Wednesday, April 05, 2006

A quick guide to the legislature raid twists and turns

VICTORIA - Things are getting weirder and weirder in the great legislature raid case, with a fresh wave of information and even new influence-peddling charges.
Claims that top Liberal political aides were flown to an NFL game by lobbyists, and that developers paid big money to get property eased out of the Agricultural Land Reserve - it all sounds like a plot for a bad movie.
So what’s happened, and what does it mean?
First - and this is important - start with the recognition that none of this new information is proven fact. It comes mostly from the affidavits that RCMP officers swore to get search warrants from the courts. They outlined their evidence and their suspicions, and the court gave them the go-ahead to seize bank records. Dave Basi, the former ministerial aide to then finance minister Gary Collins, denies any wrongdoing. The case won’t be tested the first trial starts, likely in June.
But that doesn’t mean that the information should be ignored. The questions raised are real and serious.
The RCMP allege that lobbyist Eric Bornman paid Basi about $24,000 over the course of a year for information, documents and steering clients his way. The two men knew each other well; both were active in the Paul Martin wing of the federal Liberal party.
Bornman, now starting a career as a lawyer, hasn’t been charged. He provided the police with information when they came calling and will be a prosecution witness
Police also alleged Basi and his cousin Bobby Virk - assistant to the transportation minister Judith Reid - went with their spouses to Denver in 2002 and watched an NFL game. They sat with Gary Rennick, a top exec with OmniTRAX, then a bidder for BC Rail.
And, police say, lobbyist Brian Kieran, a former political columnist and lobbyist for OmniTRAX, paid for the trip. Kieran was a partner with Bornman in Pilothouse Public Affairs. He’s also expected to testify.
Basi and Virk already face fraud and breach of trust charges.
But this week the special prosecutor laid new charges against Basi and two Victoria developers. The men - Tony Young and Jim Duncan - allegedly paid Basi $50,000 to help get property in Sooke out of the Agricultural Land Reserve for a $175-million housing development.
The good news for the government is that the charges are all limited to actions by Basi and Virk. No politicians have been involved in the investigations.
The damage done - at least in the narrowest of terms - is relatively minor. (Taxpayers lost $1 million when Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon cancelled the sale of a BC Rail spur line because the deal may have been compromised.)
But that didn’t stop the NDP from raising legitimate questions once the latest news broke.
The allegations of interference in the agricultural land reserve decision, and the other newly revealed payments, raise questions that go beyond the BC Rail deal, said Carole James. What has the government done to ensure that no other decisions were affected?
The answer seemed to be not very much. Lands Minister Pat Bell said the RCMP told him no one at the Agricultural Land Commission was under investigation. He hadn’t asked his staff to look at any other decisions to make sure things were fine.
And Attorney General Wally Oppal just kept saying that since the matter was before the courts, people should quit asking questions.
That’s not really good enough. It is important to respect the fact that no one has been proven guilty of anything.
But that doesn’t mean the government can’t account for what it and hasn’t done to ensure that the public interest wasn’t compromised. (Although some NDP questions did come close to convicting Basi before he had a chance to defend himself.)
The big questions aren’t really going to be answered until the case works its way through the courts.
Footnote: The NDP has been asking the government to refer its flawed Lobbyist Registration Act to a legislative committee for review. This case shows that should happen. The act - while a very positive step - isn’t ensuring that the public has access to the needed information about the role of lobbyists. The best way to fix that is by involving MLAs.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Using the old"It's before the courts" argument is reachig the stage that the opposition isn't about to get anything out of Wally the ex Judge. But as Mike Smyth mentioned in the Province today, the Liberals had no problem attacking Glenn Clark after his house was raided, or when some of the NDP staffers were found to be involved with bingo gate. What a bunch of two faced people.
Wally says his door is always open if someone wants to show reasons to change the lobbyist Act The opposition says. The place to do such things is in the legislature by committee. This will take a while to die down. Old Stan is besides himself with joy and thumping Walley on the shoulder hopeing no one will ask him any questions. Because of course Stan has no sensible answers