Bill Barisoff's blundering results in a former civil servant winning a whistleblower award

Two nongovernmental organizations have awarded the 2007 Whistleblower of the Year Award to a former civil servant who was fired for standing up for the environment.

The Freedom of Information and Privacy Association and the Campaign for Open Government will grant the award to Gordon McAdams on Tuesday (December 11) at SFU Harbour Centre at 10 a.m.

McAdams was a 34-year employee of the Ministry of Water, Air and Land Protection when he filed an affidavit in a court case involving a road being built into Grohman Narrows Provincial Park.

The minister at the time, Bill Barisoff (now the Speaker of the legislature) changed the location of the entrance road 30 metres to the east to benefit a developer.

The West Kootenay Community Ecosociety filed a judicial-review application in B.C. Supreme Court, arguing that Barisoff's action was “unreasonable” or “patently wrong”. McAdams’s affidavit was designed to stop Barisoff from approving the new location.

So what did the Gordon Campbell government do in response?

McAdams was fired hours before he was scheduled to retire, depriving him of an enormous amount of money.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Sinclair Prowse ruled in 2005 that Barisoff made “an unauthorized exercise of his statutory authority”, and the road project was cancelled.

McAdams sued for wrongful dismissal, and eventually settled out of court.

It’s worth noting that Barisoff was the revenue minister when the Gordon Campbell government tried to impose levies of approximately $1 million on the Georgia Straight in 2001 in a very peculiar interpretation of the Social Service Tax Act.

At the time, the government tried to claim that the Straight’s free entertainment listings were advertising.

In its convoluted logic, Barisoff’s ministry also claimed that the Straight wasn’t a newspaper under the act. And because the Straight wasn't a newspaper, it was required to pay tax on its newsprint, unlike other publishers.

This would have put the Straight at a disadvantage to large competitors, such as CanWest Global Communications and Black Press, which had previously been contributors to Campbell's B.C. Liberal party.

The Straight paid some whopping legal fees to defend itself against Barisoff's ministry's crusade against the paper. Eventually, the government backed down after the issue erupted in the media.

In the six years that have elapsed since then, nobody from the premier's office or the cabinet has ever apologized or offered to refund legal bills for what Barisoff and his minions inflicted on the Georgia Straight.