Province files defence in lawsuit that targets partisan political ads
David Trapp, who is the representative plaintiff in a class action lawsuit aimed at stopping partisan B.C. government advertising, talks to reporters outside the Vancouver Law Courts. His lawyers David Fai, left, and Paul Doroshenko, right, stand by his side. (Submitted)
The B.C. government is defending itself against a class-action lawsuit alleging it misspent millions on partisan political ads during the recent provincial election campaign.
In a lawsuit filed in March before the official campaign got underway, David Trapp, the representative plaintiff, claimed that the government had spent up to $15 million on advertising for the purpose of enhancing the image of the B.C. Liberal party, which was also named as a defendant.
During the campaign, the government directed a freeze on all "non-essential" advertising and public communications.
On May 3, less than a week before the election, the government filed its response to the class-action lawsuit, denying the allegations and asserting that it is responsible for ensuring public money is "controlled, accounted for and well managed."
The response to the civil claim filed in B.C. Supreme Court says that the government must as a matter of policy endorse advertising that is "fact-based" and points to or provides information on policies, programs and services.
"The government also requires that public money not be used to purchase advertising in support of a political party."
The class-action suit claims that in addition to burnishing the image of the Liberals, the ads were designed to improve the then-governing party's likelihood of success in the election by winning enough seats to hold a majority government.
The government's response says that the proposed class-action group — all B.C. taxpayers — is not one to which the government owes a fiduciary or other private law duty enforceable in court.
"The fiduciary duty alleged in this case is both novel and broad. It does not fall within a historically recognized category.
"The collection of taxes and distribution of public money held by the government is a purely public function. It has no private law analogue that could ground the recognition of a fiduciary duty."
Asked to comment on the government's response, Trapp's lawyer Paul Doroshenko said he and his client have a "good legal basis" for their argument.
"Generally speaking, I think every government has a fiduciary duty. You discharge your fiduciary duty very easily as a government. But as soon as you go and use taxpayers' money for a purpose that is not for the taxpayers, you've breached your fiduciary duty."
Doroshenko said that despite the election result, which saw the Liberals fall just short of a majority government, they will be pursuing the lawsuit.
"We looked at the replies filed by the government and the Liberal party and it hasn't really changed our direction. It was more or less what we expected."
The next steps in the case include a bid to get certification of the class-action suit, but no date has been set for the next court appearance and the process is going to be a lengthy one, said Doroshenko.
Trapp, a retired White Rock resident, said he was upset to watch on television the ads that he believed were a waste of taxpayers' money.