Saturday, November 08, 2008


BC's weird, costly Public Affairs Bureau.

You've heard me talk about B.C.'s Public Affairs Bureau and its Public Affairs Officers. I call them Spin Doctors. Sometimes they're called Media Monitors. They're part of the B.C. government and I think there's something very weird about paying so many people to tell us what to think.

I believe there are over 300 of these employees but a working CanWest journalist tells me that there are only 200. Imagine. Only 200. That journalist did agree with me, however, that "they bear watching". Well ... good luck with that. Here are some things I picked up and looked at ... like hiring. How do people get to be Officers and/or Monitors of the Public Affairs Bureau?


Careers in the Public Affairs Bureau - An Overview here

Experienced candidates and recent communications or public relations graduates are welcome to submit their resume for consideration on future openings within our organization. Your information will be entered into our central registry and kept on file for a minimum of 6 months where you will be tracked and ranked according to education, skills and previous work experience related to the position(s) you have applied for. We will contact you directly if you are matched and short listed for an opening. Please be advised that appointments in the Public Affairs Bureau are excluded from the bargaining unit. Etc.


Public Affairs Bureau ... what does it do?

Please note hyperlinks. Scroll down to "P" for Public Affairs Bureau. Observe the nine amazing activity-zones in which our Public Affairs employees labour:

* Advertising and promotion of government initiatives (Ralston)
* Relationship and work with advertising agencies (Ralston)
* Relationship with Sher-e-Punjab radio program (Ralston)
* Role, awareness of alleged illegal activities in casinos (Lali, van Dongen)
* Role in government polling (Ralston)
* Staff, involvement in government advertising procurement panel (Ralston)
* Staffing (Ralston, Taylor)
* Work on government initiatives.

Aneal Basi was one of the 12 Public Affairs Officers appointed under Order in Council #759 on July 29, 2002. There were also 4 Media Monitoring Officers and a slew of others hired that day. But on another day (Sept. 12, 2006) the B.C.government signed in 185 new people for that kind of work. God knows how many other days, too. Quite a little army. Marching as to war.

There were Legislature Debates about B.C.'s Public Affairs Bureau recorded in Hansard, too, involving the Premier's Office and his new Deputy Premier, Jessica McDonald ...

The Public Affairs Bureau

Hansard Debates
November 17, 2005, Afternoon sitting

Committee of Supply
Ministry of Finance

J. Kwan:
... The government, of course, through the public affairs bureau, through the course of the last — what? — hour or so in estimates debate…. One is actually not able to identify specifically how much money the government is spending in advertising and communications activities across government. The minister would not provide this House or the public, for that matter, as we're engaging in this debate, how much the ministries are setting aside for communications purposes.

The Chair: Member, we are dealing with Vote 30, which relates to a sum of $34,358,000 from the public affairs bureau. The minister has made it clear that the $34,358,000 does not reflect amounts that are charged by those ministries, and therefore, they are not relevant to this debate as well.

J. Kwan: Yes, thank you for your helpfulness, Madam Chair. I appreciate your guidance in this matter.

But let me just say very clearly that the minister advised this House that the public affairs bureau is responsible for coordinating all of the efforts of communication activities across government. The minister says she does not know how much is being spent, and I'm not asking for the dollar figure about that. I'm not talking about past practices. I'm talking about current practices, and I'm talking about this current budget. How much is the government planning to spend?

I will say this. It is always very convenient for the government to say they didn't overspend, because they have the option to just simply transfer overspending dollars to another ministry. It is very convenient. Maybe I was wrong when I first said that perhaps it's duplication issues we're referring to that are at hand. But it is not duplication. It is a matter of convenience for the government so that they can transfer budgets across the different ministries, so they can get away from saying they overspent.

Perhaps that's the real truth behind it, and perhaps that's the real objective of why the government has set up the shop the way in which they have. It is very convenient — isn't it? If we cite an example in the past where there was overspending, the convenience…. The government on record and the minister on record would simply say: "Well, the Premier's office didn't overspend. We transferred those funds back to the ministry that had those ads or had those ads related to them. Therefore, there was no overspending."

That's the reality of how this government is doing business. So much for transparency, and so much for true accountability. The essence of accountability in the process of budgeting is to let the public know what your intentions are, where those dollars are going to be spent — how it is going to be spent — and to be up front with it, not turn around just before an election year when you have overspent and say you are doing it so that you can say you didn't actually overspend, just transferred to somebody else and therefore it is their responsibility.

