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Media

Question Period: The influence of lobbying and corporate donations

Today in the Legislature I was up in Question Period. I questioned the Minister of Justice, Suzanne Anton, about the lobbying and donation practices of the fossil fuel industry and the effect on government decision-making. I also asked about reforms needed to regulate the lobbying industry in BC and bring it in line with federal standards.

My question follows reports in the media over this week that lobbyists are engaging in illegal donation practices on behalf of their clients, as well as a recent analysis that maps the influence of the fossil fuel industry in BC politics, highlighting extensive lobbying practices and vast amounts of political donations. Both reports can be found at the end of this article.

Below are the text and video of the exchange. I was disappointed with the Minister’s answers. She merely restated that we have a registry of lobbyists in BC. We do have a registry, but its usefulness as a tool of transparency is severely limited, since lobbyists are not required to report the meetings they hold with public office holders. Moreover, we have no code of conduct for lobbyists to regulate practices such as gift-giving to public office holders. The Office of the Registrar of Lobbyists recommended both of these measures, back in 2013, as important ways to make lobbying practices more transparent in BC. Yet the government has ignored these recommendations and the Minister of Justice was unwilling to engage on this serious issue.


Question


A. Weaver: Vast amounts of money are flowing from fossil fuel companies to both the B.C. Liberals and — to a much lesser extent, mind you — the B.C. NDP.

Between 2008 and 2015, 48 fossil fuel companies and industry groups donated $5.2 million to the government and official opposition and reported more than 22,000 lobbying contacts with public officials between 2010-2016. With seven of the top donors also ranking among the most active lobbyists, there is a substantial overlap between those who give money and those who get meetings.

To further that, 28 percent of lobbying by the top-ten most active lobbyists has been directly with cabinet ministers — an unrivaled level of access — and the Minister of Natural Gas Development is the most targeted member in the entire Legislature.

In light of this, my question to the Minister of Justice is this. How does the government expect the public to trust that their interests are being protected and that these practices are not buying lobbyists and their clients special treatment?


Answer


Hon. S. Anton: It may be that the member was not here yesterday to know that we actually established the first-ever lobbyist registry in 2002 to establish transparency so British Columbians could see who is doing the lobbying. There never was a registry before that. After some years of experience with that registry, we updated it in 2009, creating one of the strongest regimes for lobbyist registration in Canada.

The updates increased the registrar’s powers and duties so the lobbyist registrar now has the power to conduct investigations, to compel testimony and to compel documents. In other words, the lobbyist registrar has the tools that he or she needs in order to make sure that the registry is conducted properly and that the lobbyists are conducting themselves in accordance with the rules, which is what I expect, which is what we expect as a government.


Supplemental Question


A. Weaver: I’m glad the minister talked about the lobbying registry, because frankly, we are one of the weaker in the country of Canada. B.C. lacks rules to regulate lobbying practices and ensure transparency.

We know that extensive lobbying is ongoing in B.C., but we have no code of conduct for lobbyists. Moreover, we have no requirement in B.C. for lobbyists to register actual meetings with public office holders. All they have to do is register who they plan to lobby. Other jurisdictions in Canada have much stricter standards.

It’s clear to me that with our rampant cash-for-access system and allegations that lobbyists are engaging in illegal donation practices on behalf of their clients — largely to the B.C. Liberals but also to the B.C. NDP — that we need much more stringent rules. We need standards against which the public can hold lobbyists and their contacts in the government to account.

My question to the Minister of Justice is: will the minister commit to transparency on lobbying practices, including requiring lobbyists to report on actual meetings held with government officials and creating a code of conduct for lobbyists?


Answer


Hon. S. Anton: The matter that the member referred to about contributions is very clearly, if that were to happen, a breach not of the lobbyists act but of the Election Act. The Election Act in section 186(2)(b) says that “an individual may make a political contribution with the money of another individual, but must disclose to the individual required to record the contribution under section 190….”

