Matt Toner: PavCo’s activities are trademarks of the B.C. Liberal style of politics
Now that the smoke has started to clear—although there is still plenty swirling about—there are a number of lessons we can draw from the “Ethnic-gate” scandal. To my mind, it perfectly captures how partisan advantage and the public interest are considered one and the same by Christy Clark and the B.C. Liberals. And this mentality is being felt right here in downtown Vancouver.
Let’s start with the obvious: any outreach to British Columbians is clearly being considered through the lens of whether it will benefit the B.C. Liberals at the polls. Full stop. In this case, the B.C. Liberals considered multicultural communities to be an important base of potential support, so proposing the use of public funds to woo these communities was a no-brainer.
Secondly, issues of importance to the public apparently need to be “quick wins” if they are to be addressed by the B.C. Liberal government. In other words, apologies for the Chinese head tax or the Komagata Maru incident are only considered when they are viewed as politically advantageous. Otherwise, they are non-starters.
Finally—and most amazingly—the apparatus of government seems to be seen as a means to offer political operatives and allies personal benefit. In the now-infamous memo written by Premier Clark’s deputy chief of staff, a plan was outlined to identify community leaders and spokespeople that could be hired on for outreach and to sway opinion.
This story is, by now, well trodden ground—but if you look carefully, glimpses of this mentality can be seen shining through when it comes to the B.C. Pavilion Corporation (PavCo), a provincial Crown corporation that is responsible for two of B.C.’s top public assembly facilities: B.C. Place and the Vancouver Convention Centre.
Both sit in downtown Vancouver and both have become lightning rods for community unrest.
The Coal Harbour Residents Association has for years sought to have their concerns adequately heard by PavCo over the “temporary” re-location of the Coal Harbour float plane terminal. Due to the new convention centre, PavCo constructed the Vancouver Harbour Flight Centre directly in front of a public park in a high-density residential neighbourhood, without doing an environmental impact assessment regarding the human environment. This decision was taken in spite of the fact that PavCo has admitted that the terminal “may cause property damage and personal injury” in a response to a claim filed against it in the Supreme Court of B.C.
What’s more, I was informed that at a recent meeting of the Coal Harbour Residents Association, a high-ranking health authority medical officer encouraged parents to have their children tested for increased levels of lead in their blood. Ordinarily I would hope that this revelation would prompt PavCo to address the community’s concerns—but I am for some reason not optimistic.
The same tone-deaf approach has been noticed by residents living near the reconstructed B.C. Place. Their problem isn’t aviation fuel and seaplane noise: it’s the huge billboards that shine engulfing light into thousands of homes every night.
If you are anywhere near downtown Vancouver at night, you’ve seen these screens. Now imagine them just outside your bedroom window.
They were installed without community consultation in September 2011. A Vancouver city council motion requesting that the billboards be brought into compliance with city bylaws regarding size was ignored. And with the exception of minor adjustments made to one screen, PavCo has continued to be unresponsive to concerned families in the area.
But I guess taking action on these issues isn’t a “quick win” for the Crown corporation or the government and, therefore, perhaps not considered important enough to warrant immediate action.
Looking at the composition of the PavCo board of directors, this kind of non-response is not a surprise—in fact, it fits perfectly with what now seems to be the B.C. Liberals’ playbook.
The recently appointed chair, Peter Fassbender, is a star candidate for the B.C. Liberals. Board director Suzanne Anton recently lost the nomination for Vancouver-Quilchena but will now stand as the B.C. Liberal candidate in Vancouver-Fraserview. And board director Don Zurowski was very carefully considering running for the B.C. Liberal nomination in the riding of Prince George-Mackenzie before pulling out just before the deadline.
According to the PavCo website, the board “consists of the number of directors deemed appropriate by the Minister”. It claims that the appointees have a “diversity of experience”, though the political affiliations of several call into question exactly what is meant by “diversity”.
I think the people of British Columbia are getting tired of being commoditized. If their only moments of interaction with their government are based upon their perceived political value, that isn’t much of a relationship. Each and every citizen has the right to a responsive government—and that government certainly includes those individuals tasked with guiding a Crown corporation mandated to operate in the public’s best interest.