I love Christmas. I receive a lot of wonderful presents I can't wait to exchange.
— Henny Youngman
As embers of the yule log glow in the chimney and another uneventful year in British Columbia politics comes to a close, it's time to give out a few Political Connections Christmas Awards to the truly deserving. Whether you've been naughty or nice, these little stocking stuffers will bring cheer to the holiday season--though probably not to those receiving them.
BROWNNOSERS OF THE YEAR AWARD
The British Columbia and Yukon Hotels' Association takes the brownnosers prize hands down for its decision to award its first-ever Man of the Year award to none other than Premier Gordon Campbell.
"In three years Gordon Campbell has revitalized the economy, restored sound fiscal management, and put British Columbians first. It is an honour for me to present him with this award," trumpeted BCYHA director Fred Beruschi in a November 22 news release.
The BCYHA subtly noted in the same release that Campbell had doubled Tourism B.C.'s annual marketing budget to $50 million from $25 million. The BCYHA has contributed $16,675 to the B.C. Liberal party since 2001.
Surprisingly, there was no mention that this is the same Gordon Campbell who inherited a billion-dollar surplus in 2001, then created the biggest deficit in B.C. history, raised taxes by $1 billion, and put the province another $5 billion in debt.
DO AS I SAY, NOT AS I DO AWARD
Homegrown billionaire tycoon Jimmy Pattison is being featured in B.C. Business Council feel-good television ads about the allegedly booming provincial economy. Pattison shows up with a beaming smile, saying, "You're hired!"
And his optimistic view of the B.C. economy is featured prominently on the Web site of the B.C. Liberal party.
"43 years ago I started in business--today 43 years later, business in the Province of B.C. has never been better than it is right now," Pattison is quoted as saying, blithely ignoring mediocre growth-rate predictions of about three percent for the B.C. economy this year.
But, apparently, Jimmy hasn't been telling anyone "You're hired" around his own business lately.
The Jim Pattison Group has exactly the same number of retail employees in 2004 as it had in 2003, according to a December 14 report in Business in Vancouver. The biggest retailer in B.C. had 11,955 employees both years, working at businesses that include Save-On Foods, Urban Fare, Buy-Low, and Overwaitea, as well as Lexus, Toyota, Volvo, and Hyundai car dealerships.
Ironically, Jimmy is better known for the phrase "You're fired!" In the early days of his business career, as a car dealer, Pattison fired the lowest-producing sales person on the auto lot each month as a warning to the other staff.
But even though hiring seems to be frozen, Pattison's companies managed to scrape together almost $50,000 in 2003 to give the B.C. Liberal party.
YOU'D BE HIRED--IF WE WEREN'T ECONOMICALLY DEPRESSED AWARD
Another happy face saying "You're hired" in the Business Council television ads is that of Stephanie Forsyth, president of Northwest Community College in Terrace.
But on September 16, Forsyth was telling a very different story to the provincial select standing committee on finance and government services meeting in Terrace.
"It is my premise, and that of my colleagues in the north, that education and training are preconditions for social and economic development of any community, especially in one as economically depressed as ours," said Forsyth. "The province needs to effectively turn its attention to the social and economic development of the northwest. We have had numerous discussions but, as yet, we have no real, effective, tangent strategies to turn the economy around here."
Wait a minute, Stephanie! You're living in an area that is "economically depressed" and you're on TV talking about people getting hired? You say there is no real, effective government strategy "to turn the economy around", but you appear in a commercial that says "with B.C.'s economic policies on the right track, employers are preparing for a decade of job growth"?
It sounds like Forsyth herself shouldn't have been hired for the ad.
CAN'T HOLD DOWN A JOB AWARD
While Jimmy Pattison was busy not hiring employees, a key federal and provincial Liberal couldn't seem to nail down a position.
Bruce Young started 2004 as a provincial lobbyist with Hill & Knowlton, working for a coalition supporting privatized health care, for the fish-farming industry through the British Columbia Salmon Farmers Association, and for major corporations like Bell Canada and Via Rail.
Young, who had managed the 2001 election campaign of B.C. Liberal MLA Patrick Wong, was also an active supporter of then federal Liberal leadership candidate Paul Martin.
In January, after Martin's elevation, Young resurfaced in the federal government as "senior special advisor (B.C.), prime minister's office" for the months leading up to the June 2004 election.
Young's position was questioned in Parliament, with NDP MP Bev Desjarlais (Churchill) asking during question period on February 23: "Will the prime minister clean house by firing his Medicare corporate lobbyist today?"
Although Martin didn't fire Young, the ambitious lobbyist didn't stay long in the PMO either. Young returned to the lobbying business in October, this time to establish an Earnscliffe Strategy Group office in Vancouver. Earnscliffe is closely connected to Martin, and the peripatetic Young will focus on provincial lobbying, Earnscliffe principal Harry Near told Public Eye Online (www.publiceyeonline.com/) in September.
The funny thing is, there are no new listings for Bruce Young in the provincial lobby registry to date. Hopefully, Bruce hasn't changed jobs--again.
Best wishes to all readers for a healthy and happy holiday season!
Bill Tieleman is president of West Star Communications and a regular political commentator on CBC Radio's Early Edition. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.