VICTORIA – Leave Victoria for a week’s vacation and what happens? The Liberals lose their cherished virginity, and a former NDP cabinet minister is drinking from the public fountain. It’s enough to make you weep.
The Liberal SNAFU is difficult to comprehend. Sending political propaganda to 800,000 homes at a cost that may surpass the $1 million mark is one thing. Making the taxpayers foot the bill it is quite another.
The mailout consists of a one-page survey, a four-page letter from Liberal leader Gordon Campbell, a one-page petition and one page of proposed Liberal legislation.
Currently, each MLA is allowed to spend $6,100 a year on communication with constituents. That allocation is often pooled by the parties to get a bigger bang for the buck. The process is covered by guidelines
According to the guidelines, "the contents of these messages (to constituents) should be restricted to outlining legislative developments in the House and in committees and to the roles played by the member in the legislative process. Members may not print or mail, at the expense of the legislative assembly. Any material of partisan or political nature."
Blind-sided by the affair, Campbell offered somewhat lamely that the guidelines are too weak and fuzzy. The way I read them, they’re pretty clear. And a household mailer telling British Columbians that Premier Glen Clark is a liar whose mismanagement and incompetence is threatening the province’s health care, education and safety, does seem a trifle partisan.
And as if using public money for blatantly partisan purposes wasn’t enough, the $200,000 contract for printing the mailer went to a Liberal Party insider without tender and another Liberal hack, Greg Lyle, Campbell’s chief strategist in the last provincial election, received $5,000 for helping set up the whole scheme.
Should the Liberals reimburse taxpayers for the cost of the mailer? Of course, they should, but that isn’t the way Campbell sees it. The guidelines, he says, are simply not specific enough, and no laws were broken. Sorry, but the public will pay.
All of which is difficult to accept from a man who relentlessly attacked Clark last year for spending $100,000 for a TV appearance to explain the government’s budget deficit.
Clark, of course, didn’t lose a moment to exploit the issue for his own purposes. "I hope this hypocrisy, this stunning hypocrisy, will demonstrate to people just what Mr. Campbell is made of," he said.
Meanwhile, however, the premier has a bit of a problem himself. Former finance minister Elizabeth Cull, it appears has landed a lucrative consultant’s contract with the Capital Health Region.
Cull will be paid $1,000 a day for six months to develop a community relations strategy for the health board. Her remuneration will be capped at $70,000. In my dictionary, community relations strategy translates into finding ways to hoodwink the public as elegantly as possible, but that’s neither here nor there right now. Cull’s contract is.
Again, no laws are broken, and Cull, too, has got to eat. But it doesn’t look good when a former cabinet minister, barely eight months after leaving politics, gets paid so handsomely from the public purse, controlled by the party she served under.
The point isn’t lost on Clark, who says he doesn’t feel comfortable with it and wants to bring in guidelines to prevent regional health boards from offering the kind of "ridiculous" $1,000-a-day contract Cull got.
"We think the money should be going to patient care and community services. We don’t think administrators and managers should get huge salaries."
Well, I do hope the guidelines will be adhered to more closely than those governing MLAs’ communications with their constituents.