Friday, September 20, 2019

Auditor General finds need for more control over spending and policies for Speaker's office at BC Legislature



As things turn out, Speaker Daryl Plecas is not the only one who can explore the finances and policies of the Speakers office at the BC Legislature.

In a report delivered on Thursday, British Columbia's Auditor General Carol Bellringer  also took some interest in how the taxpayers dollars are being spent and from her findings we have learned that she didn't particularly like some of what she discovered.

In her prologue to the Report, Carol Bellringer noted that her work was a follow up to the events of last year which put the Speaker's office in the media spotlight and at times into a fair bit of turmoil.

After the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly released his report in January 2019 alleging misconduct of the Clerk and Sergeant-at-Arms, the Legislative Assembly Management Committee (LAMC) endorsed our proposal to commence a performance audit. 

While LAMC acknowledged that my office could design the audit as we saw fit, they had a particular interest in knowing more about the detailed expenses claimed by the Clerk, the Sergeant-at-Arms and the Speaker. This performance audit report looks at whether expenses of those three offices were governed by policy. 

This is the first in a series of our reports on the Legislative Assembly. We have been briefed on many aspects of other work that is ongoing, we continue to monitor progress, and we are designing additional performance audit work to respond to any further requests of LAMC and to address risks that we believe would benefit from such an audit.

Among the findings from the Auditor General's review of Thursday, were weaknesses and gaps in the expense policy framework with policies at times not followed at all. Travel policies in place in BC that are not allowed anywhere else in the BC public service as well as purchases that did not have a clear business purpose.

Ms. Bellringer also noted that there was no effective mechanism in place for reporting policy violations and how purchasing card usage violated the policies of the Legislative Assembly.





Speaker Daryl Plecas who has been in the eye of a bit of a hurricane of late at the Legislature, once again plays a central role in the narrative of events, with the spending accounts of his office seemingly on a rather strident march upwards having tripled the amount of travel expenses from 2017/18 to  2018/19.



The report included a summary of nine recommendations towards improving the oversight of affairs of the Offices of the Speaker, Clerk and Sergeant-at-Arms.


Those nine recommendations have received a response from the Legislature and are included in the report.

The Auditor General also made note that owing to recent events, there is currently an RCMP investigation underway and that with the suspension of the former Clerk and Sergeant At Arms her own financial statement audit work had been put on hold.

The RCMP is investigating possible criminal matters, and my office is not involved in this work. We also don’t anticipate being involved in the investigation under the Police Act or the workplace review at the Legislative Assembly. Furthermore, it is important to note that this audit would not be considered a forensic audit, although that description has frequently been reported in the media. Forensic audits are generally performed by specialists in support of civil or criminal court proceedings. 

Upon the suspensions of the former Clerk and the Sergeant-at-Arms, we put our financial statement audit work on hold. In my view, LAMC should now have enough information to complete its oversight of the 2018 and 2019 financial statements, which would enable us to complete that audit work. In the future, LAMC may wish to consider what types of audits would be most useful to it—financial statement audits are one, auditing for compliance with certain policies might be another.

The Office of the Speaker has been a frequent topic of note out of Victoria over the last two years, a sample of some of the drama that has put it in the spotlight can be reviewed below:

May 31 2019 -- Chaotic end to Legislature session, leaves Speaker Darryl Plecas once again the centre of attention!
January 2019 -- Report from Speaker Plecas makes for page after page of revelations on Legislature spending
November 2018 -- BC Legislature breaks for Christmas with NDP looking to showcase highlights; but trapped by public's view of chaotic end
November 2018 -- Controversy swirls around Legislature Speaker over ousting of officials
September 2017 -- Testy opening for Throne Speech as NDP introduce Liberal Daryl Plecas as Speaker

As she wrapped up her findings from her review, Ms. Bellringer noted that many of her concerns had been raised in the past and had gone unheeded, though she did acknowledge the work now underway to make for improvements in the way the Office is administered.

Throughout this audit, we observed that basic governance practices were also widely misunderstood. Reports from my office in 2007, 2012, and 2013 made observations and recommendations to strengthen the Legislative Assembly’s financial practices. The reports went on to point out the importance of the role of those charged with governance and noted that LAMC, the Speaker, and the Clerk are not effectively operating as a governance and management oversight body.