In other words, you can make a payment on behalf of a third party, but the third party must be disclosed. It must be very clear that it is that third party’s money which has gone to the payment. That is a breach of the Election Act. It is very clearly a breach if that is conducted. I think that that’s the conduct the member is referring to.

In fact, to the lobbying act itself, the 2009 updates to the act put very strict and significant penalties into that act for breaches of the act.


Video from Question Period


 

Sources

Mapping Political Influence: Political donations and lobbying by the fossil fuel industry in BC, Corporate Mapping Project, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Available at: http://www.corporatemapping.ca/bc-influence/.

Lobbying in British Columbia: The Way Forward: Report on Province-Wide Consultations and Recommendations for Reform, Elizabeth Denham, Registrar of Lobbyists. Available at: https://www.lobbyistsregistrar.bc.ca/handlers/DocumentHandler.ashx?ID=447.

‘Fairly limited’ transparency rules for lobbyists in B.C., deputy registrar says,  Liam Britten, CBC News. Available at: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/lobbying-lobbyists-b-c-1.4014551.

British Columbia: The ‘wild west’ of fundraising, Kathy Tomlinson, CBC News. Available at: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/investigations/wild-west-bc-lobbyists-breaking-one-of-provinces-few-political-donationrules/article34207677/.

British Columbian’s very own Alternate News Channel!

Today in the legislature I questioned the Minister of Advanced Education on what I perceive to be a wasteful use of taxpayers resources. In the United States, the Trump news channel bills itself as the world’s first media outlet dedicated to positive news about Donald Trump. Here in B.C., we have our own. It’s called the Province of B.C. Channel.

You’ll see from the discussion below that this channel has been a colossal failure. Yet it is clear that a substantial amount of money has been spent producing these professionally produced videos. My questions were designed to find out how much these videos were costing the taxpayer.

My questions followed three that the Leader of the Official Opposition posed to the same Minister regarding pre-election advertising using taxpayers’ money. The Minister responded each time by berating the BC NDP for their record in the 1990s. That is why when I stood up I started off by saying that I thought it was 2017 not 1998.

Below I reproduced my exchange with the Minister in video and text format. I was quite disappointed with his answers.


Video of Question Period



Question


A. Weaver: Last time I looked, it was 2017 and not 1998.

In the United States, the Trump news channel bills itself as the world’s first media outlet dedicated to positive news about Donald Trump. Here in B.C., we have our own. It’s called the province of B.C. channel.

This alternate news outlet is not drawing an awful lot of viewers, and we have to wonder why it exists. For example, of the 39 videos that have been posted, 37 have been complete flops. The B.C. jobs plan video got 148 views in three weeks.

The video of the Premier responding to the federal government’s marine strategy was viewed 118 times in three months. A Health announcement of $5 million on spending to boost paramedic response to B.C.’s overdose crisis got 135 views in two months.

The government of B.C.’s channel even produced a one-minute video of the Premier highlighting her in the Hong Kong Terry Fox Run. It got, in one year, 448 views.

My question is this, through you to the minister: how much is this channel costing the people of British Columbia, and why does it exist?


Minister’s Response


Hon. A. Wilkinson: The member for Oak Bay–Gordon Head constantly talks about being evidence-based. Well, let’s talk about some evidence.

First of all, the reason why the videos remain available is so that members of the public and the media can hold us to account for what has been said in the past.

Secondly…

Interjections.

Madame Speaker: Just wait.

Hon. A. Wilkinson: …the member seems to think that the only vehicle for people to learn in the world today is to go dig around in the government website for videos. He forgets that the public don’t consume their news that way these days. They find it through social media, through television — through other forms of communication.

That’s why we have been able to see the increases that we have. The property transfer tax exemption campaign ran for three months and saw a 34-fold increase in traffic in registrations for the service. That’s evidence, Madame Speaker.


