Saturday, August 30, 2008

Blair Wilson: Not the standard-bearer the Greens would have hoped for

I've long held a soft-spot in my political heart for the Green Party, and so I'm pleased they at long last have their first MP, even if he wasn't elected under the Green banner. I also think that Elizabeth May should be in the leaders' debates, and this should help make that happen. It's really unfortunate, though, that their standard-bearer, the person who will go down in history as the first Green MP in Canada, had to be Blair Wilson.

It really should have been Elizabeth May. And she may well still end up being the first elected Green MP, as I think she's going to give Peter McKay a real run for his money in Central Nova.

This should really be a big day for the Green Party, and for all supporters of democracy in general. In some ways, it still is. But it's tainted by the person they've cast to fill this historic role.

The fact is, there's a reason why Blair Wilson was asked to leave the Liberal caucus, and there's a reason why his repeated pleas, both public and private, to re-join the Liberal caucus were firmly and soundly rejected. Blair Wilson is not MP material.

After a long investigation by Elections Canada the 24 allegations of campaign finance irregularities against him were reduced to three, which he acknowledged as violations as entered into a compliance agreement with Elections Canada.

He was asked to leave caucus, though, because he hid a laundry list of legal disputes from the party when he sought and accepted the Liberal nomination, and repeatedly refused to cooperate when word of the allegations began to come out.

The list of allegations unearthed in an investigative series by the Vancouver Province last fall, including failed business dealings, friends and investors and suppliers left holding the bag, lawsuits and more, reads like a soap opera:

Among the allegations against Wilson, The Province has learned:

- Wilson did not report campaign expenses to Elections Canada and paid for supplies off the books, in cash, a breach of the act.

- Wilson and his wife, Kelly, borrowed roughly $1.9 million from his in-laws to purchase six properties, and much remains unpaid despite the fact they have sold some homes.

- Wilson and his wife were subject to Social Services Tax Act liens on three properties and owe $2.1 million in bank mortgages.

- Wilson misled the media about the true extent of his business success, exaggerating the number of restaurants he founded and claiming to have sold an accountancy business his in-laws claim closed, among other discrepancies.

- Wilson lost hundreds of thousands of family investors' money in the stock market and yet billed them for management fees.

- Wilson's two restaurants, Mahoneys and Wilson's Steakhouse, closed. He was taken twice to the B.C. Employment Standards Tribunal for refusing to pay employees, was sued twice for failing to pay contractors, was twice compelled by the courts to pay GST owing, and was also taken to court by a supplier over $33,839 that was owed (this amount was later paid).

- Wilson bought extravagant gifts for a girlfriend in Poland while working for a restaurant chain called Pan Smak Pizza Inc.

And yes, if you're wondering, Blair is married. Perhaps his time in Poland will help him in his new role as the Green Party's immigration critic. A second article has even more on the business history of Blair Wilson, and the damage and losses he left in his wake.

All this history, which should have been disclosed to the party as a matter of course, was hidden by Wilson when he applied to be a candidate, and would likely had disqualified him from running had it been known. That's why he wasn't allowed to run for the Liberals again. He has consistently failed to demonstrate the ethics, honesty and integrity that should be expected of a Member of Parliament. If a person isn't going to be open and honest with the party, how can he be trusted to run under its banner?

Interestingly, it seems like it's those that know Blair Wilson best, those that have been close to him, that feel most strongly that he is unfit for public office.

Like former NHLer Tony Tanti, who lost the $50,000 he invested in a Wilson business:

Tanti, for one, says he can let his $50,000 loss go, but not his worries about Wilson's suitability for office.

"My concern about the whole thing, him getting into politics, [is] if he is doing that to so-called friends and everything else, what is he going to do when he's got [public] money in his hands?

"My $50,000 was a lot of money, but it's not going to change my lifestyle. But now he has public funds. That's my biggest concern."

And Wilson's own father-in-law, Bill Lougheed, who had to resort to legal action over unpaid loans to Wilson:

The Lougheeds claim Wilson misrepresented himself to voters in his riding, pretending to be a wealthy politician while he was secretly saddled with enormous debts. Wilson's defaulting, Lougheed feels, makes the MP "not fit for public office."