While I have similar concerns as previous auditors general, much work is being done by those charged with governance and management at the Legislative Assembly to improve administration. The Legislative Assembly represents the interests of the people of B.C. by debating and passing laws, reviewing and approving budgets, scrutinizing the executive branch of government and overseeing provincial public services.

As the body that makes provincial laws, it is reasonable to expect that its own operations should be setting the bar for controlling, overseeing and ensuring the efficient and effective use of public resources in an organized fashion. We encourage those charged with governance to work collaboratively with each other and the Legislative Assembly executive team to raise the bar.

Her final call for a raising of the bar, no doubt a welcome refrain and one that residents across the province will hope is taken heed of quickly.

The full report can be reviewed here.

For more items of note related to the Legislature see our archive page here.

Media notes on the Auditor General's report and other BC Politics notes can be explored from our political portal D'Arcy McGee.

Annual Prince Rupert Thanksgiving Food Drive hits the street Saturday

Ready for filling and collection!  Through this week Brown Bags 
have been  delivered across the city  for the 
BC Thanksgiving Food Drive which takes place on Saturday

Prince Rupert residents will once again be digging into the cupboards of their homes, ready to lend a hand this Thanksgiving for those who are in need, as the BC Thanksgiving Food Drive takes to the streets tomorrow.

A good core group of volunteers are set to travel across Prince Rupert and Port Edward on Saturday to collect the non perishable goods, with the collection from the day destined for the Prince Rupert Food Bank for distribution to those in need.

Coordinated by Aisa Smithanik, the annual collection of canned and packaged goods has seen impressive numbers since it arrived in Prince Rupert eight years ago; with hopes that this year will see residents of the North Coast be as generous as ever.

Those collecting the goods will not be knocking on your door and they are not soliciting donations, so the only way you'll know they've been by, is if your bag is gone from your front stoop.

Some of the goods collected from the 2018 Prince Rupert 
Thanksgiving Food Drive, volunteers will be going door to door tomorrow
to help fill the cupboards of the Prince Rupert Food Band
(PR Thanksgiving Food Drive Facebook Page)

Last year the door to door campaign collected close to 6,700 pounds of food, which went a long way to help with the community's Thanksgiving needs.


The bags which were part of a labelling project for students of École Roosevelt Park Community School and Annunciation School have been delivered to homes in both Port Edward and Prince Rupert through the course of the last week.

Up to thirty families have volunteered to work the pick up routes through the morning tomorrow.

To take part in the Food Drive, all you have to do is fill up your bag and have it sitting on your doorstep by 9:30 AM tomorrow.

This years campaign has drawn growing support from the community, with Cadets Canada, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Fellowship Baptist Church, DP World, Stuck On Designs, Save On Foods, City Furniture, CityWest and the Salvation Army all lending a hand to support this years collection.

If you find that your donation has been missed, or you have some time to lend a hand as part of the Food Drive efforts on Saturday call 250-624-2354.

Learn more about the work that has gone into preparing for tomorrow's collection from the Prince Rupert Food Drive Facebook page.

For more items of note on Community events see our archive page here.



Cullen's farewell traces a fifteen year journey of politics and representation

Fifteen years of politics can make for a lot of snapshots,
Nathan Cullen has selected just a few of them for his farewell house heold mailer


Nathan Cullen is coming to your door to say goodbye.

However,  you don't have to put on some coffee, or stock up the beer with fridge, as his arrival comes through your mail box, That as the long time MP for Skeena-Bulkley Valley bids his farewell to his time in Parliament with a household mailer.

The MP's letter, along with a collage of some of his favourite or most memorable photos has been popping into mail boxes across the city in the last week, providing for a few parting thoughts on fifteen years of elected service to the Northwest.

With fifteen years to call back on, the message to constituents is focused on what the MP has taken away from his travels across Skeena-Bulkley Valley to hear the stories of those who call this vast expanse of the Northwest home.

"Someone once told me that in the northwest 'the people don't make the land, the land makes the people'. This land has made some incredibly hardworking, inspiring and caring people. Whether in the House of Commons or at one of the hundreds of town halls I have hosted I tried always to reference my thoughts and words in the northwest as the source and inspiration of those stories."

Many of the themes from the mailer were previewed during his farewell address to Parliament in June of this year, where he shared remembrances of his time in Ottawa and offered some advice for Parliamentarians as they face new challenges ahead.

