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Campbell's Own Watergate?

Alleged bribes and dirty tricks, and now erased emails. Sound familiar?

By Bill Tieleman 30 Jun 2009 | TheTyee.ca

Bill Tieleman is a regular Tyee contributor who writes a column on B.C. politics every Tuesday in 24 Hours newspaper. Tieleman can be heard Mondays at 10 a.m. on the Bill Good Show on CKNW AM 980 or at www.cknw.com. E-mail him at weststar@telus.net or visit his blog.

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'Records that should be kept under the law have been kept.'

You must pursue this investigation of Watergate even if it leads to the president. I'm innocent. You've got to believe I'm innocent. If you don't, take my job. -- Richard Nixon

Consider this: a B.C. premier who says he's fully cooperating with the investigation even as tens of thousands of emails spanning four years are erased or simply vanish before defence lawyers in a political corruption trial can obtain them.

It's as though Rose Mary Woods, Nixon's secretary who erased 18 minutes of secret tapes, is still alive and working in Victoria.

Two years after the defence requests the emails in a legal application, a government lawyer admits they have disappeared without a trace.

A former senior deputy minister to the premier who admits publicly that when it comes to his own emails: "I delete the stuff all the time as fast as I can."

Government political staff members who allegedly direct dirty tricks -- like phony protests and paid callers to talk radio shows -- right out of the premier's office.

A senior government ministerial aide who is allegedly paid on the side by the B.C. Liberal Party to conduct dirty tricks.

A former top political aide to both federal and provincial Liberal Party governments who turns lobbyist and allegedly bribes ministerial assistants to obtain confidential information about a $1 billion privatization.

Can anyone spell Watergate?

Campbell: Law was kept

The parallels between the actions of the Gordon Campbell B.C. Liberal government and the Richard Nixon White House appear to be increasingly, disturbingly strong.

Last week Campbell broke from his usual pattern of not commenting on the corruption charges case against former ministerial aides David Basi and Bob Virk and former communications aide Aneal Basi to comment on the disclosure that emails from 2001 to 2005 between cabinet ministers, MLAs and staff regarding B.C. Rail had either been erased or just disappeared.

"The records that should be kept under the law have been kept," Campbell said, without explaining how the missing emails could disappear despite the Documents Disposal Act that requires they be kept for seven years and only destroyed if specific permission is granted by a special committee.

'May be no explanation': BC gov't lawyer

Consider that Basi and Virk were both charged with breach of trust in 2004 in connection with the November, 2003 sale of B.C. Rail and after the unprecedented December, 2003 police raid on the B.C. Legislature.

And yet the government emails were not secured, despite their obvious potential relevance to the defence, which argues that the two aides were following the orders of political superiors.

"There may be no explanation. No filing system is perfect," B.C. government lawyer George Copley said in the B.C. Supreme Court about the loss of records.

Aside from Basi and Virk, what if potential B.C. Rail buyers like Canadian Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe -- who dropped out of the bidding because they believed it was "unfair" -- had sued the government over the process?

Would those missing emails have been critical to their legal success and what would a judge say about them disappearing?

There is one possible explanation -- that the Basi-Virk case feels more and more like Watergate.  [Tyee]

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