Just following orders

Some reflections on how B.C.’s arrogant but
subservient political culture props up corrupt institutions

November 30, 2019

BC MLAs Garry Begg, Mike Morris, Adam Olsen, Ellis Ross and Rachna Singh ponder the issue of police accountability.

B.C. MLAs Garry Begg, Mike Morris, Adam Olsen, Ellis Ross and Rachna Singh
demonstrated their suitability for further high-paying legislative assignments
in addition to the fantastic pay, perks and pensions they can’t get in a real job.


Following a speech by Vivian Krause last March, I had the opportunity to speak with her. She happened to mention Ellis Ross among others (all natives who hope their communities will benefit from oil and gas-related projects) whom she praised for “lifting the taboo” about criticizing the rich American interests bankrolling Canadian environmentalists. (Ross was present at that event, although not at this particular conversation.) I didn’t want to change the subject from Krause’s research, so I didn’t mention Ross’ inadequacies on the Special Committee to Review the Police Complaint Process, already a sham in progress back then.

(Krause’s work, by the way, really contrasts with B.C.’s activist culture, characterized largely by phonies, neurotics and opportunists. The first and last categories, at least, include the Pivot Legal Society and B.C. Civil Liberties Association.)

Ross came up again in Over A Barrel, a documentary about Krause’s research. This time, he surprised me. As he talked about his background and his people, Ross contrasted with typically arrogant, smug, pompous or naive B.C. MLAs. Although he spoke with no real insight (he probably has average intelligence by B.C. legislature standards), he distinguished himself by sounding like someone who’s experienced a bit of life and has a degree of commitment.

So what accounts for the discrepancy between his commitment and his committee work? It’s disappointing to suggest this, but maybe his commitment’s limited to the Haisla Nation, population 1,700. Other British Columbians get his standard MLA middle finger while he revels in his pay, perks, pension plan and big fat bonuses for assignments like that committee. To get all that, he has to do what he’s told.

That’s not to single him out. He’s no worse than the others and if he really does care about the Haisla, that’s 1,699 more people than most MLAs care about.

But B.C. might present an especially blatant example of Canadian political culture, in which nobodies at the provincial and federal level simply follow orders from party bosses in return for remuneration they couldn’t possibly earn at a real job.

One exception who came to prominence this year was Jody Wilson-Raybould, but she was only a partial exception. She stood up to party bosses yet, like most people in politics, she was wholly unqualified for her position. That widespread lack of qualifications rationalizes the practice of party bosses dictating policy.

Wilson-Raybould’s superiors might have felt betrayed that she didn’t appreciate her undeserved appointment to justice minister. More than that, they must have been surprised. Canadian politicians rarely take a stand.

If they do, they risk getting kicked out of caucus and losing all that 3P loot. Wilson-Raybould left on her own volition, became a media darling and, very unusually, won re-election as an independent. Jane Philpott quit in solidarity but, more typically, lost badly as an independent.

The concentration of power in Justin Trudeau’s inner circle furthers a longstanding trend, according to John Ivison’s account of Donald Savoie’s recent book Democracy in Canada. Ivison said Savoie “noted that two key decisions on deployment to Afghanistan—one by a Liberal government, one by a Conservative government—were made in the PMO, without input from the ministers of National Defence or Foreign Affairs.”

On the provincial level, policy wonk Gordon Campbell (often referred to by BC Liberals as “the boss”) was known to draft new legislation without consulting the cabinet ministers supposedly responsible. That practice might have fallen apart under Christy Clark, who showed little interest in policies and left her senior cabinet of nobodies floundering. Interestingly, she reportedly disliked one accomplished MLA, nuclear medicine physician Moira Stilwell, and confined her to a junior position.

Power might be more diffuse under the current NDP government because David Eby overshadows John Horgan. Despite having been a faux social activist, Eby became the best attorney general B.C.’s had for many years.

At the opposite end of the NDP cognitive spectrum, however, sits Carole James. Does anyone really believe she runs the finance ministry?

As in her department, someone’s calling the shots for this committee, and that’s especially obvious because of the quintet’s unanimous recommendations. Couldn’t any one of those five have shown concern about such a blatantly corrupt agency operating without transparency or accountability? But so confident was the NDP in all-party subservience that the government appointed only two of its own to a five-MLA group. And in fact, whether in committees or the legislature, all recommendations and decisions involving police accountability in B.C. are unanimous.

Media subservience also serves the status quo and helps explain this province’s high tolerance of corruption. One telling exception was David Carrigg’s exposé of the PHS Community Services Society published in the Vancouver Courier way back in 2003. Yet this poverty pimp empire continued with an astoundingly grandiose sense of entitlement up to 2014, thanks to more typical media deference as well as political support.

That exposé was in no way typical of the Courier. And Carrigg, it should be noted, isn’t from around here. You don’t have to romanticize Crocodile Dundee nonsense to recognize his rare-to-B.C. non-courtier approach to journalism.

Had they been acted on, concerns raised by the auditor general as far back as 2007 would have prevented Craig James and Gary Lenz from pillaging taxpayers up to 2018. That ended only through an historic fluke, probably never to be repeated, of a political outsider like Darryl Plecas gaining an influential position in the legislature. He persevered despite political and media opposition (until near the end, reporters just loved James and Lenz) and a near-whitewash from a retired Supreme Court judge. The corruption Plecas exposed, meanwhile, may well indicate much wider and deeply entrenched practices.

Maybe more than most parts of Canada, corrupt figures and institutions thrive in B.C. For that we can thank the interplay of a sycophantic media, faux activists and elected representatives like Ellis Ross, Adam Olsen, Garry Begg, Mike Morris and Rachna Singh, the five committee members and all-too-typical examples of B.C. politicians.

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