Oh how we miss Alex G. Tsakumis' punchlines!
The end of 2015 is near and it's time to take a look back to before 2014 with a Rebel With a Clause prediction: outside contractors hired to teach Christy Clark's OIC staff how to increase the speed at preparing for FOI requests by simply eliminating, by triple deleting files, first.
When the Premier was a (make-believe) talk show host (think Katie Couric, but with half the intelligence–if that’s at all possible) Christy Clark’s mantra, against the very government she’d previously defiled as Deputy Premier, was consistent (if not illusory): “The government needs to be more open; they need to be accountable to the people.”
As the gentle, but dependable list of callers filed to their phones to speak to Christy, the consensus was never in doubt: A resounding number of citizens, lest we be shocked, agreed. Gordon Campbell was running a government set on secrecy and Ms. Clark was leading the charge for transparency and reason.
It made for incredibly dim, schlock broadcasting, readying her throng of (mostly bimbette) listeners for the afternoon strain of Oprah and Dr. Phil.
Oh, such challenges.
After she became Premier, Christy Clark faced the hard reality of the spotlight she’d turned her back on, she said, to raise her son away from the ugly glare of public life (tongue firmly planted in cheek). One which has seen her prance and preen through almost every manufactured opportunity to gain more publicity–but not scrutiny. When she was Deputy Premier under Gordon Campbell, she languished in the warm blanket Campbell provided: It was his plan, executed in no small part by her, for the mainstream press to be bought. Be good to them, and they’ll relent. Advertise and they’ll improvise–for us. This was the thinking, and I can’t claim it was unsuccessful. Say what you will about the BC NDP’s dismal performance in May, the media in this province (most of them, certainly, but not all) are truly the provincial government’s PR wing. The stories on this government that are lost (and sold) are astounding in number as well as shame. I will spare you the recitation of those failures, to apprise you of a new one.
A grand one.
Since stealing the BC Liberal leadership in 2011, an effort replete with stolen PIN numbers, criminal operatives, cash for cheques for prepaid credit cards scheme, and the like, Christy Clark has been on a mission to ensure that you know less about what government is doing, not more. She has personally instructed party operatives (often her own staff) to hatch methods by which obfuscation and subversion are the order of the day. Kim Haakstad was instrumental to this end when she was Deputy Chief of Staff to Clark, prior to being tossed for her resolutely unethical behaviour in what has colloquially become known as ‘Ethnogate’.
Nevertheless, Clark has surrounded herself with those whose fervent belief is that you, the public, need be fed only as much as the mainstream press will cover in short soundbites, details be damned. It’s no longer about your right to know, it’s about the government’s right to control the message – and when they can’t – to guarantee passage for any of their disasters (of which there are a multitude) into a dark, ample corner, under a rug too heavy for anyone to lift.
It doesn’t matter what the major scandal of the day, it’s papered over by friends of the BC Liberals, or, moreover, those with direct, personal links to Christy Clark and her administration.
Does this at all appear to be the “open and transparent” government Christy Clark has claimed, on countless occasions, to foster?
Not if you look at the evidence with dispassion and impartiality.
More to the point, I am told by multiple, high-ranking sources close to Christy Clark and her administration, that the premier of this beleaguered province and her government are on a mission to derail Freedom of Information in British Columbia. Specifically, that several government Ministries are undergoing “efficiency exercises” where FOI is concerned. As we know, the disinfectant of sunshine on almost anything this government has committed to in the last twelve years, always produces a scandal that usually outrages the public (only to be cast aside by the BC press elites for more important stories, like a dead baby, stranded chubby seal pup or Ms. Kardashian’s derriere selfie–the last two often becoming confused, one for the other).
Regardless, according to the government, there’s nothing to this story, folks, let’s move along, nothing to see.
Really? Let’s have a look.