How convenient. Hasn't that been the practice of this government? We've seen them do exactly that kind of thing in other ministries. In fact, today we talked[ Page 1969 ] about it in the Ministry of Children and Family Development, where the deaths of children are accounted for in different ways, and reviews are done in different ways and passed off to different ministries at different times — and they conveniently say the government is not then responsible.

We see that practice here. That's the point, Madam Chair, and I find that troubling. I do. I find it troubling when a government claims they want to be open and accountable and, in reality, the work they're doing in that regard is actually the opposite.[1700] The minister says…. I suspect we'll get the same answer, but I'm going to give it a go anyway. This is for the '05-06 budget. Advertising plans. We canvassed these questions during question period around the teachers' ads, and the minister wouldn't come forth with how much was actually spent for the ads, the design work that was done for those ads and so on.

I'm going to ask the minister to see whether or not she's prepared now to give the answer to the public, or is she just going to fall back on the notion that at a later date, when it's convenient for the government, a report will come out and those numbers would then be itemized and by then, hopefully, people will have forgotten about the incident?

Hon. C. Taylor: I think it's very important for taxpayers to know how their dollars are being spent. I think it's absolutely essential, and that's why I am so pleased that for the first time in many, many years the Auditor General has given our public accounts a clean bill of health and a clean record. Therefore, I am pleased to say that I will release all of these contracts under the advertising STOB that public affairs has been responsible for this year — and the Auditor General will have a chance to check them and sign off on them — and I will do it by the end of June.

J. Kwan: I expected that same answer from the minister — the evasive answer that the minister doesn't actually want to provide the information until a much later date. I expected that, but I thought I'd give it another shot to see whether or not the government or the minister might be forthcoming with the information for the public, which I think the public, rightfully, has the right to know. They should know, and the minister should provide that information, but she's chosen not to do so ...

And on May 14, 2007, afternoon sitting:

Oral Questions, Public Affairs Bureau of Basi-Virk Court Case, Pages 7910 - 7915 a heated discussion involving Attorney General -- Stonewally Oppal -- who didn't know what his P.A.B. officer was doing in the Basi-Virk Courtroom but told the Legislature a fascinating story anyway.

Then ... remember when we learned that Dave Basi had been given a media monitoring contract allegedly by the Public Affairs Bureau while he was working as aide to the Minister of Finance? Remember the official transcript of a wire-tap on his telephone, where Basi is reporting his work to his boss, Minister Gary Collins, who listens with interest and expresses approval?


Susan Lazaruk,
CanWest News Service - April 24, 2007

VANCOUVER -- Two ministerial aides who are facing corruption charges paid phony protesters and organized mass call-ins to radio shows to boost the Liberal agenda on the direction of the premier's office and other government officials, their trial heard yesterday ...

and would an employee -- out of his own pocket -- be funding the organized boosters of the Campbell agenda? I don't think so. So the taxpayers have been paying for that.


Or this, which is part of the official transcript:

Bill Tieleman
The Tyee - May 4, 2007

... Dave Basi was once the most powerful ministerial assistant in Victoria, serving as then-finance minister Gary Collins' eyes and ears. Bob Virk was ministerial assistant to then-transportation minister Judith Reid, while Aneal Basi was a young communications aide in government.

Then Basi and Virk were charged with leaking confidential government documents on BC Rail to lobbyists representing OmniTRAX, one of the bidders for the then publicly-owned railroad, in exchange for money and benefits.

But on Wednesday it was clear that Dave Basi was much more than just a ministerial aide. He was perhaps the government's key political operative, as well as the top organizer in B.C. for the Paul Martin forces in the battle against Jean Chretien for control of the Liberal Party of Canada -- and the country.

Late in the day, Michael Bolton, the veteran lawyer who is defending David Basi, quietly set off multiple sticks of political dynamite by reading into the record a wiretapped cell phone conversation between Basi and Collins on October 31, 2003.

The call takes place less than a month before the BC Rail sale to CN Rail is announced and as opponents to the planned deal are mobilizing against the B.C. Liberal government.

The call allegedly captures the type of media manipulation and political dirty tricks that have already been headlined previously in this case but this time Gary Collins is directly involved.

The following is a transcript taken from notes from Bolton's statement in court and is slightly abbreviated:

Collins: Hello.

