The Pacific Carbon Trust’s handling of carbon offsets is one thing.
Its handling of controversy is another.
The Crown corporation was rapped last week by auditor general John Doyle for the private-enterprise carbon-offsetting projects that it funds with public money.
And the Opposition is keen to learn more about how the corporation dealt with the furious argument that erupted during and after the writing of the audit.
Doyle butted heads with numerous parties while conducting the audit. There is a collection of correspondence showing how frustrated independent advisers on the B.C. projects wrote to Doyle objecting to the approach he was taking.
That’s what prompted him, at the conclusion of the bitter process, to claim he had been the target of an orchestrated letter-writing campaign by vested interests, and that the trust had disclosed confidential information. (Oddly enough, Doyle was also on the hot seat about disclosure, after draft documents showed he was sharing views with a New Democrat MLA.)
The trust denied orchestrating any campaign, saying the experts aggrieved by Doyle’s approach were writing on their own.
As the argument over carbon-offsetting continues, the Opposition New Democrats widened the scope to include the trust’s tactical response to the audit.
The focus is a Vancouver government-relations-public-relations firm called Wazuku Advisory Group, which does work for the trust.
It has three principals: Mike Watson, a former credit-union executive, Brad Zubyk, a former NDP strategist who works for business groups and other political parties, and Steve Kukucha, an energy-sector lawyer.
NDP finance critic Bruce Ralston wrote a public letter to the trust asking several questions about the firm’s involvement.
Ralston expressed concern that the trust would spend scarce money retaining a firm that also works for “Concerned Citizens for B.C.,” a partisan attack group that has been running critical ads about NDP leader Adrian Dix.
Ralston said it would be inappropriate for the trust to hire the Wazuku Group if the intent was to discredit the auditor general.
He asked a number of questions about what Wazuku was expected to do for the trust.
Curiously, he left one question out.
Mike Watson, one of the principals of the firm, is also on the board of the Pacific Carbon Trust.
Among the people who are already skeptical of the carbon-offsetting process, the linkage has heightened doubts. A Crown corporation retained a company owned and operated by one of its own directors. The trust put out a tender for consultants to help plan the outfit’s future last year.
One small component of that was the piece Wazuku was awarded, worth about $10,000.
The link is quite open. Watson declared his interest at the outset, out of concern about real or perceived conflict of interest. The trust got a legal opinion that the contract with a board director was proper.
Watson is also said to have arranged an “internal firewall” within the company, so he has nothing to do with any of the work related to the Pacific Carbon Trust.
The trust is preparing a response to the NDP queries. But it didn’t do itself any favours by contracting with a firm that is separately involved in a partisan attack-ad campaign. And the fact one of its own directors is a principal in the firm is problematic.
But not for the NDP. The audit and its aftermath are a particularly sweet win for the Opposition. They blundered six years ago in deciding to oppose the entire suite of climate-change policies introduced by the B.C. Liberals. It was a cynical move to gain political ground at the expense of their purported environmental principles.
Now one of the key parts is looking shaky and the NDP can claim it was against it from the beginning.
Two things fell by the wayside last week. One is the question of what the trust should be doing differently. Even Doyle acknowledged it’s a complicated new concept that’s hard to get right.
And the second is what the NDP would do about it. After the 2009 election, the party eventually flipped on part of its embarrassing climate-change stance.
But the Opposition is still vague on the general topic, and opaque when it comes to how it would change the Pacific Carbon Trust.
For all the criticism, there haven’t been a lot of better alternatives offered.
© Copyright 2013