02/24/2015 04:35 EST | Updated 04/26/2015 05:59 EDT

NDP's chicken clucking raises fowl tone in B.C. over Liberal lobbyists

VICTORIA - Politicians in British Columbia's legislature were beaking off at each other Tuesday, with a cabinet minister calling the NDP's benches a chicken coop and later apologizing for clucking like a chicken.

"I wish to withdraw the last few syllables of my remarks," Advanced Education Minister Andrew Wilkinson said moments after making sounds that sounded like a chicken clucking in the legislature.

The NDP has been crowing about more than $292,000 paid by three post-secondary institutions to hire Liberal-connected lobbyists they say would be placed at the top of the government's pecking order.

Money paid to lobbyists should be used to fund students and programs, the New Democrats said after citing documents obtained through freedom of information.

"We're talking about taking student dollars and government funding and using it to pay B.C. Liberal insiders and the best this minister has to offer is to call the Opposition a chicken coop," said David Eby, the NDP's tourism and housing critic and former advanced education critic.

"That is sad," Eby said after watching Wilkinson, who is also a doctor, lawyer and Rhodes Scholar.

The documents released by the NDP also detail lobbyist deals with Vancouver Community College, Royal Roads University and Kwantlen Polytechnic University.

The information outlines deals including $75,000 paid by Vancouver Community College to public affairs company Fleishman-Hillard (Canada) Ltd., from 2011 to 2012, and a $40,500 agreement that Royal Roads University made with The Pace Group, from 2009 to 2012.

"Royal Roads University engaged The Pace Group to provide government relations services and strategic advice as the university positioned to secure provincial and federal funding, with specific emphasis on infrastructure support for a new academic building and the Bateman Centre," said the documents.

Royal Roads eventually secured federal funding for new classrooms, but a proposal to open an educational area focusing on the works of artist Robert Bateman did not happen. A private venture highlighting Bateman's art is located in downtown Victoria.

The Vancouver Community College agreement with Fleishman-Hillard includes proposed services of "a regular program of engagement with key stakeholders and contacts in government on behalf of the VCC."

The NDP also released documents outlining a $177,000 deal between Vancouver-area Kwantlen Polytechnic University and Bluestone Group, which would aim to build relationships with the Liberal government.

Former advanced education minister Amrik Virk was on the board of directors at Kwantlen when the university hired Bluestone Group, whose president, Mark Jiles, is well known in Liberal circles. Virk was not an elected MLA when Kwantlen hired Bluestone Group.

But Virk was shuffled out of his Advanced Education Ministry post last year after a government review of executive hiring practices at Kwantlen while he was a board member.

Wilkinson, who acknowledged lobbying Simon Fraser University before being elected to the legislature, said B.C.'s post-secondary institutions do not need to lobby the government.

"Access to my ministry and to me is unlimited to all institutions," he said. "We do not see the need to retain government relations consultants."

Calling the New Democrats "cackling chickens," Wilkinson rejected Opposition statements about the number students facing huge debts.

He said 75 per cent of students in B.C. graduate without debt.