Polak back lobbying her old ministry for fired conservation officer

By Shannon Waters February 26, 2021

After more than 15 years in provincial politics, it has not taken former Liberal cabinet minister Mary Polak long to embark on a new venture — one that will soon have her interacting with a ministry she used to helm.

Polak joined Maple Leaf Strategies Inc. as a strategic advisor earlier this month, following her defeat in the Langley riding in October, and one of her first clients is sure to raise eyebrows among B.C. politics watchers.

Bryce Casavant was a B.C. conservation officer in 2015 when he refused an order to kill two black bear cubs whose mother he euthanized, as directed, after it was deemed a nuisance bear. Instead, Casavant took the cubs to a vet who had them sent to a rehabilitation facility. He was later fired and went to court, alleging he had been wrongfully dismissed.

The case eventually ended up at the BC Court of Appeal, which ruled in Casavant’s favour, finding that his dismissal should have been dealt with under the Police Act. Then the BC Government and Service Employees’ Union — which represented Casavant when he initially grieved his dismissal — applied to the Supreme Court of Canada to overturn the ruling.

The court declined to hear the case, and now Casavant is lobbying the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy to give him his old job back — he has been working for the forests ministry in the years since — and has hired Polak to represent him.

Polak was environment minister at the time of Casavant’s termination and was even the subject of a petition to reinstate Casavant.

Adding another layer to the story, Casavant ran for the NDP in Oak Bay—Gordon Head in 2017, when he was billed as “the only candidate in B.C. endorsed by his opponent” after former Green Party leader Andrew Weaver said he would be happy to have Casavant on his party’s ticket (in another riding, of course).

Casavant said he approached Polak to lobby on his behalf because of her “simply invaluable” knowledge of the ministry and his specific case — but acknowledged the situation is “a weird one.”

He told BC Today Polak was initially somewhat hesitant to work with him and obtained written clearance to do so from both the registrar of lobbyists and B.C.’s conflict of interest commissioner before agreeing to the undertaking.

While he has also retained legal counsel, Casavant told BC Today he is hoping to find a way to get back his old job through diplomacy.

“I have a court order in my favour from B.C.’s highest court, my appointment as a provincial conservation officer remains in force — I have a lawful right to return to work,” he said. “Currently, I am being prevented from exercising the functions and duties of my statutory appointment as a provincial conservation officer.”

As for how it feels to still be battling for his job now that the party he once hoped to represent in the legislature is running things, Casavant said his crusade is not about politics.

“I do not care what someone’s political leanings are — I care about my family, my province, and the legal aspects of my law enforcement career, which I hope to be continuing soon,” he said. “This is a complex matter that is best resolved between the former and current ministers.”