Dermod Travis: NDP should check what’s down in the cellar

As the new B.C. government settles in and email accounts are transferred over, it’ll soon be time for them to pluck up the courage to check the cellar.

The nooks and crannies of government operations, if you will. Some of what they’ll find might come as a shock.

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Think of it as the former government outsourcing operations, getting them off the books, so to speak, and as far away as possible from pesky things such as legislative oversight or B.C.’s access-to-information legislation.

There’s AdvantageBC — an independent non-profit society — whose members enjoy an annual provincial tax rebate in the neighbourhood of $25 million.

Its CEO, Colin Hansen, says the organization focuses “mostly on companies in China,” even though the bulk of its members are born and bred here in North America. The new government can’t fire Hansen, can’t even appoint a member to the board of directors, independent and all.

Then there’s HQ Vancouver, set up to attract head offices to Vancouver. It received $3.3 million from B.C.’s Ministry of International Trade.

It, too, is focused on China, but seems to be having some teething issues, according to an April article in the Financial Post: “HQ Vancouver’s ‘success stories’ suspect as Asian companies sputter or fall under scrutiny.”

Both the B.C. government and HQ Vancouver made a big deal out of the decision two years ago of China-based F-Pacific Optical Communications — a manufacturer of fibre-optic components — to open its North American headquarters in Surrey. Former premier Christy Clark called it the “start of great things” for both F-Pacific and HQ Vancouver.

It turns out when the Financial Post showed up at the Surrey site, it found the plant vacant and a For Lease sign up.

The New Car Dealers Association of B.C. runs the government’s $46-million electric-car incentive program, as the Vancouver Sun’s Gordon Hoekstra reported in April. It’s not known what the association charges to oversee the program. Somehow the Quebec and Ontario governments manage to do it all on their own.

The association has donated more than $1.3 million to the B.C. Liberal party since 2005.

Its counterpart in Ontario can’t donate to political parties, since a ban came into place in that province this year. Its executive director could make personal donations — but based on Ontario’s new individual limit, it would take more than 360 years to donate $1.3 million.

In May, Vancouver journalist Bob Mackin reported on the Forest Enhancement Society of B.C., another independent, non-profit society arranged by government that can also thumb its nose at the province’s access-to-information laws. The society is charged with overseeing tree-planting in the province.

In 2016, then-minister of forests, land and natural resource operations Steve Thomson gave the brand-spanking-new group $85 million in public funding. Former premier Christy Clark topped that up by another $150 million this year.

All start-ups should be so fortunate.

In March, former MLA Bill Bennett announced that the government would outsource wildlife management to a new outside, independent group. Local hunting, conservation and wildlife groups were to be tasked with establishing the group’s “framework.”

Bennett said: “Government is afraid to manage wolves, for example, or afraid to manage grizzly bears in some cases because of the politics of that.”

At the announcement, Bennett said the group would be funded “with an initial $5 million from the government,” with annual hunting-licence renewals as the sustaining funding. The group’s status is unknown.

The BCIIF should be fun for the new minister to untangle. It’s the Crown corporation that “manages and invests B.C.’s share of funds received through the federal Immigrant Investor Program.” Some of those investments might not be working out so well.

As the Times Colonist’s Les Leyne reported in 2015: “Any reports on how the B.C. Renaissance Capital Fund — part of BCIIF — is actually performing seem to be behind closed doors.”

One of its investments — Surrey-based Endurance Wind Power — tanked last year.

Something else the government will find in the cellar?

Those stellar reports on controlling executive compensation at Crown corporations aren’t quite as stellar as they might seem. A few former executives simply became executive consultants to their former bosses.

The new government is sure to find a lot more surprises when it goes through the cellar.

God speed.


Dermod Travis is the executive director of IntegrityBC.

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