Shadowy men from a shadowy planet

As you may have already heard, Finance Minister Gary Collins and influential backroom boy Patrick Kinsella are chairing the provincial Liberal's re-election committee. But who else is beavering away to make sure the party stays in power? That's a question we've been asking party headquarters for the past two months. But the Liberal's executive director Kelly Riechert hasn't return repeated phone calls about the matter. So last week, we got tired of waiting for Mr. Reichert and started asking more talkative folks the same question. And, so far, our investigation has managed to add two more names to that list. Everybody give a big Public Eye welcome to secret advisors Greg Lyle and Jess Ketchum. Greg and Jess, come on down and read your backgrounders!

Greg Lyle is a principal with Navigator Ltd., a Toronto communications and strategy firm. Mr. Lyle has been involved in politics since 1981, when he was just 18 years old. He met Premier Bill Bennett's then principal secretary Bud Smith in 1984. And two years later, Mr. Lyle became Mr. Smith's body man during the dark prince's bid to win the party leadership.

After that campaign, Mr. Lyle was hired as a field worker for the Socreds, responsible for the province's northern ridings. But opportunity took him to Manitoba in 1987, where he was named executive assistant to Manitoba Progressive Conservative leader Gary Filmon. When an election was called a year later, Mr. Lyle, who was then serving as the leader's campaign secretary, convinced a number of Socred operatives to come work for the Filmon Conservatives. Those operatives included elections day expert Jacee Schaefer. Following that election, the victorious Premier Filmon made Mr. Lyle his principle secretary.

But in 1991, returned to British Columbia, where he was put in charge of managing Socred election campaigns in five Surrey ridings, including the one held by Premier Rita Johnson. Each of those campaigns failed. And the Socreds were thrown out of government by Mike Harcourt's New Democrats.

For the next three years, Mr. Lyle was a vice-president at Hill and Knowlton Canada Inc. and Decima Research Inc., the company's polling arm. Toward the end of that tenure, Mr. Lyle campaigned on behalf of federal Justice Minister and Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Kim Campbell. But after she won that leadership, he is said to have been muscled out of the prime minister's election machine by Ottawa-side handlers.

In 1994, Mr. Lyle became a senior research associate with the Angus Reid Group, whose founder taught at the University of Manitoba and had taken a liking to the young up-and-comer. That association lasted a year. At around the same time, he was hired by the provincial Liberals as their election campaign planning director.

In April 1996, Mr. Lyle's involvement with the party became a source of controversy when The Vancouver Sun reported he had been invited to a "national conference of key conservatives," organized by columnist David Frum, to plot the downfall of the Chretien government. Asked for his opinion on that invite, provincial Reform researcher Martyn Brown, who is now Premier Gordon Campbell's chief of staff, said it proved "the (British Columbia) Liberals have been captured by former Kim Campbell, Bill Vander Zalm and Rita Johnston strategists (whose) principal agenda is to elect a Conservative government, not a Liberal government."

But, when the ballots were counted, Mr. Lyle, who became the party's campaign manager, wasn't able to do either. He lost the 1996 election and quit his job with the Liberals shortly after. But he continued to do work for the party.

In January 1997, the Liberals got in trouble when it was revealed the party had spent $727,200 in taxpayer-provided caucus funds on a householder attacking the Clark administration. Of that amount, $283,000 went to Gastown Printers Inc., a company owned by one of Mr. Campbell's closest friends and political allies, Jan-Paul Shason. And $5,000 was spent on an untendered consulting contract for Mr. Lyle. His friend, caucus secretary and former Progressive Conservative Youth godfather Stewart Braddick, resigned over the affair. Mr. Braddick now works with Navigator, which was co-founded by Mr. Lyle in 2000.

Mr. Lyle's political resume also includes stints working for Ontario Premier Mike Harris and Canadian Alliance leadership candidate Tom Long, among others. Back in June, Public Eye spies spotted Mr. Lyle in Victoria. When we asked him about what he was doing back in the province, he told us, "I just can't get into what I'm up to. It's client stuff. And if clients want to say what I'm doing then they say what I'm doing." Asked today for comment on this story, he said "I don't talk about the people I work for one way or another." But Public Eye does.

***

Jess Ketchum is president of Ketchum Communications Ltd., a West Vancouver lobbying and public relations firm whose clients have included the Council of Forest Industries and the British Columbia Lumber Trade Council. But before he became a hired political gun, Mr. Ketchum was one of Social Credit's best known operatives.

After the Socreds were elected in 1975, he was named an assistant to Socred cabinet minister Alex Fraser. Mr. Ketchum then went one to become the vice-president of communications for the Expo 86 Corp. But he ended up leaving that position before the fair got underway.

In 1990, he was hired as the Socred's director of operations. He also became a member of the their election readiness committee, along with Mr. Kinsella. That committee was chaired by Premier Bill Vander Zalm's principal secretary Jerry Lampert, who is now president of the Business Council of British Columbia. When Mr. Lampert quit the committee in 1991, having already resigned from the premier's office, Mr. Ketchum took over his job and eventually became the party's election campaign manager. He also convinced Mr. Lyle to return to British Columbia and work on the 1991 election.

That election reduced the Socreds to seven seats in the legislature. Mr. Ketchum sat out the 1996 election. But after that, Vancouver Sun gossip columnist Malcolm Parry spotted him schmoozing with the Liberals. And in 2001, he was instrumental in winning the election for that party along with Mr. Kinsella, sitting on their election committee.

Mr. Ketchum has also been a consultant to Great Canadian Railtour Co. and is friends with the company's chief executive officer Peter Armstrong. In September 2004, Canadian National Railway Co. announced Great Canadian had been selected to operate tourist trains on its newly-acquired British Columbia Rail routes. Mr. Ketchum does not sit on the company's board of directors nor is he an executive officer.

Mr. Riechert did not return repeated phone calls from Public Eye placed yesterday specifically asking about this story. Mr. Ketchum is currently out of the country.

4 Comments

I sincerely hope that sometime soon, somebody Liberal (not only in name but in values in beliefs)will be able to take that party back for the Liberals.

Braeden caley all i can say good luck.You are talking about getting control of the Regime which under the Iron Fist and worst Dictator than communist.Good luck its his way or Highway. bally.

With so-called strategist as Jess Ketchum and Greg Lyle, the NDP must be paying their salaries.

What was the last election or leadership contest these guys won? The pickings must be thin!

Things do not look good for Gordo and his gang.

The last time I checked the BC Liberals nearly ran the table in the 2001 election. 77-2 is not a bad result, so I suspect they will look to include some of the same people who were involved last time.

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