Appeared in Business in Vancouver – April 1, 2014
Scandals in British Columbia ain’t what they used to be. They’re far more expensive.
But – if it’s been a bad day and you already need a lift in this space – here’s a cheery point: they’re more inclusive (that’s a politically correct term if you ever heard one) than they used to be. No longer the preserve of the well-off of conservative bent, B.C.’s scandal base has widened. Leftist snouts are first at the public pig trough.
To freshen the memory (new disasters push out old ones): Mark Townsend and wife Liz Evans could be the poster couple for all those who do well by doing good. Doing well for themselves, leaving aside that “doing good” embraces taxpayer feeding and housing of the undeserving as well as the deserving poor, a distinction no one dares make these enlightened days.
Bafflegab artist Townsend and Evans were each paid between $120,000 and $160,000 a year as executives of the Portland Hotel Society (PHS), an empire with a GNP of some $28 million, its capital Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Townsend flourished a Visa Business Platinum Avion card for a 2010 trip to Paris, $5,749. Mere footnote in the couple’s three-year Visa bill of $610,000, National Post’s Brian Hutchinson noted.
When exhaustive audits cracked the PHS’s golden egg, out popped New Democratic Party MLA Jenny Kwan, with egg on her face. Which made fellow New Democrats, more than the governing Liberals, glow with schadenfreude, as Germans call taking malicious joy in the troubles of others. Kwan had played Bruta (the female form for Brutus, how’s your Latin?) in knifing NDP leader Carole James, an exemplary woman with a wider appeal than unsuccessful successor Adrian Dix – she’d have attracted the mushy middle and beaten Christy Clark last May.
Kwan tearfully paid back $35,000 for family trips to Europe and Disneyland that she was astonished to learn her then-spouse Dan Small had charged to the PHS. You can’t even trust full-disclosure pillow talk these days. Prediction: Kwan is politically deceased. Her own party will arrange the hanging.
Then there’s Speaker of the legislature Linda Reid, who spared no taxpayer money on a $48,000 computer console and $79,000 gussying up her constituency office, and flew first-class with hubby to the funeral of Nelson Mandela, a close personal friend. (Ha.) Media-cornered, her response will live in B.C. history: “Accountability speaks to me, transparency speaks to me, accessibility speaks to me.” She should have stuck the public for a hearing aid.
But people forget figures. They never forget a symbolic item that Dick and Jane can relate to: Reid spent $733 for a muffin rack. She’ll take a pasting for that forever.
Another symbol toasted Peter Hyndman, an intelligent, likable gent, tapped in the early 1980s as Social Credit successor to Bill Bennett. Hyndman too was sunk by shaky expense claims, including $1,500 for a week-long stay at a luxury Arizona hotel. (Pause for inflation check. Only $1,500?)
But, like Reid’s muffin folly, Hyndman’s enduring claim was a 1981 charge for four bottles, at a sky-high $37.50 each – by today’s prices, only a day of low cloud cover – for Pouilly-Fuissé, a wine few could afford and even fewer pronounce. Alayne Falle, a New Democrat civil servant, spent months excavating Hyndman’s accounts, but her superior declined any action. Hyndman retreated to private life.
Cabinet minister Bob McClelland topped them all by attracting a lasting nickname. In New York he had a blowout night attending the hit musical Sugar Babies, starring Mickey Rooney in his Broadway debut and Ann Miller, a favourite Fred Astaire dance partner. Thereafter McClelland was “Broadway Bob.” Mockery is the most lethal political poison. Those were the days.
© Trevor Lautens, 2014