Five Seriously Disturbing B.C. Political Donations

The 2014 financial reports from B.C.’s political parties are out and my face hurts from all of the eyebrow raising.

Donations to political parties from corporations are banned federally, but here in B.C. — the wild west of political donations — the corporate cash is free-flowing.

Here are the Top 5 disconcerting revelations from this year’s disclosures. (Thanks to Integrity BC for drawing my attention to many of these.)

1) Let’s start with the $40,950 that accounting firm KPMG gave to the BC Liberals in 2014. KPMG is the company BC Hydro hired to “independently review” the costs of the $8.8 billion Site C dam. The B.C. government has pointed to the KPMG report to defend its decision to ignore an expert recommendation to send the project to the B.C. Utilities Commission for review.

Since 2005, KPMG and its related companies have given $284,994 to the BC Liberals and $13,150 to the NDP.

Sun News Network Shut Down After Four-Year Controversial Run

Sun News went dark Friday, not with a bang but a whimper.

The Sun News television channel faded to black at 5 a.m. eastern time with no on-air announcement, the screen simply reading, “Sun News Network is no longer available, at the discretion of the programmer. We apologize for any inconvenience and hope you will continue to value all the channels included in your package.”

The network, which has been at the centre of much controversy since its inception in 2011, provided right-leaning news and opinion in the style of the U.S.'s Fox News, earning the nickname “Fox News North.”

Faced with annual losses of $20 million and with no new buyers on the horizon, “there was no alternative to closing Sun News,” a Sun Media Corp. press release said. In October 2014 Postmedia News purchased Sun News papers but declined to purchase the television channel. 

Postmedia Could Soon Own Almost Every English Newspaper in Canada: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Newspaper boxes in Calgary

Postmedia has struck a $316 million deal to buy 175 of Quebecor’s English-language newspapers, specialty publications and digital properties, including the Sun chain of papers, according to a report in the Globe and Mail this morning.

If it passes regulatory hurdles, the deal will mark a step further down the path of media concentration in Canada.

What does this mean for Canadians in practical terms?

In Calgary, for instance, the Calgary Sun would be owned by the same company as the Calgary Herald. In Toronto, the Toronto Sun and 24 Hours would be owned by the same company as the National Post. In Ottawa, the Ottawa Sun would be owned by the same company as the Ottawa Citizen. And in Edmonton, the Edmonton Sun would be owned by the same company as the Edmonton Journal.

It’s Vancouver that takes the cake for media concentration though — Postmedia already owned the Vancouver Sun and The Province, but if the deal goes through it will take over the free daily 24 Hours as well.

Postmedia Gets Away With Running Unmarked Oil Advertorials

Janet Holder

Paid advertisements for the oil industry have run unlabelled as editorial content on the websites of the Vancouver Sun and Regina Leader-Post — yet Canada’s ad regulator has decided not to rule against Postmedia, the company that owns the papers.

DeSmog Canada filed a complaint with Advertising Standards Canada on March 4, regarding a story published on the Vancouver Sun’s website on Dec. 4, 2013, with the headline “Born to the Challenge: Janet Holder’s B.C. roots make her the perfect lead on Northern Gateway.”

The article told the tale of how Holder came to be Enbridge’s VP of Western Access, responsible for pushing the Northern Gateway oil tanker and pipeline project. Holder recited the economic claim that Canada is losing $50-million a day due to limited export markets

Economist Robyn Allan read the article and took issue with that economic claim. When she submitted an opinion piece in response, she was informed it couldn’t be run because the article she was responding to was actually a paid advertisement.

It was clear that the page was set up to look like arms length reporting — even more so on the web than in the printed version of the paper,” Allan told DeSmog Canada. “I had prepared my opinion piece from the web ‘article’ and when I saw the printed version, I became confused—was it reporting or paid-for propaganda? The Sun editorial staff confirmed the page was paid content.”

DeSmog Canada’s complaint with the ad standards agency cited Clause 2 “Disguised Advertising Techniques,” which states: “No advertisement shall be presented in a format or style that conceals its commercial intent.”

After two months, Advertising Standards Canada sent a written reply to DeSmog Canada indicating that it had decided not to issue a ruling against Postmedia.

