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Railgate? Asked and Answered, Says Clark

Premier calls me out as she rejects Basi-Virk inquiry. Yet questions do persist.

Bill Tieleman 29 Nov

Bill Tieleman is a regular Tyee contributor who writes a column on B.C. politics every Tuesday in 24 Hours newspaper. E-mail him here or visit his blog.

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Raid on legislature, Dec. 28, 2003.

"I think it would probably come up with some conclusions that would clear up a lot of myths that people like Bill Tieleman might like to perpetuate." -- Premier Christy Clark on a B.C. Legislature Raid inquiry

Christy Clark still rejects holding an inquiry into the biggest political scandal in recent B.C. history -- about two ex-BC Liberal ministerial aides passing confidential government information on the $1-billion sale of BC Rail to lobbyists for one bidder.

The premier claimed Thursday there are no questions to be answered after last year's surprise guilty pleas of ex-government aides David Basi and Bob Virk.

And Clark says an inquiry wouldn't embarrass her, but would actually clear up myths that I'm allegedly spreading.

Clark was deputy premier at the time of the deal, when police raided the B.C. legislature in December 2003 with an unprecedented search warrant to obtain evidence -- and her own brother Bruce's home was also searched by police, because of his links to Basi and Virk.

The BC Liberal government paid Basi and Virk's $6-million legal fees despite their admission of guilt, as part of the plea bargain deal that ended their trial after just two of an estimated 40 witnesses -- including possibly Christy Clark herself -- had testified.

But in response to a question I posed for Shaw Cable's Voice Of B.C. last Thursday, Clark told host Vaughn Palmer it would be "really expensive" to hold an inquiry to get to the truth -- so she won't.

The idea that there are no questions to be answered is absurd.

Instead of "myths," we actually have some cold, hard facts that many people would likely wish to see further examined.

Statements of fact

For example, a joint "Statement of Facts" entered in B.C. Supreme Court by special prosecutor Bill Berardino and defence lawyers for Basi and Virk says the police search of Bruce Clark's home found confidential government bidding information about a related BC Rail privatization effort.

Basi and Virk pled guilty to breach of trust and fraud in part because of their role in illegally passing information to Bruce Clark -- who was never charged -- about the proposed $70 million sale of the BC Rail Port Subdivision in Roberts Bank.

The Statement of Facts reads: "With respect to Count 10 of the Indictment and in relation to the Port Subdivision bidding process, the RCMP seized a number of documents from Bruce Clark's office and residence, which Basi and Virk disclosed to Bruce Clark between Jan. 1, 2003 and Dec. 28, 2003."

"Two examples of the documents that Basi and Virk improperly disclosed to Clark are:

"a) The draft Request for Proposals for the Port Subdivision bidding process, which was received by Clark prior to the RFP being finalized by the Evaluation Committee; and

"b) A 'confidential presentation' made by TD Securities to the Evaluation Committee dated Oct. 14, 2003 containing a detailed economic analysis of what BC Rail considered to be the value of the Port Subdivision."

Christy Clark has acknowledged Bruce Clark played an undetermined role in her BC Liberal leadership campaign, but has declined requests from The Tyee to explain his duties, which weren't mythical.

Bruce Clark has not spoken to media at any point about his role in either the BC Rail situation or his sister's campaign.

Clark points to Toope report

Christy Clark has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing in the BC Rail case and police have said no cabinet ministers were investigated.

In a 2004 police interview with Erik Bornmann -- a lobbyist for losing BC Rail bidder OmniTRAX who turned into the key Crown witness against Basi and Virk -- he claims he discussed his client's bid with Christy Clark and other cabinet ministers.

"We were very interested to see what cabinet ministers we could count on as being allies for our bid. We've expected Gary Collins, Christy Clark, Rick Thorpe to be supportive simply on account at the meetings that we had with them and some follow-up, some follow-up conversations," Bornmann says in the police transcript that was released by the courts after a media disclosure application filed by the Globe and Mail newspaper and CTV. Collins was then-finance minister and Thorpe competition minister.