Lougheed feels the MP's "insatiable need for money" and the fact that he's "living beyond his means" has put his family in jeopardy.

And friends who themselves volunteered for Wilson's campaigns have told me some unsettling stories about the experience, and his suitability for office.

In announcing Wilson's move to the Greens, May claims to have investigated all this and to be satisfied with his explanations. I just hope that, in her desire to have this historic announcement, and to secure her place in the debates, she hasn't made decision she will one day come to regret.

Wilson likes being an MP. He likes the prestige, the perks, the attention. He has been pushing for months to get back into caucus, and as late as mid-August he was pushing the caucus to consider the matter when it meets next week in Winnipeg. To his credit, Stephane Dion bluntly told him it wasn't going to happen. Only then, with an election imminent, did Wilson make his move to the Greens.

Is getting their first MP and getting into the leaders' debate worth getting into bed with someone like Blair Wilson? I suppose time will tell. I just feel bad for my Green friends that this is how this historic day had to happen. Given the long-held commitment of the Green movement to democracy, honest and integrity, this can't be quite how they would have pictured this day.

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Anonymous said...

Ripping off a Canuck great. What a d***head!!!

JimBobby said...

Well, Jeff, I would rather we could have got into the TV debates by appealing to the media moguls' sense of democratic fairness. It would have been better if the handful of high powered TV network execs wgho arbitrarily set the rules for debate inclusion had listened to Elizabeth when she told them about the 650,000+ voters from all across Canada who supported the party in 2006. It would have been better if they'd paid attention when the public opinion polls told them that GPC support was above BQ support. It would have be better if they recognized a party that runs candidates in 307 of 308 ridings in every province has more right to sit at the debate table than a party that runs in 70-odd seats in Quebec alone. It would have been bettrer if they's listened to public opinion which says that 70%+ of Canadians want the Green leader in the debates.

Unfortunately, all those appeals to democracy fell on deaf ears with the corporate big shots who make up the rules as they go along. When Elizabeth asked to see a copy of the rules, she was informed that there are no written rules. The guys who own the airwaves don't play by any standard set of rules.

The men in suits said there was only one way Elizabeth would get into the debates and that was by having a sitting MP. Wilson offered to be that MP and May took him up on it. It was, I imagine, a tough choice. However, as I said a Pogge's place, climbing the greasy pole is greasy work. Effective environmental action can only be attained with political power and politics is not always as lily-white and high-road as we'd like it to be. In fact, it's never as clean as I'd like it to be.

The importance of inclusion in the TV debates cannot be under estimated. When Preston Manning was afforded a seat at the debates, it became Reform's springboard to official opposition status.

We Greens have been agitating for inclusion for years and we're admittedly a bit desperate. Our desperation comes from a genuine concern for the planet. Without political power, we cannot affect the changes we deem to be essential for human survival. If we need to crawl into bed with a questionable character like Wilson to get a chance at the springboard, so be it.


Chrystal Ocean said...

Well said, jimBobby.

BCer, I agree that Wilson isn't the ideal choice, but as I write in a post on Challenging the Commonplace, the Greens have been put into a position - by the media consortium, no less! - of being damned if they do, damned if they don't. That neither Layton nor Harper want May in the debates also speaks volumes.

wilson said...

Here I was worried about the Greens and Reds uniting. Silly me.

Will Lizzy be pointing out in the debates that Dion stole their Green enviro platform?
Lizzy OWNS the carbon tax policy. Someone else OWNS the name.

Heh, I can't wait to see the 'abortion' question come up in the debates. Lizzy has already confirmed that she is prolife.

Do you think more Liberals will run for the Greens?

''If we need to crawl into bed with a questionable character like Wilson to get a chance at the springboard, so be it.''

Well jimbobby, it is good to see the Greens leap off that high horse.
Yah gotta start somewhere to get those good candidates. Reform turfed afew along the way.

susansmith said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Top Can said...

What does it say about the Green Party that it accepted a man who was so incompetent, as a politician, with dealing with his finances in his electoral campaigns that his own father in law said he was not a good man for that job?