Supplementary Question


A. Weaver: The minister clearly doesn’t actually know his file because this is not on the ministry websites. It’s their own province of B.C. news channel.

You know, the minister also says people get their news from other areas. This clearly is a large waste of taxpayers’ money. They’re professionally produced videos put out to the public that aren’t being used. As an example, my right-to-roam legislation, which I put forward, has received 100,000 views in less than a week.

My question, back to the minister, is: why are they doing it, who is paying for it, how much is it costing, and when are they going to take it down or actually make it accessible to a more diverse array of people?


Minister’s Response


Hon. A. Wilkinson: Well, given the quality of work we do and the quality of communication, we don’t need the Green Party bot to make 100,000 hits on our site.

We are not ashamed to say that we have introduced new programs that need to have the level of public awareness that is provided by a variety of communications channels. We maintain those communications vehicles for public scrutiny and for media scrutiny as time goes by. We are certainly not ashamed to have advertised and promulgated the information about the opioid awareness campaign, the property transfer tax exemptions, the single-parent employment initiative, the property tax deferment.

These are critical to British Columbians, as they go through their lives. They are entitled to know that they exist, they are entitled to get access to them, and they are particularly entitled to know that we run a balanced budget that provides $1 billion in MSP rebates. People are entitled to collect that rebate, and the member opposite should be proud of us for doing so.


How is government responding to rental crisis in Metro Van & the CRD?

Today in the legislature I was up in Question Period. I took the opportunity to question the Minister of Advanced Education as to what he was doing with respect to allowing universities and colleges to build additional on-campus housing. My MLA colleague Rob Fleming also wrote about this last fall. We’ve offered a way forward and I’m pleased to say the government has finally agreed that this is a direction it is heading.

I have been waiting to raise this issue in the legislature since last spring (as I suspect Rob Fleming has). Unfortunately, with no fall session I did not get the opportunity to do this until today.

Below are the text and video of the exchange. I was disappointed with the answer to my supplementary question as I was hoping to get a more thoughtful response as to what is being done to address the extraordinarily low rental vacancy rates in the Capital Regional District and Metro Vancouver.


Question


A. Weaver: Students at British Columbia’s post-secondary institutions are struggling to find affordable rental accommodation. Yet at the same time, colleges and universities across B.C. are desperate to build more on-campus housing. The barrier to building such housing is access to capital and government concern about increased public debt and how it will affect our triple-A credit rating and, hence, the cost of servicing existing debt.

But if an external organization were to own the debt, there would be no risk to B.C.’s credit rating. Colleges and universities could service it through operating revenues generated from on-campus residence fees — a very captive audience that exists there. Housing more students on campus frees up off-campus rental units, thereby easing upward pressure on rents.

Will the government commit to exploring the creation of an external non-government organization that would own the debt, thereby allowing colleges and universities to build more on-campus housing?


Answer


Hon. A. Wilkinson: I thank the member from Oak Bay for his thoughtful and productive question, which distinguishes it from many in this room.

Now, the member is known to be a very clever man, but the ministry staff are at least a year ahead of him on this question. It’s actually interesting that yesterday I met with the president of the University of Victoria to discuss this very issue, because the prospects there are very strong for this exact opportunity to build student housing which will not form part of government debt.

The details of this arrangement need to be worked out. There are arrangements that need to be set up for the deal structure, for the financing vehicles. But I think the key point here is to congratulate the member for Oak Bay–Gordon Head for his insight, for his dedication to good public policy. I’m sure he’ll be so persuaded by his own genius that he won’t need to ask a follow-up question.


Supplementary Question


Well, I must say that was a somewhat patronizing response to a serious question. I would point out, in fact, that this lone B.C. Green MLA was several years ahead of the B.C. Liberals in identifying an affordability crisis in the province that they refuse to deal with.