For the last ten weeks, Ian Johnston, a consultant with a company called Fujitsu (his office is based out of Victoria) has been tasked with, according to a high up government source, “helping make it almost impossible for you (AGT), other bloggers, any media and the NDP to get anything out of us. Bob Mackin is a major problem. They don’t like Laila Yuile either and you won’t be surprised to learn that if you went back to building things or retired to Palm Desert, Christy’d be pretty stoked. Anyway, the directive is broadsweeping. Make sure we use the gray area in FOI law that will begin with you guys (the media/bloggers) getting charged with almost every request and us having the right to redact more and more. Christy’s people are involved in every step and I understand John Dyble knows about this, too. I’m not surprised Andrew didn’t return your call. No one wants a hard ball interview where they know they’re going to get cornered, and maybe pummeled.”
Right. Except maybe Ian Johnston.
I spoke to Mr. Johnston after going through a maze of contact numbers for him and offices where he is listed. After leaving several messages with their office in Vancouver (no one returned my calls) I tracked Ian Johnston down in Victoria, where he is certainly well positioned to know what’s going on.
AGT: “If you’re there to make FOIs easier and more efficient, why are you not then working with the office of the Privacy Commissioner to implement her excellent recommendations from July? Why would you not adopt a team approach?”Johnston then admitted that he called Commissioner Denham’s office but she never got back to him. Instead, a staffer told him that she was “too busy.”
Which prompted me to ask this:
“If you’re collecting taxpayer’s dollars to implement the recommendations of the Commissioner, thus rendering 95% of FOIs unnecessary, why wouldn’t you wait for her and work together? And why are you necessary at all, if the government was going to follow a course of real transparency?”
Johnston: “I’m not an authority to say anything on that (laughs). I don’t want to get fired (laughs)…I’m an employee of Fujitsu, not a contractor…”And then this nugget: “I’m not sure about your figure (95%)…I’m not sure if that’s accurate.”
So…for those keeping score, according to the lead hand (Johnston) working with at least the Finance Ministry (which he half-heartedly admitted was his first effort in all this), the government wants to follow a course of action to be more accessible and accountable, but they hired an outside contractor, on a lucrative retainer, to proceed with work on FOIs, not necessarily in line with the recommendations of its own privacy commissioner. Neither the Privacy Commissioner’s Office is aware of the work, and the Minister responsible for the file (Wilkinson) is standing with butt in the air and head firmly planted in the sand.
And then the killer… (NOTE: George Gretes first appointment in 2013 was to the Finance Ministry)
AGT: “Can you speak to the fact that since you’ve been on the job, reporters, and bloggers are being charged exorbitant fees for simple FOI requests? That since their re-election FOI requests are more difficult to obtain.”
Johnston: “Oh my God, I’d say that’s a total coincidence…hey, maybe we can meet with someone in government, if you’d like, before you print anything, even though you said we’re really off the record. Look, this is quite a sincere government, to my knowledge.”(And wouldn’t Johnston know! He was Deputy BC Athletic Commissioner in 2013 and from January 2002 to May of 2003, he was an “analyst” for Elections BC).
AGT: “No, I said that was up to you, if we’re on formally, but some of things you’re saying don’t make sense. One final thing, are you taping this conversation?”
Johnston: “Yes I am, because I’ve been burned before.”SNIP
After the interview I contacted the leader of the BC NDP, Adrian Dix. They are identified as having been responsible for almost 3000 FOIs since 2012.
I think I’ll let him (Dix) have the last word.
“Look it’s really simple, if the government followed the recommendations of its own Privacy Commissioner, and simply release Minister’s calendars and Minister’s office calendars, they would eliminate 1000 requests from us per year. Since we (and the BC Liberals when they were in Opposition before us) routinely FOI(ed) things for good reason, why not just make it all available. That would be a reform–and true openness.” (Adrian Dix, Leader of the Opposition, November, 2013)Sure it would, but not when you have a government in power that is digging in so deep to avoid any real accountability to the people its leader clearly lied to to get elected, and that gulag politics are the order of the day.
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