Monday, November 25, 2013

A letter to my MLA about the BC ferries consultation

Jordan Sturdy
MLA West Vancouver - Sea to Sky

Mr. Sturdy:

I have some grave concerns about the BC Ferries Consultation process.

First there are many serious errors in the process.  The consulting firm  that was hired to undertake the work, Kirk and Company, basically violated every line of the International Association of Public Participation’s Code of Ethics with respect to what actually constitutes public engagement.  The figures we are being given to discuss only include vehicle traffic and not foot passenger traffic.  And there has been no socio-economic analysis of the impact of service reductions on coastal communities.  It is unimaginable that the government would undertake a similar study about, for example, restricting access to a bridge, or twinning a highway without undertaking a socio-economic study to understand the impacts on citizens, communities and local economies.  It appears that the service reductions planning has been made simply on the basis of numbers alone, and not even a complete set of data at that.

The firm that conducted the work has not substantially incorporated any of their findings from last fall’s consultation into the discussion document that we are now “discussing.”  It is clear to me, as a professional that works in this field, that we are being subjected to a strategic communications job.  We are being sold a done deal dressed up as “consultation.”  This is not consultation or “engagement” and calling it such undermines confidence that your government consults citizens ethically.   We have not been told how our feedback will be used or what the decision making process is.  This simply does not pass the test of meaningful citizen engagement and the perception of conflict of interest is a serious stain on the democratic credibility of this process.

But there is more that troubles me.  The consultation process is so bad that I started looking at the firm which conducted it and I was shocked by what I found.  The principal of the firm and the lead facilitator in the process are substantial donors to the BC Liberal Party. The CEO, Judy Kirk was retained by the premier to deliver 1 on 1 strategic communications coaching to Cabinet ministers after the election.  She also made a $500 donation to the party within a month of the consultations starting in October of 2012. An important facilitator in the process, Nancy Spooner, has donated or overseen more than $20,000 of donations to the party in past ten years.  I have documented these facts in a recent blog post on my Bowen Island weblog which is now making the rounds.  You can read it here and follow the links for yourself.  Nowhere have I seen a declaration of this blatant conflict of interest.  

We are being subjected to a strategic communications initiative by a firm with more than close ties to the party in power and pecuniary ties to the decision making body that set the reduction targets for BC Ferries.  This is a serious issue,  There are serious impacts to coastal communities flowing from this process, and there is a growing perception that the process is rotten.  

I am sure many islanders would be keen to hear your response to this and your own thoughts on what constitutes meaningful consultation on transportation infrastructure and socio-economic community development..  Furthermore, there is a part of this you can play directly.  

We are being told that in the discussion guide that "The Province has set an objective of $18.9 million in total net savings to be achieved through service reductions by 2016.”  What I would like to know is where that number came from, why it was chosen and why the province directed that cost savings to be found in service reductions rather than, say, meeting the shortfall through other ideas or through increased subsidies.  In other words your government has deliberately set an agenda of service reductions over the vehement opposition of coastal communities without any rationale for doing so.  I trust that, as a member of the BC Liberal caucus, you can find this out for me.   I appreciate that the decision was taken before you were elected to office, but it is critical,  It is this figure that we are being asked to address, and yet I haven’t seen anyone explain to me how this figure was arrived at and why the Province has ordered it to be funded by service reductions.  

I would be deeply appreciative if you could provide this information.  I’ll publish this letter to you and your response on my blog as well.  

Thank you,

Chris Corrigan

Bowen Island BC

cc. Sheila Malcomson, Chair, Islands Trust
     Bowen island Municipality Mayor and Council