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Star lobbyist swayed B.C. Liberals on proposed asset sale

Patrick Kinsella

Globe files/Globe files

He served as a strategist during Christy Clark's campaign for the BC Liberal Party leadership. Patrick Kinsella – the quintessential insider in B.C. politics – also lobbied the province to adopt a new liquor distribution system, which Ms. Clark's government this week vowed to do.

In unveiling its budget Tuesday, the province announced it would sell off non-strategic assets in hopes of raising more than $700-million over the next three years. Two liquor branch warehouses – one in Vancouver, one in Kamloops, employing about 400 people combined – and liquor distribution services were among those assets. The province said it would request proposals to transfer the government-owned warehouses and services to the private sector by 2015.

The minister responsible for liquor sales played down the role of lobbying in the decision, and said government isn't actively looking to sell off control of liquor stores, even as it prepares to cease control of the warehouses and distribution services.

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The Globe and Mail reported last month that Mr. Kinsella was a registered lobbyist for five companies that had contact in October with several cabinet ministers: Exel Logistics, Pacific Western Brewing Company, Mark Anthony Group, Great Canadian Gaming Corporation, and the New Car Dealers of BC.

Exel was interested in developing a new liquor distribution system for the province.

Mr. Kinsella, of The Progressive Group, was a deputy minister from 1981 to 1984. He served as co-chair of the Liberal campaign that in 2001 brought premier Gordon Campbell into office. Mr. Kinsella backed Ms. Clark for the Liberal leadership and Progressive donated $20,000 to the campaign that last year saw her become Premier.

Mr. Kinsella did not return calls Wednesday seeking comment.

Rich Coleman, the minister responsible for liquor sales, said the decision to sell off the warehouse and services came after more than a decade of lobbying efforts.

"They brought it up as part of the conversation, there was no lobbying to do, this was what they thought was an opportunity for government," he told reporters Wednesday.

However, when pressed, he said meetings with the company's representatives did amount to lobbying.

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"I guess by any definition when you come on behalf of a company, you are lobbying, so I guess they were lobbying me," he said.

Mr. Coleman regained responsibility for the liquor distribution file earlier this month. But it is a portfolio he has held off and on since 2001, when he first mused about privatizing the government's liquor stores. That plan went out the window when the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union negotiated a wage freeze in exchange for protecting those jobs.

Mr. Coleman said Exel will not have an inside track once government conducts its requests for proposals, which he expects to be issued in the next two months.

As for privatizing government liquor stores, Mr. Coleman indicated he'd like to revisit the issue, but not right now.

"There are times you have to ask yourself, 'Does government belong in the retail liquor business?'" he said. "We are not putting liquor stores on the table."

Finance Minister Kevin Falcon seconded that message.

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"I am comfortable with getting out of the liquor distribution business," he said Wednesday. "We can sell that, we can protect the unionized employees at the same time, make sure that they transfer over to the private sector with the business. But the larger question [about the stores]would require a lot more homework."

When asked if Mr. Kinsella played a role in government's decision, Mr. Falcon said: "I've never met with Pat Kinsella about this issue. I didn't even know that he was linked to it, to be honest with you."

Shane Simpson, the NDP's critic for liquor distribution, said the Liberals haven't made a business case for the privatization.

"At the same time, we see Liberal insider Patrick Kinsella lobbying the Liberals for exactly this change," he said. "It raises serious questions about how and why this decision was made."

Scott Lyons, of Exel Logistics, said the company would be interested in looking at the request for proposals. He declined to discuss the company's relationship with Mr. Kinsella.

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News reporter

Based in Vancouver, Sunny has been with The Globe and Mail since November, 2010. More

B.C. politics reporter

Based in the press gallery of the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, Justine has followed the ups and downs of B.C. premiers since 1988. She has also worked as a business reporter and on Parliament Hill covering national politics. More

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