Basi: Hi boss. Judith Reid was on Ben Meisner [at the time, a Prince George radio talk show host] -- she handled herself real well. There was only one call and it was ours.

Collins: Good.

Basi: Bill Vander Zalm will be on [radio] with Barb Sharp -- mayor of North Vancouver. [former B.C. premier Vander Zalm and Sharp both opposed BC Rail privatization]

Collins: Uh-huh.

Basi: I wanted to have the mayor of Squamish, who's a good friend of ours, rip Barb Sharp a new asshole. Is that okay?

Collins: Absolutely.

Basi: I called Jerry Lampert of the [BC] Business Council and said: 'Jerry, we need your help.' The Prince George Citizen might take an op-ed [opinion editorial article] but they don't want only positive pieces.

Collins: Well, you could do that....I want you to keep this completely to yourself because there's only two of us who know about this."

Basi: Okay.

Collins: I talked to the Premier. We want to put Colin Kinsley [mayor of Prince George] and the mayor of Squamish on the committee.

Basi: I'm going to call Ian Sutherland [mayor of Squamish] at home.

Collins: Uh-huh.

Basi: Then we're going to arrange calls and rip these guys up good.

Collins: Okay but don't tell Sutherland because it's the Premier who's going to call.

It should be noted again that the wiretapped conversation cited by Bolton is part of the defence allegations, which are unproven in court and to which the Crown has yet to respond.

Former North Vancouver City Mayor Barb Sharp was stunned when I called her Wednesday evening to get her reaction to the alleged comments.

"It's quite a shocker. I don't know what they were so upset about with me except that I was trying to keep BC Rail in North Vancouver," Sharp said. "It's quite inappropriate to talk about anyone that way -- what a terrible way to talk about people." ...

Apparently the B.C. taxpayer is paying the salaries of people doing this kind of work.

There are 30,000 provincial government employees but "only 200" of them are on the public payroll as Public Affairs Officers. I find that "only 200" number hard to believe, when on a single day (Sept. 12, 2006), the Campbell administration hired 185 new Spin Doctors under Order-in-Council #656. Was that an isolated incident? By my estimate, there must have been Public Affairs Officers on the payroll before Sept. 2006, and more hired after Sept. 206. That's more like 300+ of these employees. Why? What do they do? How much do they cost? And is the role of the Public Affairs Officer -- or the Public Affairs Bureau itself -- really such a good idea in a social democracy?

Some folks in Surrey don't think so. In today's Vancouver Sun, there's this complaint from a whole other level of government.
Here's what was said, in part, at Surrey Council:

Council candidate says staff memo gave incumbents an advantage
Councillor used information at all-candidates meeting that challengers did not have

David Hogben
Vancouver Sun - November 08, 2008

SURREY - A candidate forSurrey council is crying foul after city staff produced a background document for incumbents to use at an all-candidates' meeting.

"I think it's completely inappropriate," Gary Robinson said of a document produced by Surrey planning and development general manager Jean Lamontagne.

"It shows either how desperate they are or how undemocratic they are to have staff prepare and taxpayers pay for prepared notes for an all-candidates' meeting," Robinson said.

"They are using the resources of the city to put forward their position to get elected."

Robinson said incumbent candidate Tom Gill referred to the document at the pre-election meeting this week.

The document Robinson was referring to was an inter-office memo addressed to the mayor and council from Lamontagne.

It was headed: "All Candidates Meeting with Smart Growth BC."

Gill confirmed in a separate interview that he received a copy of the document and referred to it at Wednesday's all-candidates meeting hosted by Smart Growth BC.

Gill argued the document was prepared so incumbents would be able to distribute accurate information {Snip} ...

Robinson said the incumbents should pay the city for the time staff spent preparing the document.

"From my days on council, I am sure it cost at least $1,000," said Robinson, a former council member.

Smart Growth BC describes itself on its web page as "a non-governmental organization devoted to fiscally, socially and environmentally responsible land use and development."
Also we had our own Basi-Virk encounter with a Public Affairs Officer, remember?

Bill Tieleman - 24 HOURS
December 21, 2007

Freedom of Information [FOI] shows Public Affairs Bureau officer reported to BC government on Basi-Virk case about NDP MLAs, Gary Collins' lawyer at Court - but what was cut?

