BC Liberals: a History of Bullying

It’s easy to put on a pink shirt and say you’re not a bully, but actions speak louder than words. The BC Liberals have been bullies right since their first mandate, and since Christy Clark’s ascension to leader, they’re worse than ever, pink shirts notwithstanding.

(Before I get started, I encourage you to add your own stories of bullying by BC Liberals in the comment section. There are so many incidents that it’s hard to keep track of them).

Bullies like to kick you when you’re down. When they first got elected in a landslide victory over the NDP, the Liberals followed to the letter the parliamentary rule that said parties without 3 seats or more need not be given opposition status.

The could have given that status to the two sitting NDP MLAs, but a bully doesn’t like to be second guessed, so instead of doing the democratic thing, and providing the people with a critical voice, they made sure that the NDP would not receive any agendas ahead of parliament. They’d be sitting blindfolded.

Bullies are cliquey. Almost right away after the Liberals got elected, Christy Clark was involved in scandal. She made sure that her special friends got priority on BC Rail contracts. This was illegal, of course, and things had to be done to cover it up. Christy Clark got off Scott free, while her associates, Basi and Virk were thrown under the bus.

When you’re down, bullies point and laugh. The outgoing government was ruthlessly attacked for mismanagement of a contract to build fast ferries for the BC coast. Compared to the Liberal’s  mismanagement (for example, the renovation of BC Place and subsequent bungling of an endorsement contract with Telus), it was a drop in the bucket, but the ferries issue was something that they were able to point fingers and howl at. It became one of the major election issues that resulted in the decimation of the NDP government.

After the election,  being the bullies that they are, the Liberals had to rub the NDP’s nose in it. They sold the completed ferries at a fraction of their worth, and purchased new ferries abroad, ensuring that there could be no reminder of NDP industry. Incidentally, the fast ferries missteps were really the learning curve for what surely would have been a vibrant ship building industry in BC, but the Liberals have never been about farsightedness, just about preserving power.

Bullies don’t care about anyone else’s needs. They just do what they want, even if it’s illegal. Not long into their first mandate, they illegally tore up public sector contracts in both the education and health care sectors. They kicked down a lot of good people, decreasing wages, cutting services.

In both cases they were sued and they lost, costing taxpayers billions of dollars in restitution and legal costs, and worse, demeaning a lot of good people (mostly women) in the process.

Bullies blame victims. In health care, especially when it comes to vulnerable people, the BC Liberals have been heartless. Children with special needs in schools have lost services. The mentally ill have lost services. The poor and the homeless (often mentally ill themselves) have lost services. But the bullies don’t care. They don’t have much sympathy for the losers in the learning support room, or the druggies on the street.

If you cross a bully, you’d better watch out. The bullies will ruin your reputation. I’ve never seen a worse example of mean-girl cruelty than the time the BC Liberals had contracted scientists to study the effects of certain pharmaceuticals. The researchers found evidence that stood to harm the bottom line of a pharmaceutical company that just happened to be a huge Liberal donor.

The Liberals had the researchers fired, but not being satisfied with having them gone, they wanted to hurt them. They engaged in a smear campaign, accusing the researchers of falsifying their results. The researchers sued, and received huge settlements, of course. All  except for one of them, a PhD candidate, who, having had his reputation destroyed, killed himself.

And of course, like the bullies they are, they stood there shrugging. They pretended to involve the police, and refused to discuss the issue lest doing so prejudice the police investigation. It turned out they were lying (Bullies lie.) and that there had never been any police investigation. Roderick MacIsaac’s suicide note mysteriously disappeared. And they refused to open a public inquiry, instead preferring to have an ombudsperson look into things, against the wishes of the victims.

Bullies buy friends if they can’t win them through intimidation and fear mongering. I have never seen such a plethora of pre-election promises from an incumbent government. It’s as if they’ve secretly agreed with their opposition the whole time.

The only way to beat bullies is to stand up to them. This spring we have an opportunity for a fair fight. We need to take their power away on election night.

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The Goldner Report on VSB – biased and myopic.

The investigation by Roslyn Goldner on allegations of a toxic work environment is not at all conclusive, and is itself controversial. The report is flawed on several bases.

First of all, it was prepared by a lawyer, when the issues really should have been investigated by a workplace psychologist: someone who has better credentials for understanding workplace dynamics.

Second, the report is written from a biased point of view. Most of the incidents that it cites as evidence of a toxic work environment relate to activism by Vision trustees on behalf of citizens. In emphasizing these incidents as negative impacts, the report takes a position on the role of a school board, preferring a “stewardship model” to an advocacy model of board responsibility.

Although the report doesn’t detail what is meant by stewardship, one can only assume the definition to include fiduciary responsibility to Ministry of Education policy –in other words, a sycophantic obedience to superiors rather than a bold representation of the desires of the electorate. To that end, Goldner failed to investigate the financial pressures imposed by the Ministry of Education that were the toxin that saturated the whole process.

Furthermore, the report accepts the findings of an audit by Earnst and Young ipso facto rather than considering audit itself as a likely stressor in the work environment. As the Earnst and Young audit was the second audit in as many years inflicted by the Ministry of Education, it is itself a form of bullying that was not addressed at all in Goldner.

The report finds that unlike past school boards, the current board was particularly problematic, but then it fails to describe how the board had changed in composition.

Board trustee Patti Bacchus’ behaviour is repeatedly mentioned in the report as an example of the “bullying” inflicted on the District employees, but Bacchus has been a constant on past boards. The report fails to delve into this issue.

Bullying breeds bullying. If one wants to truly understand the source of bullying, one must investigate far more thoroughly. The report’s failure to provide a context for the alleged bullying must be at least in part attributable to Goldner’s lack of expertise in psychology.

Another problem with the report is its constant negative reference to political agendas of board members. It’s understandable that respondents to the investigation pointed out how board governance was mired in political agendas, but the report fails to disambiguate these agendas.

Agendas are based on belief systems and therefore, they are necessarily political. Agendas are at the heart of policymaking. The trustees were elected based on their stated beliefs, and were required, therefore, to try and influence policy according to those beliefs.

The Vision candidates, who are presented negatively in this report, had an agenda that was at odds with the policy of the current Ministry of Education. Therefore, their mandate was necessarily activist. It was easy for the NPA trustees to present themselves with more equanimity in such a climate. They enjoyed the privilege of being in agreement with the Ministry.

The report connotes democratic activism and disagreement as a negative force. Certainly the political situation was heated. Certainly the School Board employees were placed in a difficult if not impossible position. But this investigation, while being able to point to the symptoms of a toxic work environment, fails to get to the underlying cause.

To get to the cause, Goldner needed to go deeper. She needed to identify the realpolitik that was infecting the education system. She needed to consider the pressure brought to trustees by parents angry at the imminent closures of their children’s schools. She needed acknowledge the anger of teachers, and the frustration of the electorate engendered by the unconstitutional behaviour of government, both of which were stressors on senior staff as well as trustees.

Instead, her report is myopic. It points fingers at well-meaning people who were jealously trying to protect the school system from further decimation by a government bent on privatizing education.