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A Sad State Of Affairs In The B.C. Government

02/09/2017 11:27 EST | Updated 02/09/2017 11:27 EST
Chris Wattie / Reuters
British Columbia Premier Christy Clark takes part in a news conference during the First Ministers’ meeting in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, December 9, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

"When did our moral standards become so complicated?"

It was a question left hanging in a recent email to me from Linda Kayfish, the sister of Roderick MacIssac. MacIssac was one of eight health ministry workers fired in 2012. He later took his own life, as a result of that firing.

To this day the government hasn't come clean on what led to the firings or who made the call.

While the question was more rhetorical in nature over the government's intransigence, it could just as easily pertain to any number of political issues in the province. A fact that hit home after reading a recent column by the Georgia Straight's Charlie Smith entitled: "Has the time come for B.C. premiers to disclose their tax returns?"

Let that sink in for a moment.

Anything coming out of the mouth of a politician has always been greeted with a dose of cynicism, but we may have turned the corner from skepticism street to distrust boulevard without ever noticing.

Smith was writing about the flap over Premier Christy Clark's decision to forego her $50,000 stipend from the B.C. Liberal party.

The stipend affair has not been one of Clark's shining moments.

It was sad that a premier who once boasted she was going to put families first didn't appreciate the optics of accepting a semi-secret, five-figure top-up that was more than most British Columbians make in a year.

It was sad that when asked by The Tyee to put some numbers after the stipend's dollar sign, the premier waved the question off, glibly calling it a "car allowance." This from a premier who had once promised to run the most and transparent government in Canada. Pity the other nine provinces.

It was sad that the premier still didn't get it after the Globe and Mail's Gary Mason put the numbers after the dollar sign for her. The public wasn't so amused when they learned of the amount.

It was sad that B.C.'s conflict of interest commissioner, Paul Fraser, didn't get it when a complaint was filed with his office over the stipend.

Fraser's son, John Paul Fraser, is a deputy minister in the B.C. government, but not your average, run of the mill deputy minister. Fraser Jr. is in charge of the government's propaganda arm: the communications and public engagement office.

It was never about the legal merits of dad's argument over whether there was a conflict in his investigating the premier, but the perception that could be left with some over his family circumstances.

He could have taken a cue from Alberta's ethics commissioner, Marguerite Trussler, at the time. Trussler tossed a file Fraser's way over her concerns regarding a possible conflict of interest she found herself in when it came to a matter before her office.

She asked Fraser to conduct a second review into former premier Alison Redford's 2013 handling of a tobacco litigation contract, because she is friends with two people involved in the matter.

Not a family affair, just friends.

Funnily enough that's the only file where Fraser has ever found a conflict of interest that warranted further investigation.

It was sad that it seemingly took the New York Times for the premier to finally get it, saying she would refuse the $50,000 stipend, because it had become "a distraction."

Australia's health minister Sussan Ley used exactly the same word only a few days before to justify her decision to step aside from cabinet while an investigation into her taxpayer-funded travel was underway.

It's sad that a good chunk of the public still doesn't buy it.

No question, some were in Clark's corner.

One posted on social media, "Hey I think she should get more for putting up with your crap," another "Think about this....she is responsible for the whole province....yes, we pay her $195,000 a year...so what...who you gonna get for less to do that job??"

Others were less charitable, claiming Clark may have already taken the $50,000 for 2017 or the party would find another way to get her the money.

And it's sad that we've reached the point where Smith could pose the question "Has the time come for B.C. premiers to disclose their tax returns?" and Kayfish is left to wonder, "When did our moral standards become so complicated?"

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