West Kelowna 2018 By Election an ‘Ethical’ Politics Test for BC?

Early in 2018 (at the latest), John Horgan and the governing NDP must announce a by election to fill the seat left vacant by the departing Christy Clark (don’t let the door hit you on the derriere on your way out).  Clark decided that sitting as an elected opposition MLA wouldn’t be anywhere near as much fun (or profitable) as reigning as Premier with it’s perquisites associated – including four (and five) figure fundraisers, a BC Lib funded ‘top up’ to augment her meager taxpayer funded salary and the prestige of having all ‘pay for access’ requests coming through her esteemed office.

Since Clark’s official retirement date of August 4, 2017, the vultures have started to circle high above the pristine hills and lakes surrounding Kelowna and area.  The riding was newly created in time for the 2009 provincial election and has been consistently ‘Liberal’ ever since – so secure a riding for the Liberals, in fact, that Christy Clark (loser in her own Vancouver-Point Grey riding in 2013, for those who choose to remember) was parachuted into West Kelowna to allow Clark to retain a seat in the legislature.  (Somewhat awkward to have a Liberal Party leader unable to act as Premier because she was defeated as a candidate).

The incumbent and re-elected Liberal MLA Ben Stewart graciously gave up his seat on the Liberal Gravy Train to Ms. Clark so that she could continue her quest to maintain her status quo as one of the most entitled (and well-funded) provincial Premiers in Canadian history.

Before you feel too sorry for the founder of the Quail’s Gate Winery, Ben Stewart was generously rewarded for his ‘supreme sacrifice’.  Stewart was appointed a ‘special representative’ for the BC Liberals (under their mantle as the BC Government) in Asian markets – as Stewart’s consolation prize.

Stewart’s salary and benefits from the appointment more than fairly compensated him for the loss of his MLA salary.  The analysis?

(Financial advisor Andrew)”Johns dug into the costs of Stewart’s post and released a report in February.

He found that on top of the $150,000 salary, Stewart’s pension, living expenses and other benefits pushed the total employment costs to $342,900, before business expenses and money spent wining and dining people. That’s roughly $1 million over three years, he notes.

There is not enough to show for the money, he says.

“If you read through Ben Stewart’s reports, all it is is a series of meetings and glad-handing,” Johns told The Tyee. “In 2015/16 he participated in 13 trade events, he gave 19 speeches. What you don’t find in there is any correlation to a contract of any type where goods and services are being exchanged because Ben Stewart was involved.”

Johns said his review of the records found the cost of contract staff had gone from $1.2 million in the 2012 fiscal year to $2.9 million last year. The office has cost $8.4 million over the last three years, Johns found”.  Jeremy J. Nuttall 28 Apr 2017 | TheTyee.ca

Not a bad reward for giving up a seat in the legislature – to my way of thinking.

By the way, how successful was the venture into the Asian markets and how has BC benefitted from the experience?

Not so much.  Stewart resigned from the job in December, 2016 and the position has never been filled by another ‘representative’.  Uh huh.  This in spite of the fact that the Liberals claimed that the position was practically ‘critical’ in its importance.

We need a representative in Asia who is known to have access to power and government here in British Columbia,” Clark said during an October 2013 press conference. “That is a critical part of doing business in Asia.”

Stewart’s job was to move on trade and investment leads generated by the government’s trade missions, she said.

The province needed “to have a high level official representative on the ground in Asia, who has the authority to influence and advance trade and investment priorities,” read a news release. Stewart would have a particular focus on LNG, the government said.  In hindsight, we all know how the LNG thing has turned out.

And the net success of Mr. Stewart’s part-time presence in Asia?

“Trade figures don’t show success

Trade statistics also cast doubt on the effectiveness of the government’s efforts in Asia, according to an economics professor.

Keith Head of the UBC Sauder School of Business specializes in Asian business. He said that over the last few years, despite Stewart’s presence and trade missions, British Columbia’s trade with China has appeared to flatline”.  Jeremy J. Nuttall 28 Apr 2017 | TheTyee.ca  It appears that speculative real estate investment into the lower mainland (which has driven housing costs beyond the means of most salary earners and wage earners) was the ‘big winner’ in the Chinese investment strategy – and financially strapped renters and potential ‘home grown’ home owners of BC have become the ‘big losers’.

Let’s roll forward to late 2017.

Mr. Ben Stewart has been re-nominated by the BC Liberal Party to represent them in the upcoming 2018 by election in West Kelowna.

We are to supposed to believe that Mr. Stewart’s dalliance into the Asian markets at a taxpayer expense of $8.4 Million over the course of the past 3 years was not a pay off for offering his ‘safe’ political seat to the departed Christy Clark, herself previously defeated in her home riding of Vancouver – Point Grey.

It is wonderful that Mr. Stewart has offered his services again to the voters of West Kelowna.  For Mr. Stewart, it is even more wonderful that he was so handsomely rewarded for his ‘supreme sacrifice’.  I trust that the voters in West Kelowna will delve more deeply into this somewhat suspicious, and apparently tax-wasting, trumped up Liberal appointed position which, let us not forget, has never been filled since the departure of Mr. Stewart from the Asian trade representative role.

Even if the re-emergence of Ben Stewart is a visible reminder of the alleged ‘corruption’ and ‘pay for access’ charges that plague the BC Liberals even now, just what options are available to the West Kelowna voter?

All political parties are mustering their troops for a run at the vacated MLA seat, with hopes that the departure of Christy Clark from the political landscape will result in a new opportunity for their chosen horse in the race.

Our next article will closely examine the alternatives available to the West Kelowna constituents – and perhaps alternatives that may soon become viable options.

In the interim, the West Kelowna voter should be considering whether the machinations of the BC Liberal Party in this curious affair are worthy of the re-election of Mr. Ben Stewart – by most reports, a very worthy candidate and quite possibly a good MLA while he served between 2009 and 2013.

My dilemma, if I was actually able to vote in the upcoming by election, would be ‘Can I return to office the BC Liberal (Ben Stewart) who clearly personally benefitted to a considerable degree from his unswerving loyalty to the BC Liberal ‘Wild West’ machine throughout this apparently manipulated and unjustifiable ‘Asian representative’ scheme?’  

Was Ben Stewart properly accountable to the West Kelowna voters when he relinquished his legitimately contested (and won) seat in 2013 so that Christy Clark could make a mockery of the political process after losing in her own riding of Vancouver-Point Grey?

I have my thoughts – but this is a democracy.  Only the voters in the constituency of West Kelowna will be able to determine the final outcome and consequence to Mr. Stewart’s 2013 decisions.

And that is as it should be.

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