Towards his work over those years, he notes of the past debates and discussions over themes such as the Northern Gateway, The Great Bear Rainforest, open net fish farms, off shore drilling and protection for rivers and oceans.

MP Nathan Cullen making his farewell address to Parliament in June of this year

To close his time in service of the residents of the region he turns to the current election campaign and the task ahead for the successful candidate on election day next month.

"Whoever we choose as our next representative they will take up the task of ensuring we receive even more attention and consideration in the nation's affairs. We deserve no less and I wish them courage, wisdom and the strength to do the job well" 

Through much of his review of the years now past, the MP notes of his promise to put "Skeena back on the map" and as you receive his farewell missive this week, whether you were a supporter or never cast a vote for him through those fifteen years, one thing is certain, he did bring his talking points from the riding high to the Agenda for the House of Commons during that period of time.

The full text of his message can be reviewed below:



While Mr. Cullen prepares to write the next chapter in his life,  the voters in Skeena-Bulkley Valley will select the next Member of Parliament to take tell their stories in Parliament on October 21st.

Whether those stories will remain in the hands of an NDP member, or be turned over to one of the other candidates looking to represent them will come with your vote on election.

To review some of Mr. Cullen's past work in the House of Commons see our archive page here.

As for the current campaign to take the former MP's seat in the House, follow the latest notes on the campaign trail from our Election 2019 page here.

Safer crosswalk takes shape along Second Avenue Corridor

Getting closer ... progress is being made on the new lighted crosswalk
at one of the busiest crossings along Second Avenue West

New signage is in place at one of the city's key crosswalks in the downtown core, with contractors for the Ministry of Transportation in town the last few days to hook up the new lighted crosswalk.

The latest in safety additions is located at the Canada Post/BMO bank intersection, which saw the removal of one of the existing crosswalks a few weeks ago, leaving just the one to transit between the Post Office and Chevron.

The crosswalk infrastructure while in place, is not fully active just yet, with the backlighting still to be turned on to make for a more visible notification of the crossing.

The work has been part of a long running remediation project for all of the intersections along Second Avenue West, with new traffic lights and cross walk stations put in place as well along the main thoroughfare through the city.

As we noted back in February, the to do list from the Ministry covered a range of items that had been raised by the community over the last few years.

Some of the other work by the Ministry of Transportation across the Northwest can be reviewed here.

Time to hit the ice! Prince Rupert Rampage ready to drop the puck for 2019-2020 CIHL season

Hockey's back at the Jim, as the Prince Rupert Rampage welcome
the Smithers Steelheads Saturday night to open up their 2019-20 season 

The Road to Quesnel starts Saturday night as the Prince Rupert Rampage dig into the ice for a new season and another shot at the Coy Cup, as the hometown Rhinos take on the Smithers Steelheads, with the debut game for the CIHL season set for a 7PM puck drop at the Jim Ciccone Civic Centre.

The Steelheads who return to the CIHL after a two year hiatus, will bring a number of new faces to CIHL action, with many of the familiar names of past CIHL campaigns having put the skates away.

The weekend action, which is the only game on the CIHL schedule for the season's launch,  marks the start of the sixteen game CIHL campaign that in addition to Smithers will also include Hazelton as a new stop for the Rampage team bus.

The Bulkley Valley community returns to the league after a lengthy absence introducing the Bulldogs to the CIHL fold.

This year will also feature a pretty special weekend for hockey fans just before Christmas, that as Rogers' Hometown Hockey comes to Prince Rupert on December 8th.

And with a storied history of Senior Men's Hockey in the city over the decades, including the more recent contributions from the Rampage, the prospect of some tales of the past for Ron MacLean and Tara Sloan would seem to be one likely theme for the broadcast from the Jim later this year.


When it comes to this years version  of the Rampage the group assembled by Head coach Roger Atchison and GM Ron German will be looking to build on a strong season from last year.

One which took the team on to the Coy Cup championship in the Peace Country, which while not successful in bringing back the much coveted trophy, did provide the team the chance to take the measure of a number of rivals whose path they hope to cross again in the Cariboo in 2020.

This year the goal is to book some hotel rooms in Quesnel, which will host this years AA Senior men's final in the spring of 2020, to get there however will mean navigating the challenges of the CIHL regular season and playoffs  which will carry the team from now to February.

Towards charting that course, the Rampage will be looking to Judd Repole to have another banner year to follow last season, which saw the forward claim the scoring title and League MVP honours.

