News Local

Lawsuit alleges B.C. government spending millions on partisan ads to enhance Liberals' image

Keith Fraser, Postmedia Network

David Trapp, who is the representative plaintiff in a class action lawsuit aimed at stopping partisan BC government advertising, talks to reporters outside the Vancouver Law Courts. His lawyers (David Fai, (with beard), to the left in the photo and Paul Doroshenko, to the right) stand by his side. (Submitted Photo)

David Trapp, who is the representative plaintiff in a class action lawsuit aimed at stopping partisan BC government advertising, talks to reporters outside the Vancouver Law Courts. His lawyers (David Fai, (with beard), to the left in the photo and Paul Doroshenko, to the right) stand by his side. (Submitted Photo)

A White Rock man has filed a class-action lawsuit aimed at getting the B.C. government to stop spending millions on what he and his lawyers are calling partisan advertising.

David Trapp, representative plaintiff in the case, was angry at watching government ads running on TV while he was recently recovering from cancer.

He and his lawyers, David Fai and Paul Doroshenko, are seeking to have a judge impose an injunction on the ads, given the looming provincial election campaign.

They claim the government has spent up to $15 million on the ads and want the court to certify the case as a class-action suit, arguing the Liberals have consistently engaged in taxpayer-funded partisan and non-essential advertising since being elected in May 2013.

Trapp, 63, a retired TransLink employee, told reporters Monday that the thing that bothers him the most about the ads is that he is helping pay for them and, secondly, that the Liberal party on its own has raised millions in donations.

"So why am I paying for them to tell me how great British Columbia is? If it's so great, then why do we have to have it shoved down our throat every 15 minutes on Global News?"

Doronshenko called the suit a public-interest litigation and told the reporters that he and Fai will not be working on the case on a contingency basis. They have launched an online fundraising campaign in a bid to defray the expected legal costs.

"Right now they're distorting the electoral process by taking this money and using it for their own purpose," Doroshenko said of the Liberal government. "We want to stop that as quickly as possible."

The suit, which names both the B.C. government and the B.C. Liberal Party as defendants, identifies several offending advertisements, including ads dealing with a government plan on jobs and a plan to promote the liquid natural-gas industry.

Doroshenko said that the ads are breaching the government's fiduciary obligation to taxpayers, with the Liberal party getting a "huge" benefit because they don't have to spend money on advertising.

"We say they're converting the taxpayer money into their own money for their own purpose," he said. "We believe strongly that we have a good legal basis for the lawsuit we're advancing."

Said Fai: "We say that's a misappropriation of public funds and a breach of the public trust. We're not looking to make money. We want the B.C. Liberal Party to pay the government back the money spent on their ads."

The lawyers pointed to a 2014 report by B.C.'s auditor general that reiterates a 1996 report from the auditor general recommending that the government establish a policy that prohibits the use of partisan political information in public government communications.

An email from the B.C. Ministry of Advanced Education, which is responsible for government communications and advertising, defended the ads and said that the suit was timed to occur just before the election.

"The issues should be addressed in the election and not in the courtroom," said the email. "Government has informed British Columbians about important services and programs."

The email said government has provided information, including details about the opioid overdose crisis that claimed the lives of more than 900 people last year, as well as changes to Medical Services Plan premiums.

"Government worked with the Office of the Auditor General to ensure that all information campaigns fulfil clear criteria: be fact-based, inform the public about government programs, services, policies or priorities and provide an opportunity for the public to engage with the government."

Doroshenko said he hopes to bring the injunction application before a judge within the next two weeks.

kfraser@postmedia.com