Later, Bornmann elaborates.

"I had a conversation with Christy Clark and with Bobby Virk and Dave Basi separately and Dwight was, Dwight Johnson [OmniTRAX executive] was in the regular habit of wanting information on the BC Rail process," Bornmann said.

"I'd met Christy, I'm, as you know, friends and acquaintances with Christy's husband [now ex-husband Mark Marissen] and I'd a, I'd sort of broached the topic I mean, just trying to recall, I broached the topic or I promised Brian [Bornmann lobbyist partner Brian Kieran] that I'd broach the topic of BC Rail with Christy but I didn't receive, didn't receive anything terribly useful from her just a, Basi and Virk would have obviously have a, provided me with information on whatever was taking place, but Christy wasn't providing any information beyond what politicians tell people," Bornmann told police.

Clark says she is proud of a "great report" she requested by University of B.C. president Stephen Toope into her government's payment of legal fees to Basi and Virk without any effort to recover those funds when they pled guilty.

The report, Clark says, will "make the process better" in dealing with public servants facing criminal charges in the future.

But regardless of Toope's esteemed role as a senior professor of law and well-deserved reputation, there is also the fact that UBC receives hundreds of millions of dollars from the provincial budget each year. If Clark had wanted to pick a person with no ties to government spending, she could have done so.

Clark also could have asked Toope to investigate why Basi and Virk's legal fees were exempted from repayment when they pled guilty. But she didn't.

Questions not yet answered

B.C. auditor general John Doyle -- who is independent of government -- is also investigating the Basi-Virk payments and has been forced to go to court to gain access to government documents.

Doyle's report may eventually provide some limited answers, but is more likely to raise new questions about what happened.

A key one is why the defence alleged for years that a "consolation prize" -- the Roberts Bank port-subdivision rail line -- was to be offered by the government to OmniTRAX in exchange for the company staying in the bidding after CP Rail and Burlington Northern Sante Fe Railroad both quit, saying the process was tainted?

The reality for Clark is that unless and until some independent inquiry is held to address such questions that a full trial may have answered, the BC Legislature Raid case will continue to smell like bad cheese in the fridge.

David Basi has called for a public inquiry, in an exclusive interview with 24 Hours and The Tyee in February.

"I want everything released, all the transcripts of the wiretaps -- not just snippets -- let's get it all out," Basi told. "I have consistently called for all documents in this case to be released and for a public inquiry, which I will fully cooperate with."

But the one person who could call an inquiry isn't going to do so.

Here's Clark's exchange with Vaughn Palmer after my question was posed to her.

Palmer: "But the difference between your party and the NDP at the moment is -- Adrian Dix was on the show just recently, he says there still needs to be a public inquiry into BC Rail and your position is we don't need one."

Clark: "Yeah, my position is two people were convicted and I think people want to move on. It was a hugely expensive process and I think people want to move on from it because I don't know that there's a whole lot more to learn in the thing -- you know, two people were found guilty, by the courts. And so, you know, let's not throw any more good money after bad on this.

"We are struggling to try and find resources for all the things that we need to do already in British Columbia so you know, we're in really tough financial times, the world is in economic turmoil. We have to make sure we are lookin' after people in British Columbia and frankly I think that if, you know..."

Palmer: "You don't think that a public inquiry in this case would embarrass you?"

Clark: "Well, no I don't! Absolutely not! Absolutely not! And in fact I think it would probably come up with some conclusions that would clear up a lot of myths that people like Bill Tieleman might like to perpetuate.

"But the thing is it would be really expensive and I don't know that there are any more answers to be found out there."

When Clark says Basi and Virk were "found guilty by the courts," a more precise way to say it is that they pled guilty by their own admission in a deal negotiated by their lawyers with the Crown.

But the larger point is that finding out what really happened is not throwing good money after bad -- it is an essential part of democratic accountability.

If you believe an inquiry is needed, join my Basi-Virk Public Inquiry page on Facebook.

[Tags: Politics.]  [Tyee]

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