JimBobby said...

Whooee! Like a few others, I accepted the Canadian Press story that Wilson had been turfed from the LPC. The CP has now corrected that story to read that Wilson resigned. He wasn't fired. He wasn't expelled.

He was under investigation and he did something for which Stephane Dion praised him. He stepped down until the investigation cleared him. Then, he asked to be let back in. If you know for a fact that he was "asked" to resign, prove it. Otherwise, retract it. Marlene Jennings also praised Wilson's stepping down while under investigation. At the time of his resignation, the Liberal leader and high powered Liberal MPs said he was voluntarily doing the right thing.

I am attempting to set the record straight. CP corrected its inaccurate characterization and I think it is incumbent upon fair minded bloggers to do likewise. I've blogged in thsi today, now that I've taken the time to do a tiny bit of research and found that the "turfed" thing was false.

As well, the $1.9 million lawsuit to which you refer was reduced to just an $11,000 dispute. In a Montreal Gazette story today, it is stated that Wilson is now counter-suing his wife's stepfather.The Gazatte is also saying that Wilson was "forced" to resign but it doesn't say what forces were at work. Perhaps, his own allegiance to the LPC forced him to make that decision.

Allegations are just that. Most of the allegations made against Wilson were tossed out by Elections Canada. That hasn't stopped bloggers from trotting out these now disproven allegations as if they were fact. There's a smear job going on and it's not the elected Liberal leader or MPs who are engaging in it.

Wilson's PR guy put out a press release this morning. He claims that powerful backroom party operatives are smearing him. Here's part of that statement:

Mr. Wilson stepped aside from the Liberal Party caucus last October when
anonymous allegations of financial irregularities in his 2006 election
campaign surfaced in the media. He rejected the allegations as a smear
campaign to end his political career, requested Elections Canada to
investigate the allegations and was cleared.
The party's provincial "Green Light Committee", which vets all
candidates, had earlier rejected Mr. Wilson candidacy based on personal
information that was inaccurate and untested. He was not given an opportunity
to defend himself before the committee and there was no appeal process.
Commenting today, Mr. Wilson said the federal Liberal Party in British
Columbia was being hamstrung by a powerful group of unelected backroom
"I got on the wrong side of that group early on because my success in the
party after I was elected in 2006 was perceived as a threat to their power,"
he said.
"Based on what's happened over the past year, it's clear that they were
prepared to stoop very low to remove me from the scene, but they have failed."

The whole statement is here.

The more I find out about Wilson and the real story about his leaving the Liberals in 2007, the less edgy I feel about the GPC's embrace.


Jeff said...

Whooee! Tell me Wilson, was the Vancouver Province part of this vast conspiracy against Blair Wilson as well? Were all those former business associates quoted?

The Elections Canada allegations, of which he was only partially cleared, are separate from his business dealings, which he kept hidden. Those allegations, you'll note, he doesn't and largely hasn't denied, from the Polish girlfriend to the lavish spending to the associates left with large losses. The lawsuit is only one portion of that, and as to why it was reduced, we don't really know.

There are, of course, two sides to very story, although from the facts on the record that he hasn't disputed a picture does emerge. Nevertheless, it is not only these facts, but the fact that he hid them from the party that led to his not being invited to re-join caucus.

A caucus, I'll note, that despite the alleged vast conspiracy against him, he was pleading publicly and privately to rejoin as late as just two weeks ago. Only with an election call just days away did he turn to the Greens, as a convenient banner to carry into the election, and to gain himself some attention. He likes attention. I can't recall him every saying much about green issues.

I'm not one to tow the party line jimbobby, I think you know that. Based on my own research, and what I've heard of Blair Wilson from friends in B.C. who have worked with him, I strongly feel not inviting him back into the Liberal caucus was absolutely the right decision.

And do you really think the LPC, a party that's all about winning and pragmatism, would lightly jettison a successful candidate in a tight swing riding because of, what, petty personal issues? It just doesn't make sense.

As long as yourself and your fellow Greens are going into this with eyes wide open and all the facts, then so be it. You makes your choices and you takes your chances. You get into bed with a dog though, and you can get fleas.