There’s an ongoing affordability crisis not only in Metro Vancouver but here in the capital regional district. For many living in our two largest cities, home ownership is simply not an option for the foreseeable future. Yet at the same time, the private apartment rental vacancy rate in Victoria is 0.5 percent and in Vancouver it’s 0.7%.

My previous question offered one possible way for the government to reduce pressures on the existing rental stock, and I’m glad to see that they’re taking it up. But the question that I have is this: What other steps is this government taking to address the vacancy rates in Metro Vancouver and the CRD? And an answer that’s saying “build more stock” is simply not going to deal with the issue in the time required to deal with it. What is the government doing?


Answer


Hon. A. Wilkinson: The question actually reflects well into the member’s first question in that the novel housing arrangements for financing that we have come up in this government, courtesy of the Minister Responsible for Natural Gas Development and Housing, have provided this financing vehicle that’s provided 800 non-profit housing providers in more than 280 communities across British Columbia with support for more than 104,000 households.

The plans that the member calls upon are already being implemented. Since 2001 we have completed close to 24,000 new units of affordable housing, with more than 5,000 more units in development or under construction.

Thank you for the question. If you have any further, we’d be glad to answer them.


Video from Question Period


Bill M206 — Rideshare Enabling Act, 2017

Today in the legislature I reintroduced my private member’s bill now titled Rideshare Enabling Act, 2017.  This bill is intended to continue the important public dialogue about the rules we need to make ridesharing a reality for British Columbia.

Provinces and cities across Canada and throughout North America have been using ridesharing technology for years. But BC struggles to articulate a vision for promoting innovation in the tech sector. In fact, 22 CEOs and founders from Vancouver’s tech industry wrote an open letter last year to the BC government stating “we are compelled to express our concern regarding the provincial government’s long-standing inaction on ridesharing regulation in B.C. and how we now find ourselves falling behind the rest of the world.”

British Columbians have only heard mixed things from the government on the topic of ridesharing. When the cabinet minister responsible for developing regulations for ridesharing services calls these emerging companies ‘pushy’, it doesn’t set the right tone.”

In my view, it’s time the conversation was more transparent and engaged  British Columbians  about what they want to see happen with these innovative new services. There are numerous voices calling for this government to truly support the emerging tech sector. For some reason, they are having a hard time being heard by this government.

Below are the video and text of the introduction of my bill together with our accompanying media release.


Video of Introduction



Text of Introduction


A. Weaver: I move that a bill intituled Rideshare Enabling Act, 2017, of which notice has been given, be introduced and read a first time now.

Motion approved.

A. Weaver: I’m very pleased to be introducing a bill intituled the Rideshare Enabling Act, 2017. Ride-sharing is part of the new creative economy happening in B.C. Various programs exist around the world that use ride-share technology, and other jurisdictions have brought in legislation to address the application of this technology in our society. B.C., however, is falling quickly behind. Vancouver is now the largest city in North America without an operating ride-share company, like Lyft, for example, or Uber.

Legislation is needed to provide provincial standards that must be followed for any ride-sharing program to exist in our province. This bill is intended to continue that conversation.

I move that the bill be placed on the orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.

Bill M206, Rideshare Enabling Act, 2017, introduced, read a first time and ordered to be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.


Media Release


February 16th, 2017
For immediate release
Weaver Introduces Rideshare Enabling Legislation

VICTORIA B.C. – The Rideshare Enabling Act was introduced today in the BC Legislature by Andrew Weaver, Leader of the B.C. Green Party and MLA for Oak Bay-Gordon Head.

“The sharing economy exists and it’s going to get bigger,” says Weaver. “Rideshare technology is a part of that new economy and we need to create rules so that these industries don’t operate in a vacuum.”

“The B.C. Liberals are trying to rebrand themselves as champions of new technology after their colossal LNG failure, but they can’t be taken seriously on this file. They are already so far behind and continue to be barriers to innovation.”

