After the auditor general's devastating report on the government's incompetence and negligence in removing vast tracts of prime Vancouver Island land from a tree farm licence, things shouldn't have got much worse.
Within hours, they did.
Current Forests Minister Pat Bell responded to the report as if he hadn't read a single word.
Instead of accepting the recommendations, or offering a fact-based rebuttal, he attacked Auditor General John Doyle, an Australian chosen for the independent post by a unanimous vote of the legislature. "If Mr. Doyle thinks this is the way we do business in Canada, he's dead wrong," Bell blustered.
It was a lame attempt to divert attention from the most damning auditor general's report since the fast ferry scandal.
And a written response from the ministry, while it raised some sound points, did nothing to refute the auditor general's main findings.
Last year, then forests minister Rich Coleman handed Western Forest Products a big gift. The international corporation wanted the government to release 70,000 acres, including prime real estate along the coast of Victoria, from tree farm licences.
The land had been protected as working forest and managed under the same rules as Crown land. In return, the government had provided extra harvesting rights on Crown land.
Getting the land out of the tree farm licence meant up to $200 million in windfall gains for WFP, which could sell it for real estate development, export more raw logs and work to lower environmental standards.
But for communities, the change meant loss of wildlife habitat, green space and other economic opportunities.
All development planning became irrelevant when Coleman signed the deal and what had been 280 square kilometres of protected green space was opened for subdivisions.
The auditor general found Coleman made the decision without knowing how much the deal was worth to the corporation. He didn't seek compensation - normal in such deals - because he wanted to company to get all the benefits.
Coleman thought Western Forest Product needed the money to strengthen its balance sheet.
But he didn't how much it needed, or whether other sources besides the taxpayers were available or what Western Forest Products would do with the windfall.
And he made the decision without any consultation with affected communities or other stakeholders and without information on the costs to the public.
Coleman got a five-page briefing note from the ministry and said OK. He's never offered any explanation beyond saying the company needed the money and supporting it was good for the coastal forest industry. But Coleman could never produce an analysis or cost-benefit study to justify the decision.
In fact, the auditor general asked Coleman for a meeting as part of his reviews so he could understand the minister's thinking. Coleman refused. (Which makes Bell's bluster more ridiculous.)
The auditor general found the removal was made "without sufficient regard for the public interest."
The government failed to do the most basic due diligence to see if the company really did need assistance.
And the watchdog found the government failed to make any effort to assess whether the gift to the corporation would be of any public benefit, whether in protecting forest jobs or in some other area.
Coleman had made the decision based on a five-page briefing note, which Doyle found was "incomplete" and "did not make a persuasive case for allowing the land removal."
The option of compensation wasn't even considered in the material.
"There was no explanation of how allowing the land removal was in the public interest," the report found.
And Coleman was ultimately responsible.
"The minister was the final check in the process and the statutory decision-maker but, given the importance of the decision, he did not do enough to ensure that due regard was given to the public interest," the auditor general concluded.
It's a devastating report, one that finds both incompetence and negligence.
Footnote: Bell's bizarre reaction included a complaint that there were no recommendations in the report, as if a call for basic competence and diligence was not enough.
Coleman's place in cabinet should be in count as a result of the report, particularly given the sensitivity of his new role responsible for welfare and services for the disabled.
Premier Gordon Campbell also faces some tough questions about his role.