Friday, September 09, 2011

Campbell honour puts political taint to awards

**Note: North Vancouver blogger Norm Farrell pointed out an error in my column around Luigi Aquilini's donation, so that has now been corrected. Thanks, Norm!

You have to feel for all the other 2011 recipients of the Order of B.C., whose many accomplishments have been overshadowed in the public eye by all the din around former premier Gordon Campbell getting the award.
We’ll presume from the time stamp on the government’s news release - late afternoon on a Friday before a long weekend - that it knew from the outset that people wouldn’t be happy that Campbell and three other high-profile B.C. Liberal stalwarts made the list.
That’s a great time to send out a news release if the sender hopes to slide something by unnoticed.  The time-tested government communications strategy makes it much less likely that media will be able to find the sources they need to build a big story or have the resources to go after it.
 But there’s no hiding an incendiary list like the one government sent out last Friday announcing that Campbell would be honoured with the Order of B.C. And there’s no hiding the growing prowess of B.C.’s political bloggers, who never sleep. Word spread fast.
Campbell’s government wove politics into everything B.C. did during their time in office. So I guess it’s naive to think that the Order of B.C. would somehow remain exempt from all that.
Still, I think there must be people inside the selection process who are very, very unhappy with the way things went this year. The annual awards haven’t really had a political feel up until now. Unfortunately, that’s no longer true.
I mean, think about it. A committee is tasked with selecting 14 fine citizens to be honoured for their hard work, passion and dedication. That’s all, just 14, out of the whole province. You really have to be exemplary to be picked for an honour like that.
But this year, we’re supposed to believe that it’s just a coincidence that four of the 14 recipients happen to be very tightly connected to the B.C. Liberals. They want us to buy that a guy who British Columbians hounded from office because they were so unhappy with his leadership is one of the 14 most exemplary people of 2011.
Could it really be just one of those unfortunate coincidences? Maybe the selection committee concluded completely independently that Gordon Campbell, his former deputy Ken Dobell, fellow politician and Campbell “star” David Emerson, and Liberal Party donor Luigi Aquilini - who has given more than $500,000 to the party - all deserved to be honoured in 2011.
Or not. And that’s the problem, isn’t it? There’s now a taint to an award that up until now had none.
Live long enough and you’re bound to accumulate a few skeletons, so maybe it’s no big deal that someone busted for drunk driving while premier gets named to the Order of B.C.  If you had to be a saint to qualify, we’d have run out of eligible nominees long before now.
But having the selection committee declare Campbell a “visionary” whose efforts have made B.C. a better place - well, that’s a bit harder to take. Says who?
Under his leadership, we slashed needed community services, sold off public forest lands for a song, increased poverty, politicized every government decision and greatly enriched the salaries of MLAs and senior government. What’s visionary about that?
And it’s downright disrespectful to have Campbell and his friends shoved at us all at once at a time when so many of us are still fuming about the guy.
The selection committee even appears to have broken its own rules to allow his nomination. No sitting politician is eligible for the award, but Campbell had five days left in his term when nominations closed. So did they stretch the deadline to accommodate him, or ignore the rule about sitting politicians?
If the process really has been neutral up until now, these must be sad days for any non-partisan staff and committee members involved with the Order of B.C. Perhaps it’s just another odd coincidence that last week’s news release was nowhere to be found on the order’s own Web site until late Tuesday afternoon, but I’m choosing to interpret it as a sign that they’re red-faced with shame and protesting in their own small way.
My sympathy to the other recipients of the 2011 order, who really are a very select group picked for all the right reasons. Special congratulations to Crystal Dunahee, a tireless community-builder and fundraiser in our region. Find out more about these worthy recipients here:


Anonymous said...

The judge tried to defend the decision (that must have been a first for him), but totally ignored the nomination deadline issue.

Perhaps the Honourable Chief Justice Lance Finch thought we wouldn't notice?

“On behalf of the advisory council, I would like to clarify some misunderstanding related to the appointment of Gordon M. Campbell of Vancouver to the Order of British Columbia.

“The Provincial Symbols and Honours Act, provincial legislation, governs nominations and appointments. According to the act, any person or organization may submit nominations to the Advisory Council.

“Section 17.2 addresses appointments and states ‘a person who is an elected federal, provincial or municipal representative is not eligible to be appointed a member of the order while that person remains in office’.

“The nomination package for Mr. Campbell was received on March 10, 2011. Mr. Campbell was appointed to the Order of British Columbia on Sept. 2, 2011. At that time, he was not an elected MLA.”

And what was the nomination rule?

Your nominee must not currently be an elected person with federal, provincial or municipal governments. [...] Submit the completed Nomination Form and supporting materials by March 11, 2011.

Campbell's nomination package was timely, but he was - by Order of B.C. Advisory Council rules - ineligible.

Norm Farrell said...

Actually, this is not the first year that BC Liberals have been accused of using the OBC to reward donors. In 2009, six of 13 recipients were financial supporters of the ruling party, according to Andrew MacLeod.

One was Brandt Louis of London Drugs and IGA/Marketplace, as well as the Fraser Institute. Another was Peter Dhillon, known recently for involvement in the Kash Heed money affair.

By the way, even the Aquilini's don't value BC Liberals as worth $500,000 a year. That is the amount for a longer period of time reported at Elections BC.

However, these minor points don't take away from the accuracy and power of your commentary. IMO, OBC awards should be for selfless contributors, the passionate people who serve the province without huge financial reward and six or seven figure salaries enabled by the public's resources. There are a number of worthy people on the list for 2011 but they are lost in smoke surrounding the unworthy. Too bad.

Of course, I like your statement that government can no longer hide difficult issues because of the "growing prowess of B.C.'s political bloggers." More than a few people are unhappy about the new rules but that's ok too.

Anonymous said...

Yuri Fulmer only gave $3000 - $500 in 2005 to Wally Oppal & $2500 in 2010 to the BC Liberals. If anybody knows the names of his companies or SO/family, then we can search those too.

FDC Capital's "Community Fund" page states that they give to the BC Liberals, but Elections BC show no donations from FDC. "We also have a program where employee donations are matched by the company." Probably just an administrative oversight ;)