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BC Politics

Coleman Claims Parliamentary Privilege to Avoid Giving Evidence in Nanaimo Trial

Plaintiffs wanted former minister to explain 2008 email on TimberWest sale.

By Andrew MacLeod 7 Feb 2019 | TheTyee.ca

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria and the author of All Together Healthy (Douglas & McIntyre, 2018). Find him on Twitter or reach him at

Former forest minister Rich Coleman has won his fight to avoid testifying in a trial under way in Nanaimo.

Andrew Crabtree, one of the lawyers for plaintiff Ted LeRoy Trucking Ltd., said they won’t press in court to have Coleman appear.

Based on recent precedent, such a bid is unlikely to be successful, acknowledged Andrew Crabtree, one of the lawyers acting for the plaintiffs.

Coleman could testify, but is choosing not to provide evidence, Crabtree said.

“There’s nothing in law preventing him from attending, notwithstanding his claim of parliamentary privilege,” he said, “and his reliance on parliamentary privilege as a bar to testifying arose just recently.”

The suit filed in B.C. Supreme Court alleges that the defendants — TimberWest Forest Corp., two associated companies and three senior TimberWest officials, including former CEO Paul McElligott — deliberately drove Ted LeRoy Trucking, a major contractor for TimberWest, into bankruptcy. The case alleges TimberWest wanted to get out of contracts with the company.

The plaintiffs want Coleman to testify because documents suggest he helped TimberWest, which was then publicly traded and having financial trouble, find a buyer. At the time Coleman was the province’s forest minister.

“Have a green light,” Coleman wrote to then TimberWest CEO McElligott in a May 8, 2008, email. “Need to meet on implementation. Made the sale, not sure they understand what they bought but they did. The roll out will be critical. Also have a reluctant partner in the east. They will play when pushed.”

Lawyers examined Coleman under oath in the summer and had discussed when he would be called as a witness.

But in a Jan. 24 letter on government letterhead, lawyer Darcie Suntjens argued that a sitting MLA can’t be compelled to appear in court while the legislature is in session.

Suntjens cited parliamentary privilege, a form of legal protection intended to allow elected officials to fulfill their duties.

The legislature stopped sitting at the end of November and isn’t scheduled to resume sitting until Feb. 12. Coleman, a Liberal MLA, sits in opposition.

Suntjens said in her letter that while the legislature is adjourned, it is still technically in session and therefore Coleman can’t be compelled to testify even if he is available.

Coleman has been quoted saying his testimony was wanted because of a “conspiracy that didn’t exist” and that “I had no involvement in it at all.”

TimberWest was sold in 2011 to two funds that manage pension money for public sector employees.

One was the BC Investment Management Corp., a provincial government agency that manages $136 billion for about 569,000 current and former public sector employees, according to its website. Now known as BCI, it is supposed to operate free from political interference.

The other buyer was the Public Sector Pension Investment Board, now known as PSP Investments, which manages pension money for members of the federal public service, the RCMP and the Canadian Armed Forces.

The former CEO of BCI, Doug Pearce, testified this week that the agency was set up to be independent and that he never had conversations with Coleman about TimberWest or anything else. “No, I don’t know Rich Coleman.”

He acknowledged that BCI was aware of the $5 million to $15 million per year that the company could save by changing how it used contractors, but said it was one factor among many. “I don’t think it was ever a condition of any closing or any deal at all,” Pearce said. “There were other, bigger material issues that were pivotal to this transaction.”

Larger considerations would have included the amount of land that TimberWest owned and whether it could be sold as real estate, as well as the trend in the number of housing starts in the United States. In 2008 when BCI was looking at TimberWest, everything was crashing, he said.

The trial began Jan. 22 and is scheduled for 40 days in court.  [Tyee]

Read more: BC Politics

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