A Public Affairs Bureau officer reported to the B.C. government about media questions and the attendance of NDP MLAs and a lawyer representing former B.C. Liberal Finance Minister Gary Collins at pre-trial hearings in the B.C. Legislature raid case, a 24 hours Freedom Of Information request shows.

24 hours first disclosed Stuart Chase's attendance in May 14 and it became the topic of an entire question period in the B.C. Legislature, with Attorney-General Wally Oppal wrongly insisting Chase's duties were to assist the media and public but refusing to release his reports.

In fact, the 100-page FOI of Chase's reports and notes shows that he told the government who attended court and what questions media asked prosecutors and defence, as well as extensively detailing the case, in which former provincial aides David Basi and Bob Virk face breach of trust charges related to the 2003 privatization of B.C. Rail {Snip} ...


Then, along came this column, which confirms my fears that the provincial Public Affairs Bureau is a propaganda machine. Have a look ...


Les Leyne
Times Colonist - September 23, 2008

The great deputy ministers' pay raise caper limped to a strained conclusion yesterday.
{Snip} ...

But beyond all the percentages and justifications, the pay raise story remains an example of an epic communications botch. Yesterday's briefing was comprehensive, but it came six weeks after the Liberals tried to sneak their first announcement under the radar. And the briefing likely wouldn't have happened at all if that first announcement hadn't created such a public backlash.

It's still striking at this late date to recall how sneaky the government was the first time around. It issued news of the pay hikes on a Friday afternoon -- Aug. 8 -- when the entire planet was about to watch the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics. Including Campbell, who was on the other side of the world watching firsthand.

The government trotted out cabinet minister Murray Coell, who had nothing to do with the announcement, to answer questions and hoped the issue would go away.

This from a government that runs a multimillion-dollar public affairs bureau employing hundreds of "communications" people. [The emphases are mine. - BC Mary] It raises this question: Did the bureau design this screw-up for the premier's office? Or did the premier's office just bull ahead against the bureau's advice? Either way, it's hard not to feel the Liberals deserve the revolt that prompted the belated attempt to explain what they're doing with taxpayers' dollars.

The justification yesterday was an urgent human resources problem. A huge number of experienced hands are retiring or moving out of direct government jobs to higher paying jobs in public agencies. The latter give "better pay" as their main reason for leaving.

That pronounced and growing trend has been in place for a few years. The government has done an exhaustive amount of work on designing this new pay system and researching the need for it. The air yesterday was full of talk about the main "drivers" for the issues and the responses.

But it left the clear impression that they've got their heads so full of retirement rates and exit survey results and banded compensation frameworks, there's no room left for anyone to wonder: "How is the public going to take this?"

It's odd to realize the premier's office doesn't have the political smarts to calculate the public reaction to their massively analyzed response to a higher-than-normal staff turnover rate. The pay raise problem became such an in-house, closed-shop issue that no one even thought to pause and wonder how the average working stiff in Saanich would react to raises that are several times the norm.

Campbell has grown very comfortable governing in this theoretical world where problems are analyzed from every perspective except the typical voter's. It's going to be a bit of a shock for him next spring to realize that's the most important one.


I hope my readers will persevere, as this Public Affairs Bureau story is bigger than it looks. Googling the Susan Lazaruk stories proved to be extremely interesting.

- BC Mary.

Sorry about the length of this posting but I want to add this 4-year-old article. It's so strange, how these old reports seem to come right to the point, calling a spade a spade. Here it is, about the Public Affairs Bureau ...

Message to investors: Nobody can govern this place
Issues-managing BC - Public Affairs Bureau

Monday Magazine - Jan. 15, 2004
Russ Francis

1 The December 28 legislature raids have sent a clear message around the world about B.C., suggests one longtime former provincial communications expert.

The optics is that no government can govern B.C., says the former official, who asks that his name not be used. It can only do issues management.

That image continues to hurt B.C. as a whole, he adds.

Given the volume of issues to be managed, expect the governments $41 million-a-year issues-management central, the so-called public affairs bureau, to grow even larger in the future.

At this rate, before long the bureau might end up consuming the vast majority of the $25-billion provincial budget.

The actual policy-making and governing agency, once quaintly known as the government, will be stuffed into a tiny office in the basement.

2 What about the B.C. Liberals front-and-centre campaign promise to make the province a great place to invest?

Recent events arent good news on that front, suggests another former government official, Brad Zubyk.