Ridesharing, a driver using their personal vehicle to accept a trip request from a rider using mobile technology, is an international phenomenon with dozens of technology companies participating. Governments around the world and across Canada have embraced ridesharing to increase transportation options, encourage less personal car ownership, reduce impaired driving, create more income opportunities, and facilitate more efficient transportation. To date, over 70 states and cities across the United States and many more around the world have adopted ridesharing regulations.

Weaver introduced his private member’s bill with the intention of starting a conversation about what legislation would best meet the needs of British Columbians. This process needs to involve intensive consultation with municipal governments, the BC Taxi Association, and British Columbians across the province.

“Public safety must be a priority as we move forward with ridesharing in this province and to do so we need to legislate certain common standards. We need to ensure that anyone participating as a driver in rideshare technology doesn’t have a criminal record or history of reckless driving. Refusing to discuss the issue is not helping.”

“I’m hopeful the government takes a look at the bill I brought forward and realizes that they need to address this situation. They cannot continue to keep their heads in the sand. We need smart regulations that don’t create an unfair market.”

– 30 –

Media contact
Mat Wright, Press Secretary
+1 250-216-3382 | mat.wright@leg.bc.ca

Bill M204 — Family Day Amendment Act, 2017

Today in the legislature I tabled a bill titled Family Day Amendment Act, 2017. The Bill amends the Family Day Act to prescribe that the third Monday in February each year is observed as “Family Day”.

As noted in the text of my introductory speech below, the amendment would align the date of BC’s Family Day with Family Days and other public holidays observed across the rest of Canada, and in the United States.

To see the rationale for this change, please consider viewing the video made by Andrew Johns, founder of the #UniteFamilyDay petition. His petition has already received more than 20,000 signatures.

Below are the video and text of the introduction of my bill together with our accompanying media release.


Video of my Introduction



Text of my Introduction


A. Weaver: I move that a bill intituled the Family Day Amendment Act, 2017, of which notice has been given, be introduced and read a first time now.

Motion approved.

A. Weaver: I am very pleased to introduce the bill intituled Family Day Amendment Act, 2017. This bill amends the Family Day Act to prescribe that the third Monday in February each year is observed as Family Day. This amendment would align the date of British Columbia’s Family Day with family days and other public holidays observed across the rest of Canada and in the United States.

The purpose of Family Day is to highlight the importance of family and to bring families together. This isn’t happening in B.C., with us observing family day a week earlier than all other provinces. Families spread out beyond B.C. aren’t able to be together. Federal employees and many who work in business are forced to work on Family Day since it is a business day everywhere else.

Instead of responding to corporate lobbyists in the ski industry, this government should honour the spirit of Family Day by putting families first and moving it to align with the rest of North America.

I move that the bill be placed on the orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.

Bill M204, Family Day Amendment Act, 2017, introduced, read a first time and ordered to be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.


Media Release


 February 16th, 2017
For immediate release
Weaver proposes legislation to unite B.C. Family Day with rest of Canada

VICTORIA B.C. – “Family day is meant to put families first, not lobbyists from B.C.’s ski industry.” says Andrew Weaver, Leader of the B.C. Green Party.

Premier Christy Clark passed the Family Day Act in 2012 establishing B.C.’s very own Family Day on the 2nd Monday in February, compared to the rest of Canada who celebrates on the 3rd Monday. This bill amends that act to align the date of B.C.’s holiday with Family Days across Canada and President’s Day in the United States.

“With B.C. observing Family Day a week earlier than all other provinces, families are not being brought together. Many British Columbians are forced to work Family Day, since it is a business day everywhere else, and families spread out beyond B.C. aren’t able to be together.

“Instead of responding to corporate lobbyists in the ski industry, this government should put families first and honour the spirit of Family Day. The B.C. Liberal should move the holiday to align it with the rest of North America.”

– 30 –

Media contact
Mat Wright, Press Secretary
+1 250-216-3382 | mat.wright@leg.bc.ca