The B.C. Road Builders and Heavy Construction Association is getting into the business of paving public support for the Campbell administration. According to a letter obtained exclusively by Public Eye, the association is organizing a "grassroots movement" known as the Livable BC Coalition "to sway public and political opinion in support of the government's transportation programs" - specifically its Gateway Project. The letter, which was written by road builders president Jack Davidson, invites supportive industry groups to join the coalition. Those that do will be asked "to present our transportation message to your members and have them relay the message to their employees." The letter also notes the coalition will "ask you and your members to attend important public events to show support for the Pacific Gateway and other important transportation projects."
In an interview, Mr. Davidson confirmed the authenticity of that letter. When asked why the road builders was organizing the group, the president said "There's a lot of not in my backyard. And there's a lot of we don't want anymore people in our region" - feelings the coalition will work to change.
He then went onto add, "One of the big things we're trying to do is get people to go out to the open houses and political events where these things are being talked about. And go to the city councils that are objecting to the Gateway and try to show the positive support. Because the negative support is always there...So we're trying to browbeat people - through the system, as well - to come out."
And did the government approach the association about organizing the coalition, we asked? Or was it the road builders idea? "Well, I don't know. I shouldn't be telling you," responded Mr. Davidson. Although he later added that government didn't "specifically" ask them to do that work. "But, as you said, they tell us to stand up and be counted. And we believed so strongly in this one that we're going to do it."
Mr. Davidson said a couple hundred associations have been invited to join the coalition, with 20 signing-up so far. The coalition will campaign for about a year and run on a shoestring budget of $10,000. The following is an edited transcript of our interview with Mr. Davidson, as well as a copy of the coalition invite letter.
B.C. Road Builders & Heavy Construction Association
February 22, 2006
I am writing to invite your organization to join a new and very important coalition - the Livable BC Coalition.
The mission of the Livable BC Coalition will be to grow public support for continued investment in transportation infrastructure. The Coalition will focus public attention on the need for safe, efficient transportation to sustain economic growth and improve our quality of life by keeping traffic moving.
Since your association has the reputation of being an opinion leader within your sector of the economy, we are looking for your support in encouraging a grassroots movement to sway public and political opinion in support of the government's transportation programs.
Currently, those groups against the Gateway Projects are making their voices heard in the media and with the public. With strong support and a coordinated effort, we can reach the public with the facts highlighting the need for strong transportation infrastructure.
The Coalition will be developing key messages and materials that will be distributed through the communications network of coalition members.
* We will ask you to present our transportation message to your members and have them relay the message to their employees.
* We will ask you and your members to attend important public events to show support for the Pacific Gateway and other important transportation projects.
If you are in support of keeping BC building and improving our transportation network, we encourage you to join our growing coalition. Please complete and fax in the form attached and we will add you to the coalition database. Sign up today! You will be supporting and investing in a strong and prosperous future for all British Columbians.
(Logos: B.C. Business Summit, B.C. Road Construction and Maintenance Safety Network, Business Council of British Columbia, Western Canada Roadbuilders and Heavy Construction Association, Canadian Construction Association)
Public Eye Jack, I received a copy of the letter you guys sent out on February 22 concerning the Livable B.C. Coalition you're organizing...And I'm just wondering why you guys felt the need to go this route (to support the Gateway Project)?
Mr. Davidson Because there's a lot of not in my backyard. And there's a lot of we don't want anymore people in our region. Which is fine. But it's just not reality. People are coming to Vancouver. And we've got to move the traffic. We are having a lot of problems with our competitiveness here in B.C. And certainly the traffic congestion is hurting everybody's productivity.
Public Eye Why do you refer to it as a grassroots organization? Because it seems to be an industry driven thing?
Mr. Davidson Well, because I wasn't going to send the media an invitation to talk about it. And we were going to try and get - it's just in the forming stage - get to the people through the only method I have which is through the trade associations. So the intent is to get them online and then email to them to send to their members to send to their employees and workers. So, when it works, it's a cheap method to distribute our message.
Public Eye Approximately how many associations or organizations did you send the letter out to?
Mr. Davidson Oh, a couple hundred.
Public Eye A couple hundred or thereabouts. So it's a pretty extensive effort?
