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July 20, 2011

Sponsoring the Premiers

The Calgary Herald’s Licia Corbella expressed concerns about corporate sponsorship of the Energy and Mines Ministers' Conference in Kananaskis that ran from July 16-19. She wrote: “Clearly, the Alberta government doesn't understand optics. How else to explain why the wealthiest province in Canada sought out industry sponsors …” She went on to say: “For the event, the Alberta government allowed industry players to pay for gold, silver and bronze sponsorships. What they accomplished, however, was to tarnish Alberta's reputation further and make the outcome of this important meeting appear suspect.”

The day after Alberta’s conference adjourned, the national premiers’ bun toss, otherwise known as Council of the Federation, met in BC with host Christy Clark. A government website listed sponsors for the event. What do sponsors get that others don’t? Does platinum sponsorship by insurance brokers open questions about the government’s ability to fairly regulate the industry or for ICBC to set commissions in the best interests of those it insures? Surely the brokers expect to get something for the money they spend on the sponsorship; it’s targeted at the premiers and their entourage, not at the general public.

Translink is one of the bronze sponsors of the premiers. Why would a public agency spend scarce transportation dollars to sponsor the premiers’ conference? Who in the provincial government approached Translink and hit the agency up for the sponsorship, and what pitch was used – pay now or lose later?

We’ve grown accustomed to seeing corporate sponsorships everywhere but a line has to be drawn when those sponsorships throw into question the objectivity of key decision makers on matters of public policy. Earlier in the week the Clark government announced its open data project, named DataBC. While technically impressive the measure of success for the project should be whether the government does more than consolidate access to data that was previously spread over numerous sites. A good start would be disclosure of how sponsors for the premiers’ conference were recruited and what, if anything, they were promised to open their chequebooks?