Likewise, another strong year to match his award winning season of 2018-19 on defence for Tyler Ostrom will help to keep the goal of the Coy Cup in sight through the season.

The start to the season comes following a fairly short training camp period, with the team working some of the rust off over the course since the ice went in at the Jim.

It's a mix of mostly familiar returning veterans and a few newcomers to the line up that take to the ice for the 2019-2020 campaign tomorrow night.

As the team prepares for the marathon ahead, both Atchison and German are  looking at a group that have been through a number of CIHL seasons together and should easily get back into a good flow pretty quickly.

The Rampage released their roster for the season list week, those set to hit the ice on Saturday night include:


Goaltenders 

1 – Tomoki Yoshizawa
29 – Devon Gerrits

Defencemen

 5 – Marcus Atchison
 6 – Jacob Santurbano
20 – Hayden Long
77 – Tyler Ostrom
88 – Graeme Lodge
94 – Wade Cline

Forwards

 9 – Thomas Robinson
11 – Jean-Luc Rendell-Fournier
12 – Kale Burns
13 – Teal Burns
14 – Jared Meers
16 – Jordan Weir
18 – Judd Repole
19 – Koltin Chasse
22 – Cody Cringan
25 – Jared Carter
28 – Kory Movold
61 – Teryn Archer
71 – Jeremy Boot
74 – Cole Morris
91 – Cole Atchison

Rampage fans can take advantage of an opening weekend welcome back to the team, which comes following Saturday nights contest at the Civic Centre.

The Seal Cove Neighbourhood Pub will be hosting a Meet and Greet for members of the team as part of the Rampage After Party at the east side pub.




As the season moves forward you can check out the results from each weekend as well as summaries and notes from the games through our results page.

You can get in your own pre game warm up for Saturday night with some notes on the run up to the 2019-2020 season from our Rampage archive page here.



Thursday, September 19, 2019

Snapshots from the past, bring Clouds to Prime Minister's Sunny Ways vision

Prime Minister Trudeau speaking Wednesday aboard his campaign plane
towards the revelation of photos of him in brown and black face

Today has been more akin to a Redemption tour, as opposed to a re-election campaign for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, that as the Liberal party look to try to contain the damage caused by the release of some shocking photos of a younger Trudeau prior to his political life.

The blockbuster moment for the campaign arrived late last night with the first of what would become three images (so far) of Mr. Trudeau making use of black or brown face make-up on what is now a variety of social events.

The first image was not released by Canadian media, but rather by the American news journal TIME magazine, with the Canadian outlets then coming up with a few other instances to add to the narrative of a Prime Minister having to face his past mis-steps.

The photo and article from TIME that started the rising tide of bad visuals, was taken from a 2001 fundraiser for a West Vancouver School where the Prime Minister was a teacher, which some suggest is an indication of some rather poor judgment by the then 29 year old educator.



The first short apology came last evening on a campaign plane, while a second one came as part of an appearance in Winnipeg today.


Those comments were part of  a wider media availability from the Manitoba city this morning, with the Prime Minister speaking to the issue and answering questions for over an hour.

For the most part today, few are suggesting that the Prime Minister is a racist, but rather exhibited poor judgment in the past, along with some hypocrisy on some of his social justice themes from four years of Liberal governance.

Others have noted that he no doubt was aware of his past and should have revealed the troubling photos of those days long before the final year of his first four year term, while campaigning for a second one.

The opposition leaders have addressed the issue with a variety of statements of concern, though most observers have credited NDP leader Jagmeet Singh as having struck just the right tone towards the issue.

As for the campaign still underway, in his media availability of Wednesday in Winnipeg, the Prime Minister was asked by Global TV's David Akin if he did not think that perhaps he should step aside to work through his personal issues and let someone else lead the party through the election.

A comment which the Prime Minister navigated around with mentions of consultations with Liberal candidates, fellow Liberals and leaders of racialized communites across the nation, seemingly planning to stay the course as Liberal leader.

Such has been the magnitude of the disclosure of the photos of the past, that the Canadian election has suddenly become an item of interest for the International media, though none of them see to be focused much on tax cuts for the middle class and other sundry notes of the campaign.