Mr. Davidson And we've got about 20 back so far. We forgot to send in the sign-up sheet that went along with it.
Public Eye Yeah, I know some people didn't receive the sign-up sheet. So I imagine that's been causing a bit of a headache.
Mr. Davidson It is.
Public Eye Do you have a communications firm that's helping you guys out with this?
Mr. Davidson No. We're pretty low key. We're trying to do it for no money. We are looking for - and it's hopefully somebody will - well, we're looking for help wherever we can and sponsorship for different events. One of the big things we're trying to do is get people to go out to the open houses and political events where these things are being talked about. And go to the city councils that are objecting to the Gateway and try to show the positive support. Because the negative support is always there. And we just - when it's a good idea, even when it's a good idea, the people don't come out. So we're trying to browbeat people through the system as well to come out.
Public Eye So you mention that you're trying to support the government initiatives. Was this an idea that originated with your organization? Or did government approach you about trying to drum up support? Or how did it work?
Mr. Davidson Well, I don't know. I shouldn't be telling you. We have a self-interest I guess. And we like to think that we don't act strictly on that self-interest. We believe, when the province does well, we do well. And we believe that the province is doing well because the government embraced the policy of building infrastructure. So we think they're connected. We believe, if the province does well, we'll have all the work we need. So we don't go out and support specific roads or projects or any of that stuff. That's the government stuff. But we do believe strongly that opening up the Pacific Rim or the Gateway as they call is just the most fantastic thing that can happen to B.C. for the future. Because where the people are is where the money is. And we think that - within 10 to 20 years - B.C. ports will move more product than the East Coast and the St. Lawrence together. So that's why we're pushing it.
Public Eye Yeah, I just ask the question because I know in the past government has thought that industry should be doing a better job of getting out there and supporting these initiatives because they are good initiatives for B.C.
Mr. Davidson Well, certainly we get that message from the government. You know, we were part of the sponsorship for the summit. Not the summit. You know - not the carvan. The convoy we did around the legislature in support of the government. So we have a history of going down this road, that's for sure.
Public Eye So did government approach you guys about helping out?
Mr. Davidson Not specifically about this. But, as you said, they tell us to stand up and be counted. And we believed so strongly in this one that we're going to do it.
Public Eye And when do you guys expect to get off the ground - start moving, that sort of thing?
Mr. Davidson Probably next month if we get enough of these things in.
Public Eye And how much money do you think it's going to cost to run the campaign? What are you looking at?
Mr. Davidson We hope the campaign will probably run for a year - maybe longer, as the different projects have different opposition to them. And it could be longer because the Gateway projects are scheduled to be spread out over to 2015. I'm hoping that we can do it all for under $10,000.
Public Eye Well that would be kind of nice eh?
Mr. Davidson Well, with the Internet - and if you can build a network - then you can get your message out? And then maybe the media will help us too.
Public Eye So you've had 20 organizations express interest? Will it be primarily run out of the road builders' office or will it be shared amongst those other partners that I noted at the bottom of the letter?
Mr. Davidson Well, my board has allowed us to go out and cover the cost of setting it up and getting it going and that sort of thing. We will not be the spokesperson for it. We're only the facilitator.
Public Eye Who will be?
Mr. Davidson I think we're going to have three or four from different sectors. Probably the B.C. Automobile Association - Trace Acres would talk for the motoring public. Paul Landry from the trucking association would talk for the truckers. And they need a very, very strong voice we think. And people have to understand how much their goods move by truck. Everything they do. And this all costs them money on that truck sitting there. Marine will probably have someone talking about marine. That sort of thing. Some expert in the area rather than the road builders.
Public Eye I would imagine the potential criticism will come up that this is simply Astroturfing. Have you heard that term before?
Mr. Davidson No.
Public Eye It refers to when industry groups try and get together and build a grassroots effort that isn't really a grassroots effort. What would your response to that be?
Mr. Davidson It could wind up there. But we've never done this before. And we're trying to figure out how to get the message to the people. And we thought that this Internet network could work. If somebody puts a different label on it I don't really care as long as people get the message understand what the Gateway can mean to B.C.
Public Eye Will it have a Website?
Mr. Davidson I hope so. That might cost me some money. Yeah, I think it probably will (have a Website)...
Public Eye Well, thanks very much. I really do appreciate it.