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Broken election promises take stage at Basi-Virk trial

Broken elections promises, political hot potatoes and even the HST took centre stage at the Basi-Virk trial Wednesday.

Under cross-examination by the lawyer of Bobby Virk, B.C. Government chief of staff Martyn Brown was asked about the "New Era" Liberal platform release during the 2001 provincial election campaign - which promised voters that BC Rail won't be sold.

"I was one of the authors of that document," Brown told defence lawyer Kevin McCullough. When asked why, then, the Liberals put the Crown Corporation up for sale a year later, Brown, the Premier top political advisor, denied breaking their election promise.

"I don't believe we sold BC Rail, we have a long-term lease," Brown said, though admitting the public perception is that the company was indeed sold. "We no longer owned the rolling stock, the cars, but the tracks, the rail bed and the right of way is owned by the government."

McCullough called the answer "spin" and said the operations of the company was sold.

"You promised not to sell BC Rail and that's exactly what you did," McCullough said.

He pointed to the HST as another broken promise, which Brown admitted the government had paid heavy political price over -- as the NDP's communications team feverishly scribbled away in the gallery.

McCullough then opened a new political can of worms, suggesting to the jury that Bobby Virk plans to testify that the Liberals put a "fix" on the sale to ensure CN Rail - whose CEO was Campbell's primary fundraiser in the 1996 election - ended up taking ownership of BC Rail.

Brown flatly denied the idea, saying the confidential bidding process used in the sale was fair and validated by third-party observers.

McCullough then suggested the government had created a "failure strategy" to ensure BC Rail lost money so that its sale would be easier to stomach for the public. The lawyer said BC Rail had recorded a surplus in 2001, the year the Liberals took office.

Brown said the company did make money that year, but was in heavy debt and was bleeding money over the long-term.

He strongly denied the suggestion of a government plot to drive the company under.

"I think that's absurd," he testified.

BC Rail's operations was eventually sold to CN Rail for $1 billion in 2004, after CP very publically pulled out of the bidding and called the process unfair. Virk and David Basi are accused of providing confidential government documents into the sale of BC Rail to another bidder, Colorado-based OmniTrax.

Matt Kieltyka reports for 24 Hours Vancouver.

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