British Columbia

'Quite an inappropriate intervention': Northern B.C. leader's letter sparks concern

The president of an organization that represents 41 Northern B.C. communities is coming under fire for a letter to the lieutenant-governor regarding the NDP-Green alliance.

Municipal government officials said they were not consulted before the controversial letter was released

If Premier Clark fails to pass a motion of confidence in the house, Lt.-Gov. Judith Guichon would be left to decide if the NDP would be asked to form the next government with the support of the Greens. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

A Northern B.C. leader's letter to Lt.-Gov. Judith Guichon that calls the NDP-Green alliance "unconstitutional" is raising concerns about representation for the north of the province.

The president of the North Central Local Government Association, Shaely Wilbur, sent the letter to Guichon Friday afternoon on behalf of the association. 

"If the Crown acts in reliance on the agreement, we are concerned that the Crown could be condoning an unconstitutional scheme," it said. 

By Saturday, NCLGA member and Smithers Mayor Taylor Bachrach called Wilbur's actions an "inappropriate" intervention.

Board members endorsed letter

The letter claims to represent all 41 NCLGA member communities — including two First Nations governments — but multiple members of the association's board told CBC they were unaware of letter's content before it was made public.

"That's literally 265 individual, independent local government politicians without any official political affiliation at the local level," said Oliver Ray, who has worked as the association's staff executive director for four years.

Wilbur said she consulted with the four executive board members before sending the letter, which staff confirmed. 

CBC News reached out to all 15 members of the NCLGA board. Of the three who responded to requests for comment, two said they were concerned about the president's letter and not aware the content before it was made public.

The president of the association is responsible for all contact with the press, according to the organization's bylaws, so it's not unusual for the president to send out press releases, said board member Lara Beckett.

Wilbur said in an email on Sunday her error was "not allowing adequate time for response" from the board.

"We do not have a policy or protocols in place for emerging issues such as this. I understood it as my responsibility to comment on a fast unfolding scenario that seemed to directly affect, or neglect our region," she said.

Supported Liberal campaign

Wilbur is also a councillor in the City of Dawson Creek and was only recently elected president of the NCLGA at the association's 2017 annual general meeting which was held from May 2 to May 5 in Terrace.

She has been an outspoken supporter of the B.C. Liberal Party in the past and criticized the NDP-Green alliance as recently as Saturday.

"They've made it clear that we're insignificant to them," she said of NDP leader John Horgan and Green leader Andrew Weaver, on Saturday.

That statement surprised Ray, who said previous presidents of the NCLGA maintained nonpartisan neutral messaging. 

"It would either be in error or in contravention of the essence of an association like ours, to be nonpartisan, if somebody made an overtly partisan comment like that on behalf of the NCLGA," said Ray. 

Wilbur did not respond to questions about whether she is the same Shaely Wilbur who appears twice on the 2016 Liberal Party donors list having donated a total of $75 to the party.

No constitutional issue

Wilbur said the agreement was unconstitutional because it would hinder MLAs ability to vote for the needs of their constituents.  

But her assertions about the agreement's legality are incorrect, according to UBC political scientist Gerald Baier.

"It's a relatively dubious constitutional argument," he said, pointing out that matters of the house are decided on convention, not legality.

"I don't even think it's the kind of information the lieutenant-governor is worried about.

Baier said Guichon would likely look to the results of the election, not the opinions of individual groups, to inform her decision. 

The letter also includes concerns about the future of the Northern B.C.s resource-dependent economy under a coalition government. 

"As you are aware, what might seem like a small, simple shift in direction behind closed doors can have a major impact on many of our resource-dependent communities," she wrote.

Horgan and Weaver have both been openly opposed to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and Weaver in particular has criticised Clark's plans to develop natural gas.

Horgan has supported LNG in some situations but does not support the Pacific Northwest LNG project that would see a pipeline run from the Northeast to a terminal in Prince Rupert.

He recently asked BC Hydro to stop signing any new contracts related to construction of the dam until an independent review of the projects is completed.