Public Eye – March 10

Environmental group loses all paid staff

  • Mar. 9, 2011 3:00 p.m.

Environment critic Rob Fleming

Grassland council’s funding mowed down

The only environmental group focused on protecting the province’s threatened grasslands is itself being threatened by government cutbacks. As a result of those cutbacks, Monday has learned the Grasslands Conservation Council of British Columbia has been reduced to little more than a volunteer board of directors, having recently lost all of its paid staff.

The threat of reduced government funding was foreshadowed in the 12-year-old council’s August 2010 annual report. The report showed that funding weighed-in at $610,383 in fiscal 2009/10, representing 84.9 per cent of the group’s total revenue.

But even back then, the conservation council’s chair David Zirnhelt was warning its fiscal 2010/11 financial picture was looking considerably bleaker — with the group having secured a “government-backed lifeline package” only because of an “all-out-effort” by staff.

Now, that lifeline has run out and the council has lost every single one of its eight employees — with executive director Bob Moody being the last person out the door in mid-February.

In an interview last week, Zirnhelt — a rancher and former New Democrat cabinet minister — tried to put the best face on the situation, saying the conservation council will continue to soldier on as a volunteer-based organization while pursuing renewed government funding.

Nevertheless, without government funding, opposition environment critic Rob Fleming is worried the conservation council’s programs — which, in the past, have identified grasslands in need of protection and produced actions plans to recover at-risk species — won’t survive.

“B.C.’s grasslands are a unique ecosystem that’s under threat from development and from a changing climate,” said Fleming, adding they’ve been identified as being “worthy of achieving the highest levels of conservation and protection we can achieve.”

“But here you have the government pulling any support from the people that have the expertise and are on the ground and able to do the work to accomplish that.”

The ministry of agriculture was unable to respond to a request for comment by deadline.

Outsider win helps insider

On Feb. 26, lobbyist Patrick Kinsella’s bet paid off. Having made a $20,000 donation to Christy Clark’s campaign, he’s in the inevitable position of being one of the few prominent Liberal insiders to have supported the former CKNW talk show host’s successful leadership bid.

But this isn’t the first time Kinsella — whose present clients include Great Canadian Gaming Corp., the Pacific Western Brewing Company Ltd. and the New Car Dealers Association of British Columbia — has backed a winner in provincial politics.

In 2001, for example, he co-chaired the campaign that brought the Liberals and Gordon Campbell to power.

During the ensuing 10 years, his firm The Progressive Group consulted for clients ranging from Accenture Business Services to British Columbia Railway Co.

Indeed, according to records recently obtained by Monday, Kinsella discussed what services he could provide the Crown-owned transportation firm just five months after the Liberals election victory.

In an email sent to the company’s then-human resources vice-president Kevin Mahoney on Oct. 30, 2001, the Liberal insider stated, “we are essentially communications consultants with what I would call a ‘value added’ component.”

“That value added could be interpreted as political savvy and to some extent public opinion expertise that allows us to provide commentary and advice to our clients vis-a-vis the current BC Liberal government.”

So now that there’s been a change at the top of the government — a change he helped bring about — Kinsella is likely well-positioned to continue offering clients the same kind of value-added communications advice under the incoming Clark administration.

Sean Holman is editor of the online provincial political news journal Public Eye (publiceyeonline.com). He can be reached at editorial@publiceyeonline.com. M

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