Raid Warrants Crack Pandora's Box

Speculation is now fact, portending persistent trouble for the B.C. Rail deal, Finance Minister Collins and the Liberals.

By Barbara McLintock 2 Mar 2004 |

Barbara McLintock, a regular contributor to The Tyee, is a freelance writer and consultant based in Victoria and author of Anorexia’s Fallen Angel.

The Tyee.caThe official information made public about the search warrants that police executed at the legislative buildings was more remarkable for what it doesn't contain than for what it does. Perhaps more precisely, it is more remarkable for the hints it drops about wrongdoing that may be disclosed at a still unknown date in the future. Those hints are strong enough Finance Minister Gary Collins, for one, must surely be hoping he'll be somewhere far from the B.C. legislature when the Pandora's Box is finally opened.The carefully edited document made public by Special Prosecutor Bill Berardino did not tell British Columbians who have followed the case carefully much that they did not already know. What it did do, however, was to lend official credibility to what has previously been a measured series of leaks, rumours and speculation. The rumours have swirled around the legislature and various media outlets since the search warrants were executed by a combined team of RCMP and Victoria City Police officers on Dec. 28 .The official confirmation means that government officials can no longer defend their actions - or their lack of actions - on the grounds that it would be unreasonable to act solely on the basis of "speculation." Although there are many areas still wide open for speculation, on many of the key issues that door has now been firmly shut.Officially on recordIt is now officially on the record  of the B.C. Supreme Court that:. The RCMP is investigating issues of influence-peddling and breach of the public trust.. The B.C. government's computer system server was the subject of a search warrant, as well as the homes and offices long since made public - and that server yielded the equivalent of 97 CDs worth of electronic information.. The heart of the investigation is very clearly whether corruption occurred in connection with PROVINCIAL government business. (Interestingly, despite the amount of speculation that has swirled around the role of the FEDERAL Liberals and particularly Paul Martin's B.C. campaign team, no specific mention is made of federal activity in Berardino's document.). One specific question being investigated is whether a person politely identified only as "Lobbyist 1 "offered to facilitate promotion prospects or employment opportunities for two other persons politely identified as "Official 1" and "Official 2." (The document names no individuals. However, Official 1 is a person whose office at the legislature and home were both searched. The only person who meets that definition is David Basi, then ministerial assistant to Collins, but fired the day after the police raids. Official 2 is the other person whose office at the legislature was searched. The only person who meets that definition is Bob Virk, then ministerial assistant to Transportation Minister Judith Reid. He has since been suspended from his job by the government. The lobbying firm that said publicly that its offices had been targeted is Pilothouse Communications.). As has been suspected for two months, the privatization of B.C. Rail is one issue under investigation. However, it is not clear whether that is the only issue as the document states that the RCMP is investigating the possibility of influence-peddling "in connection with government business, including B.C. Rail." That leaves open the possibility that other government decisions could also be questionable.. One aspect of the investigation whether Basi and/or Virk "passed unauthorized confidential information to persons interested in government business" with some benefit being given to them in return.. The whole probe appears to have started with Basi (Official 1), whom, it would seem, was under investigation on the basis of other information. "The criminal investigation of Official 1 initially concerned proceeds of crime and corruption," Berardino's document says. It stresses that no criminal charges have yet been laid in that file either, but notes it is tied to two other numbered court files. "During that initial investigation, Official 2 and L1 became persons of interest."Campbell: It's about Basi's 'personal' dealingsOne of Collins's concerns must be the question of just what that original probe entails. It's not clear whether it involves provincial or federal politics, or something entirely different. It does, however, sound highly unsavory. And Collins cannot escape the fact that he was Basi's mentor, he was one who persuaded the government to hire Basi for the job of ministerial assistant, and he was the one with whom Basi worked closely for more than two years in the sensitive office of finance minister.The document also notes that the information the RCMP used to obtain the search warrants includes the steps taken "to complete subject profiles" of both the officials and of the lobbyist. Those documents too could prove difficult for the government to deal with.The Liberal premier and cabinet were doing their best to put a good spin on the information yesterday, but the damage control was a struggle. Premier Gordon Campbell's statements were perhaps the most remarkable. He continued to tout the government line that the affair dealt only with the "personal" dealings of Basi, and not with his government at all. This is the sort of defence that is now much harder to swallow, given that Berardino's document states directly that the primary focus of the investigation is indeed the business of the provincial government.Finance Minister Collins was somewhat more circumspect in his remarks. He admitted that "it's not a good day for government" when documents likeBerardino's were released, but he still steadfastly defended the sale of B.C. Rail to CN Rail. It seems quite clear, he said, that the company that might be involved in any influence-peddling in that deal, the company that had used Pilothouse as its lobbying firm, was not in fact the winning bidder, CN Rail. Thus, he argued, whatever problems may have occurred, the sale was actually based on who had the best bid, not who tried to buy influence in the decision-making process.Collins won't go like HoggCollins had a tougher time when he faced questions as to why he should be allowed to stay on in cabinet when former Children and Family Development Minister Gordon Hogg had felt he had no choice but to resign when scandal erupted in his ministry. He said it was right for Hogg to resign because the appointment of a special auditor had made it abundantly clear there were significant problems within the ministry. The implication was that problems were not so severe in his ministry. That is none too easy to swallow, given that Berardino's document has tied the probe directly to not only offices, but specific policy deals being inked in or through his office.Most cautious of all was Solicitor General Rich Coleman who declined to comment on the contents of the document at all, although he too was prepared to argue that the government's integrity had not been damaged.But all of them must be having a tense and nervous time these days. No matter what they say, it is obvious from Berardino's summary that the field around the Campbell government remains littered with land-mines. And no one is sure just which of them may blow up in the days leading up to the 2005 election.Barbara McLintock is Victoria-based contributing editor to The Tyee.  [Tyee]

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