Sure, a lot was happening in the Liberals' first term. But it's hard to see why a Crown corporation had to pay $297,000 to a Liberal insider for help understanding the new government.
Surely picking up the phone and calling Premier Gordon Campbell could have worked just as well.
The New Democrats has been asking a lot of questions about why B.C. Rail paid almost $300,000 to the consulting companies of Patrick Kinsella between 2002 and 2005. They haven't been getting answers.
Kinsella is as well-connected as they come. He's been involved in politics, mostly behind the scenes, for three decades. He has run successful provincial election campaigns for the Socreds and was co-chair of the 2001 and 2005 Liberal campaigns. One of the company's executives managed Gordon Campbell's own campaign.
And his companies have done very well for - and presumably by - companies seeking to have government see things their way.
Sean Holman of publiceyeonline.com used an FOI request to obtain documents from Washington state, where the Progressive Group, one of Kinsella's firms, was seeking a contract.
The company identified successes in winning government decisions worth more than $2 billion to its clients. Progressive helped Accenture "promote and educate the B.C. government of the value of outsourcing a number of the government services," the firm said. That resulted in a 10-year, $1.45-billion deal to take over most of B.C. Hydro's administrative functions.
It helped Alcan persuade the government of the value of a Kitimat smelter expansion; that deal included a new power agreement worth some $1 billion to the corporation. The deal was so rich for Alcan - and so unfair to B.C. Hydro's customers - that the B.C. Utilities Commission overturned it.
Progressive helped the film industry get additional tax breaks worth $65 million a year and persuaded the provincial government - through the Forest Ministry - to contribute $15 million toward a new public-private arena in Langley.
Corporations or individuals are free to hire consultants to help them figure out how best to align their goals with the aims of government. And it could be argued that the best advice might come from those with the closest ties to the politicians and party in power.
Certainly Kinsella's companies have advised an impressive roster of corporations and industries in the province. Plutonic Power, which has a controversial megaproject planned for Bute Inlet rivers, has used him as an adviser. A major payday loan company, gambling companies, ING Canada - it's an impressive list. (Credit to Holman for the diligent research.)
And, of course, B.C. Rail.
The difference in this case is that the Crown corporation was paying Kinsella's company with taxpayers' money.
The NDP raised the issue repeatedly in the legislature last week. There was the usual partisan posturing, but the fundamental questions were legitimate.
What did the companies do for the money? Was there an open tender process? Were the Kinsella companies' ties to the Liberals a factor in the decision?
Premier Gordon Campbell and Attorney General Wally Oppal refused to answer. Oppal said the contract might be relevant to the B.C. Rail corruption trial inching its way through the courts and he wouldn't comment.
That seemed implausible; the consulting payments weren't released as part of evidence in the case. They were in public B.C. Rail documents.
But on Thursday, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Bennett noted the revelations during a pre-trial hearing. Defence lawyer Kevin McCulloch, representing Bob Virk, one of three government aides charged in the case, reminded her of an e-mail that appears to refer to the payments. "It's the backroom Liberal e-mail," he said.
And Kinsella's company than responded with a news release saying it had been hired to help B.C. Rail understand the Liberals "core review" of government activities.
But the questions remain, including the basic one - why would a Crown corporation need to pay a consultant to help it understand the government of the day?
Footnote: Kinsella embarrassed the government last fall when Information Commissioner David Loukidelis launched an investigation into allegations he had acted as a lobbyist without registering, as required by the lobbying laws. Kinsella's lawyers told Loukidelis the law didn't give him authority to investigate and their client wouldn't co-operate voluntarily.