s money machine, and are unlikely to catch up by election time. Trying to compete with the BC Liberals when you are being out-fundraised ten to one is a mug’s game. Yet the BC NDP refuse to change course.

Polling commissioned by Dogwood and conducted by Insights West shows an overwhelming majority of supporters from both the BC Liberals (81 per cent) and the BC NDP (91 per cent) want an end to corporate, union and out of province donations before the next election. So the challenge to the BC NDP is: will they listen?

If not, British Columbians need a game plan for after the vote in May – because without a clear alternative to Christy Clark’s corporate cronyism, there’s a strong likelihood the BC Liberals will use their massive monetary advantage to grind out another win.

Join thousands of other British Columbians who are fed up with business-as-usual politics by signing your name to Dogwood’s Ban Big Money campaign today. Together, we can hold all politicians to account for the destructive role money is playing in our political system – before, during and after the 2017 election.

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