Bob Mackin: Transparency is feasible for government

Premier John Horgan promised to pass a duty-to-document law, with fines up to $50,000 for those who illegally destroy or hide public records. After two throne speeches, the NDP is asking for more public comment and is kicking freedom-of-information reforms down the road.

So it was amusing to read ex-Christy Clark underling Maclean Kay in the Times Colonist being an apologist for both the current and former premiers, under the headline “Absolute transparency isn’t feasible in government” (March 1).

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Absolutely, it is feasible.

Kay and the B.C. Liberals didn’t want it. They chose to manipulate the media and undermine the public’s right to know, because they believed that was the path to power.

I am also amused that Kay mentioned an unnamed “very bright light” that made his job more difficult.

That was me.

On behalf of the public, journalists must be the very bright light and shine in dark corners. “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman,” Justice Louis Brandeis famously said.

Kay omitted my name, and the context of FOI requests he found inconvenient.

He pejoratively referred to an interview request from a blogger. I wanted Kay and his cohort, Sam Oliphant, to provide stats and facts about how much taxpayers were on the hook for tickets, food and drink, and transportation when Clark attended a Women’s World Cup soccer game at B.C. Place after being in Kelowna on June 21, 2015. (She had a habit of flying charter jets at taxpayer expense, something I chronicled on several occasions.)

I was working for The Province on a story about our public officials rubbing shoulders with executives from FIFA. The world soccer governor was under FBI investigation for transnational corruption.

When Kay and Oliphant ignored my query, I wanted to know whether they also deleted it. I eventually got a “no records” response. In late May 2015, whistleblower Tim Duncan complained to information and privacy commissioner Elizabeth Denham that records were being destroyed across government.

Kay also mentioned my reference to him on radio. Was he was listening live, or did he read about it in one of the public-paid transcripts from the government’s sophisticated media-monitoring department?

As for the ex-premier’s wardrobe, I became curious about the First Nations-styled clothing that she began wearing at photo ops. The shawls were tailored for her by one of her Dunbar neighbours. When a political leader becomes obsessed with message-making and image-making — when she embraces product-marketing techniques — it is reasonable to question the cost of the packaging.

Clark hired the same designer to produce gifts for the royal couple in 2016. As I learned, via FOI, the nearly $1,800 invoice for blankets, wraps and ties gave her staff sticker shock.

Clark told reporters that she would end 2013 by helping build a school in Kenya with her son. A noble cause, but this was the same politician famous for cutting funds to B.C. schools.

The trip was mysteriously cancelled, for “private reasons,” and I wanted to know why. She was supposed to travel with Me to We, the business arm of the Free the Children charity. Clark had authorized a $200,000 taxpayer grant for the organization behind the annual We Day earlier in 2013.

Clark’s office resisted for three years, before an adjudicator at the Information and Privacy Commission finally ordered it to cough up documents that showed public employees were working overtime to book Clark’s so-called “private” vacation. There were fears about the premier’s security, just three months after terrorists had killed a Canadian diplomat in Nairobi.

Kay walked away last summer with a healthy $51,278 severance (yes, I FOI’d that, too) after working in the most dishonest B.C. government since the NDP of the 1990s.

There was one scandal after another. If the B.C. Liberals weren’t busy triple-deleting email, they were using post-it notes to keep track of FOI requests or using private email accounts to keep their “quick wins” scheme secret.

Kay used a faulty analogy about the lack of glass doors on bathroom stalls to support his argument in favour of government secrecy.

There should be no places in public institutions for officials to hide from the glare of the very bright light. Bad apples should not be afforded the chance to shut the door and flush our money away or fill their pockets with the toilet paper that we buy.

In the end, it’s always the public that’s left to mop up the mess left by people like Clark and underlings like Kay.

Bob Mackin is an award-winning Vancouver journalist who publishes

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