It looks like columnists Bill Tieleman and Paul Willcocks aren't the only members of the chattering classes to take a dim view of provincial Liberal supporter Louise Burgart's appointment to the electoral boundary commission. From Dave Paulson, managing editor of Prince George Citizen, comes word that his broadsheet - the largest daily newspaper in New Democrat leader Carole James's old stomping grounds - has also come out against Ms. Burgart. In his editorial, which was published last week, Mr. Paulson writes "Whether Burgart could park her Liberal loyalties while working on the commission isn't the issue. Transparency is. To maintain the commission's integrity and ensure public confidence in a critical process, Burgart must be replaced." The following is a complete copy of that editorial.
As one of three members appointed to the province's electoral boundaries commission, Fort St. James resident Louise Burgart has a hand in redrawing the map of B.C.'s constituencies.
The commission, as specified in the Electoral Boundaries Commission Act, must be comprised of a judge or retired judge (Justice Bruce Cohen), B.C.'s chief electoral officer (Harry Neufeld) and "a person who is not a member of the legislative assembly or an employee of the government and who is nominated by the Speaker of the legislative assembly, after consultation with the premier and the leader of the Official Opposition," as stated in the Act.
Louise Burgart is the third appointee.
Oh, and the commission members are to be non-partisan; that is, they are to have no affiliation with any political party.
This should have eliminated Burgart from consideration.
Certainly she could provide valuable knowledge to the commission. Burgart is a former superintendent of the Nechako-Lakes school district, was a longtime member of the B.C. College of Teachers, is a businesswoman and as a northerner is sensitive to the realities of sprawling hinterland ridings versus urban ones.
However, she is also an active and enthusiastic supporter of the B.C. Liberal party.
As disclosed by Sean Holman on his political website Public Eye Online, Burgart's family's company, which owns Apex Alpine ski resort near Penticton, donated $1,400 to the Liberals in 1998 and another $1,500 in 2004. She also worked on the campaign to elect Prince George-Omineca MLA John Rustad, and a letter to the editor by Burgart which praised the B.C. Liberals was published in The Citizen shortly before last May's provincial election.
Penticton-Okanagan MLA Bill Barisoff, as Speaker of the House, nominated Burgart for the electoral boundaries commission. To compound the situation, the Apex ski resort Burgart owns is in Barisoff's riding and the company donated $1,000 to Barisoff's campaign in 2001, Holman writes.
Given the extremely sensitive nature of the electoral boundaries commission, Burgart is clearly an unsuitable choice despite NDP leader Carole James' approval (they've known each other since James' days as head of the provincial school trustees association). It appears the NDP didn't bother to check Burgart's background before giving its OK.
Charged with the responsibility of recommending boundary changes to B.C. ridings, the public must have every assurance the commission is acting without a shred of self-interest. A non-partisan commission is essential to prevent the perception of gerrymandering, the altering of boundaries to deliberately favour one party.
Whether Burgart could park her Liberal loyalties while working on the commission isn't the issue. Transparency is.
To maintain the commission's integrity and ensure public confidence in a critical process, Burgart must be replaced.