Dermod Travis: Troubling isn’t the word for BCLC mess, Mike de Jong
If cabinet ministers had theme songs, Finance Minister Mike de Jong’s would likely be “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen”, because when there’s a misstep in government it’s a safe bet he’ll be troubled by it.
In 2010, as solicitor general, de Jong was troubled over links between organized crime and casinos in the province, stating: “If some of these early reports are true, yes, it’s troubling.” In 2011, as health minister, de Jong was—as he put it—a “little troubled” over an emergency landing of a medevac helicopter in Kamloop’s Pioneer Park.
In 2013, as finance minister, de Jong was “troubled” to learn about cost overruns on various projects at B.C. Hydro.
This June, an audit that he had ordered of executive compensation disclosure at Kwantlen Polytechnic University was released. The findings pointed the finger directly at one of his cabinet colleagues—Advanced Education Minister Amrik Virk—for unacceptable practices when Virk was on Kwantlen’s board of governors.
De Jong’s response? Troubling: “in the sense that we have guidelines that relate to both the amounts that are allowed to be paid in those circumstances and guidelines that relate to how those amounts must be disclosed. Those requirements weren’t met and that’s not satisfactory.”
And last week, de Jong found himself troubled yet again over an audit on the circumstances behind the resignation of former B.C. Lottery Corporation CEO Michael Graydon. The findings were “troubling to the extent that they reveal a very senior official conducted himself…in a manner that was both inconsistent and fell short of the standards that one would expect.”
Since no actual guidelines existed, there wasn’t much the government could do about it, but the Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch would look at it all the same.
However, the fact that a Crown corporation with annual revenue of more than $1.6 billion didn’t have guidelines in the first place is more than troubling; it’s bordering on amateur hour.
Particularly, since this isn’t the first time that the BCLC has found itself with a mess on its hands over the post-employment activities of some of its executive team. Nor is it the second time. Graydon makes three.
In 2007, the BCLC board fired then CEO Vic Poleschuk one day after an internal poll showed that public trust in the corporation had taken a nose dive after B.C.’s ombudsman warned of possible fraud by some lottery retailers. Another poll, one month after the firing, showed little change in public sentiment.
The firing cost the Crown corporation more than $603,000 in severance, but Poleschuk wasn’t idle for long. Soon, he was a paid consultant to the Great Canadian Gaming Corporation and by 2010 its senior vice-president of operations.
T. Richard Turner was BCLC chair from 2001 to 2005, after which he joined the Canadian arm of Paragon Gaming’s board of directors. As Thomas R. Turner, he has also been a registered lobbyist for Edgewater Casino, a Paragon operation.
To this day, Turner is still fighting an order from the information and privacy commissioner to release emails between himself and Poleschuk from 2005 to 2007. Those emails may contain information regarding a plan to build a casino next to B.C. Place Stadium in Vancouver and are part of an access to information request filed by journalist Sean Holman in 2010.
And now—after Graydon’s departure for the more comfy surroundings of Paragon Gaming—British Columbians are being asked to buy lock, stock, and barrel the idea that the BCLC board had never once imagined that senior staff might one day be tempted by an employment offer from a private company operating in the same sector.
“Wow, we never thought of that” just doesn’t fly.
Mike de Jong, troubled as he is by these events, hopes that British Columbians will take comfort in the fact that former B.C. attorney general Bud Smith—now chair of the BCLC—will develop “an action plan to bolster the policies and procedures related to employee exit, mobile devices, and will include steps to ensure employees have a clear understanding of their obligations.”
That’s nice. After three strikes it’s about time.