Public Eye's record

In the eight years I've reported on British Columbia politics, Public Eye has published more than 6,000 stories - not including the articles that were written when the site was a weekly, email-distributed .pdf publication. Almost all of those stories have been works of enterprise journalism - digging up news both big and small about public officials and institutions in this province. It would be a voluminous task to summarize them. And, in compiling some of the highlights, I'm sure I'll miss stories that mattered to many of you. But, among the major ones, there were articles that revealed:

2011*

* the office running the government's pro-harmonized sales tax campaign secretly doled out contracts to two Liberal-connected companies and a former aide to the minister who introduced the tax;

* weak post-employment guidelines have meant five officials with natural resources portfolios - Karina Brino, Alex Ferguson, Gordon Goodman, Michael Lambert and Natalie Poole-Mofftat - were able to quit government and immediately take senior positions with private interests within that sector;

* Law Society of British Columbia allegations that Nathan Bauder, the Liberal-connected chair of the province's taxi licenser, falsified documents while attempting to obtain a mortgage for a property he was purchasing in Prince George. Mr. Bauder declined to comment on those unproven allegations but resigned his position;

2010*

* the provincial New Democrats' decision to pay Moe Sihota what appears to be an unprecedented $75,600 stipend to be president of their party using a "generous, earmarked gift from the labour movement." The lion's share of that money came from two unions;

* Insurance Corp. of British Columbia chair T. Richard Turner's longstanding business relationship with Paragon Gaming Inc., which had inked a deal with British Columbia Pavilion Corp. to develop a major casino in Vancouver;

* details on the caucus revolt that resulted in Carole James's resignation as leader of the provincial New Democrats. That in-depth coverage included everything from breaking the news about the editorial which triggered that revolt to disclosing a high-level call to discipline dissident MLAs;

2009*

• the unannounced decision to close a provincially-funded, RCMP anti-illegal gaming team. That resulted in a series of stories questioning whether the government was committed to investigating illegal gaming and preventing criminal activity in the province's casinos. That series featured exclusive interviews with the team's former commander Fred Pinnock and Ed Rampone, the ex-bureaucrat who was responsible for investigating wrongdoing at gaming facilities, as well as internal government and police reports obtained via freedom of information requests;

* dozens of local governments hadn't prepared wildfire protection plans - five years after a review recommended every community with a "high probability and consequence of fire" be required to have one. Following that revelation, the province's forest minister committed to accelerated their completion;

2008*

* former Liberal campaign co-chair Patrick Kinsella's firm helped powerful foreign and corporate interests win major government contracts and benefits. That reporting contributed to the firm's work becoming an issue during the 2009 election, a change to the province's lobbying rules and a finding by Canada's commissioner of lobbying that Mr. Kinsella's then business partner Mark Jiles breached the federal Lobbyists' Code of Conduct. Mr. Jiles has denied he engaged in registrable lobbying activity;

* concerns related to the provincial government's controversial decision to allow the construction of five- and six- storey wood-frame buildings. Those concerns came from engineering, fire and earthquake experts - as well as American building officials;

2007*

* a disclosure from Sandra Robinson, a member of the independent commission to review MLA compensation, that she didn't agree with "quite a few" of the three-person panel's controversial pay-and-pension plan recommendations;

* Joe Trasolini, who was then the mayor of Port Mayor and a TransLink board member, owned $2.5 million of commercial property near the transportation authority's proposed Evergreen Line. At the time, Mr. Trasolini denied any conflict of interest. He later voluntarily agreed not to participate in any board discussions or decisions on the line, which is meant to connect the Tri-Cities with SkyTrain and the West Coast Express;

2006*

* Louise Burgart was appointed to the province's supposedly non-partisan electoral boundaries commission despite being a Liberal supporter. Ms. Burgart resigned from the commission following coverage of her connections to the governing party;

* details on Lesley du Toit's controversial tenure as the ministry of children and family development's top bureaucrat. That in-depth coverage included reporting on the troubled relationship between Ms. du Toit and the independent children and youth representative, as well as exposing the $560,120 her ministry spent renovating its headquarters and the arrangements it made to pay $275 per hour to a child rights advisor;

2003 to 2005*

* details of the internal debate over proposed changes the provincial New Democrats' relationship with the labour movement. That included disclosing a party report that recommended reducing union voting power at New Democrat conventions to exposing the United Steelworkers of America's campaign against such a change;

* Prem Vinning, a veteran Indo-Canadian political organizer, admission that he used a different name than his own when phoning in a question to a Channel M call-in-show featuring the premier. Following that admission, Mr. Vinning resigned his position as the government's new director of Asia-Pacific trade and economic development; and

* Doug Walls, a Liberal insider, had been put in charge of a multi-million dollar government agency - even though senior staff were aware serious allegations of fraud had been made against the former Prince George car dealer. The investigation also revealed government wrote off a $484,939 bill owed by a consulting group run by Mr. Walls, Premier Gordon Campbell's cousin-in-law. It resulted in the resignation of Children and Family Development Minister Gordon Hogg and the firing of his deputy Chris Haynes. Mr. Walls also resigned.

* = Dates are approximate and, in some cases, represent the beginnings or endings of investigations that spanned multiple years.

1 Comment

Sean, this is a sad day for investigative reporting in our Province. But I can't imagine a bright light like yours disappearing for long, so I look forward to the next chapter in your career.

This should be a wake up call to the BC public. Although it is both costly and often thankless, investigative reporting plays a critically important role in ensuring that public figures don't forget completely about the fact that they're supposed to be there to serve the public interest. And the pressures of day-to-day reporting in the corporate media - which exist like every other business to deliver profits to shareholders and which are struggling today more than ever to stay afloat - do little to support the practice of investigative reporting.

I also can't help thinking how ironic the timing is: Your first major scoop for Public Eye was unveiling the scandal around government's dealings with Doug Walls - one of the 2 primary co-architects of CLBC. Today, the agency finds itself again embroiled in scandal and controversy, with Walls' co-architect Doug Woollard squarely in the cross-hairs.

Back then, you revealed that key government leaders ignored serious allegations of fraud when they put Walls in charge of creating CLBC in line with the Premier's cost-cutting political agenda (i.e. 19% cuts to the community living budget ordered in the wake of the 2001 core review.

Almost a decade later, a tremendous commitment to investigative reporting amongst a handful of your colleagues has revealed shocking practices and abuses that government allowed to thrive at CLBC, again in pursuit of a narrow, cost-cutting political agenda.

It is disturbing to imagine how bad things could get if not for these periodic exposes. Effective governance requires more reporters with your skills and commitment, not fewer. And given the realities of corporate media models and ever-tightening bottom lines, the public interest demands that we find new and better ways of ensuring that this work is funded.

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