By Tom Hawthorn. It was an extraordinary sight — uniformed policemen carting box after box of files from the B.C. Legislature.
First published on 9 May 2013, TheTyee.ca
[Editor’s note: This is the eighteenth in the Tyee’s “Some Honourable Members” series, depicting the more dubious moments in B.C.’s political history, brought to you by veteran muckrakers Tom Barrett and Tom Hawthorn, one a day until election day.]
On Dec. 28, 2003, police searched several offices at the Ledge. The raid was the first public revelation of a scandal that would be the longest-running in provincial history and one which seems as yet unresolved.
An RCMP drug investigation, called Project Everywhichway, stumbled across evidence calling into question the propriety of the sale of BC Rail by Gordon Campbell’s BC Liberal government.
Several legislature offices were searched for evidence of bribery and influence peddling in the $1-billion sale of a railway which had been owned by the provincial government since 1918.
The case would result in criminal charges being laid against ministerial aides Dave Basi and Bob Virk, who had connections with leading provincial and federal Liberals. Among these were Bruce Clark, a federal Liberal fundraiser and brother of Christy Clark, the current premier, and Mark Marissen, her husband at the time. Both men were visited by police, though neither was charged.
More than six years would pass after the raid before Basi and Virk went to trial. The Crown alleged the aides had leaked information to one of three bidders. The two men, who had insisted on their innocence through lengthy pretrial proceedings, unexpectedly entered guilty pleas to fraud and breach-of-trust charges in 2010. They were sentenced to house arrest and community service.
At the same time, the BC Liberal government picked up the aides’ $6-million tab for legal fees, even though guilty pleas should have meant taxpayers were off the hook.
The government has never explained why the legal bills were covered by the public purse. Earlier this year, a judge cited solicitor-client privilege in dismissing an application by the provincial auditor general to see documents related to the $6-million payment.
The scandal began as a broken election promise, as Campbell had campaigned saying he would not privatize the railway, only to begin the process soon after winning office in the 2001 landslide election. The case leaves many unanswered questions, not the least of which is the role played by Patrick Kinsella, a quintessential insider and lobbyist whom the Globe and Mail once described as “Mr. Fixit.” Within months after co-chairing Campbell’s successful 2001 campaign, Kinsella was paid about $200,000 from BC Rail to provide services. Kinsella, a Campbell confidante, also had contacts with CN Rail, though the exact nature of his relationship remains unknown. CN Rail bought the bulk of BC Rail’s assets.
The NDP election platform budgets $10 million for a two-year public inquiry into the scandal.
Though the commercial media, especially the Globe and the Vancouver Sun, offered voluminous coverage, the appetite for more information remained unsated. The long-running scandal will be remembered as one in which the public furthered debate and pursued lines of inquiry through online postings. Among the most prominent of these were Bill Tieleman, a political commentator and strategist with ties to the NDP, and the late Mary Mackie, writing under the pseudonym BC Mary.