Surrey hires Liberal lobbyists to push for federal infrastructure funds

$2 billion light rail transit project among municipality’s infrastructure priorities 

North Vancouver Liberal MP Jonathan Wilkinson (left) and Prem Vinning of Concise Consulting | Jonathan Wilkinson MP website

Surrey city hall has hired federal and BC Liberal insiders to help lobby senior governments for infrastructure funds, Business in Vancouver has learned.

Concise Consulting Ltd. was given a $28,800, six-month no-bid contract to help Surrey’s general manager of investment and intergovernmental relations, Donna Jones, develop a government engagement strategy.

Earnscliffe Strategy Group’s contract is capped at $21,656 for strategic communications support for the proposed $2.1 billion Surrey light rail transit project. Competitive, public bidding is triggered for Surrey contracts worth $75,000 and up.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has pledged to spend $60 billion across the country over the next decade on infrastructure.

Concise is headed by Prem Vinning, a Liberal power broker in the South Asian community. Oliver Lum, spokesman for Mayor Linda Hepner, said the scope of Concise’s work includes dedicating eight hours a week from February 1 to August 1 to “generate unique ideas for how Surrey can engage with key government officials” about Surrey’s priority funding needs.

Vinning, a former World Sikh Organization president, was B.C.’s director of Asia-Pacific trade and economic development under Premier Gordon Campbell in 2005, but quit after only three days when it was revealed that he called a talk show under a different name when Campbell was a guest.

Vinning did not return a call seeking an interview.

Vinning’s son Manjeet is an aide to federal Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and is married to the rookie Vancouver-South Liberal MP’s cousin Simran. Vinning’s other son, Gurpreet, is an aide to Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi. Gurpreet Vinning previously worked under Peter Fassbender, the Surrey-Fleetwood BC Liberal MLA who became minister responsible for TransLink last year.

Earnscliffe, Lum said, was “retained to develop and help implement a communications plan with the aim of translating the federal government's commitments on infrastructure funding into support for the Surrey LRT project.”

Staff informally talked to three communications companies, Lum said.

Earnscliffe’s B.C. office is headed by Bruce Young, who co-chaired the Liberals’ 2015 election campaign in B.C. Young did not respond to an interview request. Account director Brittney Kerr was a tour director for Trudeau’s campaign last year, but left Earnscliffe in December to run the B.C. desk for the Prime Minister’s Office.

Four of Surrey’s five federal ridings are Liberal-held, but none of the MPs are in cabinet. Ex-mayor Dianne Watts was elected for the Conservatives in South Surrey-White Rock and named the infrastructure critic. Five of Surrey’s eight provincial ridings are represented by members of the BC Liberal government.

@bobmackin