He says the raids on legislature offices, combined with premier Gordon Campbells drunk-driving conviction a year ago, have done more damage to B.C.s investment climate than any of the scandals involving former premiers Bill Vander Zalm or Glen Clark.

For all the talk about the NDP and Bill Vander Zalm, arguably the last 12 months have been the largest black eye for the province.

{Snip} ...

Finance minister Gary Collins must resign if his aide is convicted

3 If Dave Basi should turn out to have been guilty of a serious misdeed, his former boss, Gary Collins, will have to resign as minister.

Though Collins has been keeping his head pretty low, its a tenet of political management theory 101 that ministers and their ministerial assistants know what each other is up to.

The same goes for transportation minister Judith Reid, should her MA, Bob Virk prove to have done something bad.

If you don't know what your MA, who acts on your behalf, is up to, then you're simply not doing your job as minister.

{Snip} ...


So this last item tells us that the police raid on the BC Legislature was just another "issue" which the Public Affairs Bureau would be expected to manage. Perhaps their budget has increased tellingly since 2004. Perhaps that's why 185 new Public Affairs Officers were taken on staff in a single day in 2006. Perhaps that's why Big Media has slowly gone silent. So ... is this how B.C. is governed? - BC Mary.


Thanks Mary,

I'd say that puts paid to the comment of a certain anon who posted on the next oldest story on November 6, 2008 11:50 AM.

PAID in full!
I'm with G. West, as to the certain anon. I wonder if that certain anon even understands what he/she is trying to assert. Is he saying that Gordo and gang are lily pure but Basi/Virk tried to pull a scam or is he saying that the real crooks are the bosses (think Sharks) and Basi and Virk just like those smaller fish (remora maybe) that follow the Sharks and make a good living from the scraps that fall from their mouths.

As to the "Public Affairs Bureau" it is just a page from the Neo-Con manual and the New York Yankees of the Neo-Cons or the Bu$h Mob set the standard. Wasn't it Rumsfeld who said "We create our own reality?"

Then another gem in the Reich Wing pile of BS was the statement about "catapaulting the propaganda" as in the lead up to the illegal invasion of Iraq to name just one example. I like to think this style of politics by dirty tricks has had its day and it is truly a new morning - it damn well better be, or the alternative is "lights out!"
Hmmmm..... Publc Affairs Officer.. led me to "Pacific Leaders", "owned" and operated by the BC Liberal Government whereby as employers, they have the ability to give a lucrative perk but must be declared as a taxable benefit which is then added to the employees income for tax purposes.

OH What a nice incentive.

A Loan Forgiveness program, only available if you are a provincial government employee working as a Public Affairs Officer?????

Pray tell me how the Finance Minister(s) writes this one off?

Is this leadership program available to private businesses as well, or just the government which doled the student loan out in the first place?

Were David Basi and Aneal Virk the first recipients?

Is there a compilation of all those Student loans (with payments listed) and which ones have become paid off in full?

Oooops Privacy rights, eh.

Okay let's try it from another angle: Of the Student loans that have been made, how many have been paid by British Columbian taxpayers footing the whole of their University education, because that's exactly what is happening.

Pacific Leaders B.C. Loan Forgiveness Program

The Pacific Leaders B.C. Loan Forgiveness program promotes the B.C. Public Service as a potential employer to new post-secondary graduates, and a progressive employer to current employees, by forgiving their outstanding B.C. student loan debt at a rate of one third per year. If they continue to work for the B.C. Public Service for three years, their B.C. student loan will be paid off in full.
Been here, wrote that, but isn't it absolutely amazing that the BC Government is so ... dedicated... to hiring individuals to serve in the Public Affairs Bureau with such outstanding credentials that has more on how they are supposed to look like to the public, rather than giving back sustance for all of the taxes that we pay.

Want a job with the BC Liberals? Please come equipped with any of the following certificates:

Broadcast and Media Communications – Journalism, Applied Communications, Professional Writing Program,Journalism Diploma Program,
Public Relations Diploma Program,
Journalism Program, Creative Writing and Journalism, MBA in Public Relations & Communications Management, BA and MA in Applied Communication, Communications Program, Certificate in Public Relations, Arts and Creative, Writing Degree Program, Arts Program, Sing Tao School of Journalism, BA in Journalism

Is this for honest-to-gosh real?

Ye gods ...

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