The Battle of the Enbridge Northern Gateway Polls

A strange chain of events played out in the Vancouver Sun in the past couple of weeks. 

First, on Feb. 5, the newspaper ran the results of a poll commissioned by Dogwood Initiative and three other B.C. non-profits that found 64 per cent of British Columbians are opposed to bringing oil tankers into B.C.’s inside waters, including 50 per cent who are strongly opposed.

(Full disclosure: I’ve worked both for Dogwood Initiative and Postmedia, the company that owns the Vancouver Sun.)

Let’s get one thing straight right away: all polls should be taken with a grain of salt. Anyone who has followed the Enbridge Northern Gateway debate closely has watched all sides of the debate trot out surveys with vastly different results. They all claim their poll gave the respondents the undisputed facts and the people have spoken. And they’re all right — in a sense.

When Enbridge itself asks the question, they focus on the pipeline, ensure respondents know it’ll be underground (I'm sure they focus-grouped the living daylights out of that one) and include lots of technical detail about things like condensate. And when Enbridge asked the question that way in late 2011, they came out with a result indicating more British Columbians were in favour of the pipeline than against it (48 per cent to 32 per cent). What you don’t see in that result is how many different ways and different times they had to ask the question to get there.

Mixed Messages: Harper Government Misrepresents Policy Reform in Meeting with First Nations

Documents obtained by Postmedia News under the Access to Information Act indicate that Environment Canada was telling the Assembly of First Nations one story and industry groups another in the run-up to the introduction of last year’s controversial Bill C-38, purposefully working to dispel First Nations’ fears regarding changes to the environmental reviews, even as it was seeking support from industry to make huge revisions to that process. 

A brief for a January 24th meeting with National Chief Shaun Atleo and a delegation of chiefs from across Canada encouraged the ministers in attendance, including Minister of Environment Peter Kent, to play up the government’s willingness to work with First Nations on environmental concerns and downplay fears of sweeping changes to legislation.

It stated, “Any changes to the government’s environmental assessment or project approvals regime that you may have heard of through the media are (i) speculative at this point as legislation has not been introduced to the House of Commons; (ii) will respect our duties toward Aboriginal peoples.”

This message is a stark contrast to the scenario brief for a February 2nd meeting between Environment Canada representative Michelle Rempel and Canadian Natural Resources Limited (CNRL) VP Bill Clapperton, which indicated the Ministry of Environment was already working toward the sweeping changes to the environmental assessment process.

Two Oil Spills in Alberta Due to Inadequate Monitoring

Companies responsible for two separate oil spills in Alberta failed to provide adequate oversight for their operations, according to federal government documents released by Environment Canada through Access to Information legislation.

The documents detail how Devon Canada and Gibson Energy violated environmental laws, including the federal Fisheries Act, when their operations cause two oil spills into fish-bearing waterways in 2010.

Gibson Energy, a midstream pipeline operator, spilled a few hundred litres of oil into an Edmonton creek after failing to properly abandon an unused pipeline. According to a warning letter issued to the company from Environment Canada, “Gibson Energy ULC made a business decision to keep the Kinder Morgan lateral full of crude oil and to not purge it with nitrogen.”

"Stephen Harper Hates Science": Federal Scientists Muzzled to Protect Tar Sands Reputation

The Canadian government is working hard behind the scenes to cover up the negative effects that tar sands extraction is having on the local environment, wildlife, communities and the global climate. According to Access to Information documents obtained by Postmedia's Mike De Souza, the Stephen Harper government has actively suppressed the release of vital information regarding the spread of tar sands contamination by muzzling federal scientists.

The gag order, according to De Souza, came on the heels of a newly researched government report in November 2011 which confirmed the findings of University of Alberta scientists Erin N. Kelly and David Schindler. The scientists discovered concentrations of toxics such as heavy metals were higher near tar sands operations, showing a positive correlation between tar sands activity and the spread of contaminants in the local environment.

The government of Canada and the government of Alberta denied the correlation, saying local waterways tested showed no signs of toxic contamination and reports of mutated and cancerous fish downstream from the tar sands were unfounded.

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