With the Liberals in Skeena-Bulkley Valley so far off the pace of the front runners that they are in a battle with the Greens for Third place at the moment, any political impact of his photos will most likely be delivered   in other areas of the country,

How the Prime Minister's  apologies are received and providing no further photos appear, the reaction to the controversy could deliver fence sitting Liberals to other parties, something that probably is of more political concern in the larger population areas where the races are tighter.

Considering the electoral baggage that the Prime Minister had already brought with him into the campaign related to the SNC-Lavalin file and other political troubles, he's quite fortunate that to this point the leadership of the other parties has yet to truly engage the voters, leading to some very tight polling results in these first two weeks of the campaign.

However, those results may see some significant shifts in the weeks ahead, should the mea culpas and seemingly sincere comments of atonement fail to resonate with the public.

What's particularly bad for the Liberals is that for the early stage of this election campaign, they have as a strategy tried to paint some of the other parties as out of touch with Canadian values; all while they were quite quick to highlight the tarnish of a number of candidates across the country.

As always in politics, the stench of hypocrisy is perhaps the most dangerous element that a party can be caught up in and have to defend itself about.

What Wednesday's photographic revelations have done however has been to introduce the topic of how society views the issue of race and how our past deeds reflect less aware times.

Though what year stands as that demarcation line of awareness remains a fuzzy one for many.

And in the case of the Prime Minister some of the photos were clearly after a timeline where most considered the use of blackface or brownface in the one instance, as something that was surely not acceptable for party accessories or any other situation for that matter.

For most of us today, it should be the unanimous view that such role play complete with black or brown face is out of step with the Canada we believe exists, or as the Liberals might put it  ...  because it's 2019.

However, few of those who may have that particular skeleton in their personal closets are seeking to lead a nation; particularly on a policy theme of being the only leader who believes he understands Canadians best.

In the flurry of articles that came out of last night's storyline two stood out for their clarity on the issue at hand both for Society and for the Liberals.

John Ibbitson and Paul Wells seemed to both capture the immediate gravitas of the moment and the fall out that could come from the revelations.

The offence was not just Trudeau's makeup, but also the silence

 Justin Trudeau's face

The photos of course have dominated the election cycle since last night, with other campaign themes clearly best kept for another day, deprived of any hope for exposure as the news cycle covers the larger story.

You can review more of the coverage from last evening from our D'Arcy McGee Portal where we catalogue a wide overview of material from the national campaign trail.

The larger archive of the campaign so far is available here.

Mayor's update on Alaska Ferry offers few details on three stage plan to address Alaskan concerns

Mayor Brain in Juneau
earlier this week
(From Mayors Facebook)
Mayor Lee Brain has revealed some of the background to his presentation this week to the Southeast Conference  on the city's approach to issues related to the status of  Alaska Ferry between Prince Rupert and Ketchikan.

Using his Facebook portal for his notes, the Mayor recounted some of his travels today and then outlined a synopsis of his three points for the gathering.

1. An Immediate solution that could see reinstatement of the winter schedule for the AMHS into Prince Rupert. 

2. A medium term solution that could see service to Prince Rupert for at least the next 2 years. 

3. A long term solution that could see a permanent/more sustainable resolution to the ferry system into Prince Rupert. 

The Mayor did not provide any details as to what those three stages might provide for when it comes to a resolution of the concerns from the US Customs and Border officials; concerns that at the moment will see the service end its operations at the end of this month.

 Mr Brain did follow up with some observations towards the path forward however:

At this stage, it will take a few weeks for some details to be figured out regarding the immediate solution. If it was up to the State and the City, we would have signed an agreement in Juneau - but currently we must wait for more information from border protection agencies on both the US and Canada side regarding pre/post clearance issues (so to be clear, the immediate issue is regarding new federal legislation requirements).

He also notes that it is clear to him that the residents of Southeast Alaska wish to retain their access to Prince Rupert,  adding as to the importance of the service to both British Columbia and Alaska.

His statement on the topic wraps up with a hope to announce some positive news in the future.

You can review the full statement here.

As we noted earlier this morning, Alaska reports indicate that for the moment the situation related to the request for additional security at the Fairivew Terminal in Prince Rupert remains unresolved and that the service will end on September 30th.

After a fairly quiet summer on the the festering issue, local politicians addressed the issue with a more fulsome approach, but only after the official notice that the service would end was relayed earlier this month.

For more items of note related to the AMHS service see our archive page here.

A wider overview of past City Council issues can be examined from our Council Discussion archive.