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Life

The Lightning Rod Who Was a Pit Bull

New Dem Moe Sihota kept the press hopping. Latest in our 'Some Honourable Members' series.

By Tom Hawthorn 7 May 2013 | TheTyee.ca

Tom Hawthorn is writing about B.C. political history for The Tyee. Find his previous stories here.

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Illustration by Jessie Donaldson.

[Editor's note: This is the sixteenth in our "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.]

Every political dynasty in British Columbia boasts a grandstanding politician who serves as a headline-generating gaffe machine.

The W.A.C. Bennett Socreds had Phil Gaglardi. The Bill Bennett Socreds had Bill Vander Zalm. The Bill Vander Zalm Socreds had Bill Vander Zalm.

And the NDP had Moe Sihota.

Sihota was a pit bull in Opposition, a lightning rod for controversy in government.

In Opposition, he released transcripts of nine secretly recorded private telephone conversations involving the attorney general, who resigned. The tapes revealed Bud Smith making comments seeking to discredit a lawyer hired by the NDP. (The lawyer later sued for defamation, winning an out-of-court settlement.) The tapes also included pillow talk between Smith, who was married, and a television reporter, who wound up quitting her job. The tawdry scandal sullied all involved, including Sihota.

After the NDP formed government, Sihota twice resigned from cabinet posts only to be reinstated following conflict-of-interest allegations.

The first case followed an admission of professional misconduct. Sihota's father had died suddenly, leaving a large debt. Sihota, a lawyer, invested the funds of two clients in one of his family's businesses, a high-risk venture. Sihota erred in not advising them to seek independent legal advice. The Law Society of B.C. fined him $2,000 and suspended his licence to practice law for 18 months.

The second case involved his aggressive lobbying on behalf of a limousine company owned by a cousin and by Herb Dhaliwal, a friend and political ally. He resigned from cabinet, got a wrist slap from Premier Glen Clark, and returned to cabinet.

Oh, and somewhere in the middle of all this he lost cabinet responsibilities for the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia after his lead-footed driving practices became known. He had been ticketed seven times for speeding and accrued many demerit points since being given the public auto-insurance file.

After the NDP were decimated in the 2001 election, Sihota became a television host and pundit, while also pursuing business interests. He returned to politics four years ago when elected president of the party. A year later, it was revealed he was earning a salary as president paid for by some trade unions, a controversial arrangement.

Once, in the legislature, a member hissed at Sihota, calling him, "Sleazy Moe," an insult recorded by Hansard. The indecorous member? Premier Vander Zalm.  [Tyee]

Read more: BC Politics

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