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RM Issue #031020

Georgia Straight Publisher Warns Public to Be Wary of B.C. Liberal Government's Spin

October 12, 2003

Georgia Straight editor and publisher Dan McLeod expressed relief today about the B.C. Liberal government's decision to finally admit that the popular 36-year-old publication is, in fact, a newspaper.

However, McLeod warned the public to be wary of the way the B.C. Liberal government is "spinning" its October 10 decision to reverse a punitive and discriminatory $1-million tax assessment that was levied against the Georgia Straight on September 30.

The B.C. Liberals originally justified the assessment by claiming that the Georgia Straight is not a newspaper or magazine under the Social Service Tax Act.

"The B.C. Liberal government's spin doctors are trying to make it appear as though it was a bureaucratic mixup, and the premier rode to the rescue," McLeod said. "If that were true, why didn't Premier Gordon Campbell put a stop to this travesty on October 9 instead of trying to blame the $1- million penalty on the previous NDP government?"

After widespread public outrage, the B.C. Liberal government issued a news release late Friday afternoon on a long weekend finally admitting that the Georgia Straight is a newspaper.

McLeod said the B.C. Liberal government timed the news release to miss editorial deadlines for some national media outlets.

The B.C. Liberal government's news release failed to mention that the Georgia Straight filed a detailed freedom-of-information request to the Ministry of Finance on April 10 (see the Georgia Straight's request here, the April 16 acknowledgement of receipt of the request here and the government's July 11 response to the request here) seeking a wide range of information about provincial sales tax issues, including legal interpretations about the definition of a newspaper.

"Is the B.C. Liberal government trying to suggest now that a Georgia Straight freedom-of-information request about this issue would not be brought to the attention of communications officials, not to mention political staff in Finance Minister Gary Collins' office?" McLeod asked. "If there was a potential political controversy involving the Georgia Straight and a million-dollar penalty that could potentially tax the newspaper out of existence, don't you think the finance minister and the premier's office would be told about this in advance? This newspaper has tens of thousands of readers in the constituencies of Gordon Campbell and Gary Collins."

The Georgia Straight offices are in the constituency of Finance Minister Gary Collins and right across the street from the constituency boundary of Premier Gordon Campbell. It took more than three months for the B.C. Liberal government to respond to the freedom-of-information request.

On August 7, the Georgia Straight's lawyer, former B.C. Court of Appeal justice Josiah Wood, wrote a letter to the revenue ministry outlining his legal concerns.

Nearly two months later, the revenue ministry wrote a letter to the Georgia Straight imposing the punitive and discriminatory tax assessment.

"Gordon Campbell has refused repeated requests to introduce whistleblower-protection legislation in B.C.," said McLeod. "Even if the B.C. Liberal government ordered a so-called independent review into this fiasco, public servants could never speak frankly without fearing reprisals from their political masters."

Contact: Dan McLeod,
editor and publisher,
the Georgia Straight
Tel: 604-730-7000.



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