More than three years have passed since the provincial government chose to establish the Commission of Inquiry into Money Laundering in British Columbia, also known as the Cullen Commission.
A lot has changed since May 2019, when it seemed that the final report would be released just a few days before an expected electoral campaign. COVID-19 happened, and with it, the opportunity for the provincial government to call an election and get a renewed mandate from voters.
In the end, the final report made its way to our desks and computers last week. Some of the conclusions fell short of the expectations of some political observers, who may have hoped for severe punishments for politicians and bureaucrats. For others, the fact that the commission could not unequivocally ascertain the existence of corruption led to peculiar victory laps and recriminations on social media.
Research Co. and Glacier Media last asked about the Cullen Commission in October 2021 and found a public that welcomed a deeper analysis into how people were illogically allowed to bring in hockey bags full of cash into casinos.
This month, upon the release of the final report, the level of satisfaction is higher. In our latest survey, more than three in five British Columbians (62 per cent, up five points) believe the provincial government made the right decision in establishing the Cullen Commission. A similar proportion (60 per cent, up seven points) feel we have learned more about why money laundering became a problem in British Columbia, and a majority (54 per cent, up five points) say we now know more about what to do in the future to curb money laundering in the province.
There is some movement when British Columbians are asked about who deserves “all of the blame” or “most of the blame” for the situation that transpired. More than two in five respondents (41 per cent, up two points) point the finger at the previous provincial government headed by the BC Liberals, while 31 per cent (down five points) think the responsibility primarily belongs to the British Columbia Lottery Corp. (BCLC).
Fewer residents openly blame the current federal government headed by the Liberal Party of Canada (27 per cent, up seven points), the current provincial government headed by the BC New Democratic Party (NDP) (20 per cent, up three points) or the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) (18 per cent, up one point).
In spite of the Cullen Commission’s findings, the level of support for a new type of relationship between governments and contractors has grown. More than three in four British Columbians (78 per cent, up seven points) would welcome the creation of a Quebec-style Office of Anti-Corruption Commissioner "to ensure the co-ordination of actions to prevent and fight corruption in the public sector, including in contractual matters."
When we asked British Columbians to rate the veracity of a couple of statements, the numbers were extremely high. Almost seven in 10 (69 per cent) think it is “definitely true” or “probably true” that executives at the BCLC allowed suspicious cash transactions to continue in their casinos because these transactions resulted in higher revenue and pay bonuses. This is a troubling statistic for a Crown corporation that is looking to restore goodwill with the public.
For two-thirds of British Columbians (66 per cent), the notion that former minister of public safety and solicitor general Rich Coleman knowingly ignored warnings about suspected drug-money laundering in casinos rings true. This includes 75 per cent of those aged 55 and over and 67 per cent of residents of southern B.C. – two demographic groups that are crucial to the electoral success of the probably-soon-to-be-renamed BC Liberals.
More striking, only 12 per cent of BC Liberal voters in the 2020 provincial election consider the statement about Coleman – who according to the report failed to recognize that action was needed to bring “an immediate end to the suspicious activity” – as “untrue.” This explains why current BC Liberal leader Kevin Falcon was quick to “apologize unreservedly” for the situation. Only one of these two men has a political career to protect.
The final report from the Cullen Commission invites us to look carefully into the future. It recommends the appointment of an independent commissioner to oversee the provincial response to money laundering, as well as the reporting of all five-figure luxury goods transactions to a central authority.
The province’s authorities and ministers responsible must focus on identifying new scams and schemes, with a public that is happy to have learned about the past. Omission and incompetence may bizarrely seem like morally superior options to corruption in the minds of those eager to put the money laundering ordeal behind them. At this point, the court of public opinion is not convinced that there is much of a difference.
Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.
Results are based on an online survey conducted from June 17 to June 19, 2022, among 800 adults in British Columbia. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region in British Columbia.The margin of error – which measures sample variability – is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.