Thursday, May 06, 2010

Kash Heed affair gets worse and worse

With the Kash Heed mess, the Liberal government has stumbled closer to the abyss that swallowed the NDP regime in 2001.
Heed stepped down as solicitor general April 9, after RCMP officers said they wanted to question him about Elections Act violations during his campaign.
On Tuesday, a special prosecutor recommended charges against Heed's campaign manager, his financial agent and a supporter.
The charges include allegations that they sent a flyer smearing the NDP without revealing the Liberals' role, failed to report the election expense and obstructed justice in an attempted cover-up.
But special prosecutor Terence Robertson said Heed could not have been expected to know anything about the dirty tricks. He was exonerated.
The timing becomes important here.
Sometime the next day - Wednesday - Premier Gordon Campbell decided Heed should be re-appointed solicitor general.
That was unwise. Heed's senior campaign managers faced serious charges. Their evidence had not been heard. His narrow election victory is tainted.
It was a situation that should have called for careful consideration.
But Campbell, in Europe, decided to go ahead. At "approximately 4 o'clock," Attorney General Mike de Jong told the legislature, Heed accepted Campbell's invitation to take up his old job.
"Within a few moments," de Jong said, Robertson dropped a bombshell. He resigned as special prosecutor. His law firm had donated $1,000 to Heed's campaign (and thousands more to the Liberals).
Robertson said he knew about the donation and the RCMP had asked him about a potential conflict of interest. But he only decided to act on the concerns after he had exonerated Heed.
The conflict should have been obvious. Someone who helped fund a politician's election campaign shouldn't be deciding whether potentially career-ending charges are justified. Equally, the government should have known that it would be wrong to go ahead with Heed's return to cabinet.
But it didn't act. Heed was sworn in around 8 p.m. despite the obvious problems. Ineptitude or arrogance? Or was THE government unable to function because of a dependence on Campbell, sleeping through the early morning hours in Europe?
There's no good explanation, as de Jong revealed in the legislature this week. The New Democrats pounced, of course. They went too far in slagging the Liberals - de Jong's unhappiness with all this is real.
But the main points were valid. The special prosecutor system was established to avoid the perception of a conflict of interest in political cases. The fear was that a Crown prosecutor might be suspected of being soft on powerful government figures who could decide his career future.
Yet it failed. A Liberal partisan was named to assess election campaign violations. And although campaign donations are online, no one noticed and Robertson apparently didn't tell anyone.
And even when that was revealed, Heed was re-appointed. He stepped down 13 hours later. But the re-appointment to cabinet should not have happened.
All this wrangling is significant, but dwarfed by the underlying issue.
In the last days of the 2009 campaign, a mailer went to households. It was in Chinese and English and hit hot buttons for the Chinese-Canadian community - about 40 per cent of the population in the Vancouver-Fraserview riding.
The flyer said the NDP would legalize heroin and prostitution and impose an inheritance tax. The flyer claims were false.
NDP candidate Gabriel Yiu lost by 748 votes.
No one admitted sending the flyer. The Heed campaign specifically denied having any role.
The special prosecutor believes that is not true and that the Heed campaign violated the election laws on the way to a narrow victory.
Which does not necessarily have anything to do with Heed. But it still taints his election, something Heed, Campbell and the Liberals have not acknowledged.
Heed might well turn out to be the victim in all this, a political Nemo swimming with sharks. His election could be overturned if the courts and Election B.C. finds the flyer pushed the campaign over spending limits
But the Liberals look like buffoons, willfully blind to serious scandal.
Footnote: Two other issues are of note.
Heed's campaign manager, Barinder Sall, is a strong Liberal supporter and former Liberal ministerial assistant. If the charges are proven, the party faces questions about campaign integrity.
And the independence of other special prosecutors in other cases is now being examined. Robertson recommended against illegal lobbying charges against former Campbell aide Ken Dobell. The Vancouver Sun reported at least seven other special prosecutors or their law firms had donated to the Liberals.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Victoria police face questions in woman's death

This is a case worth watching.
The mistrial isn't the issue.
While it's early in the process and the information is limited, the report indicates that in the hours after a young woman died, Victoria police worked hard to make sure a suspect had a lawyer, rather than simply ensuring he understood his rights and pursuing the investigation.
Police might have been simply ensuring any evidence could not be challenged because the suspect's rights had been violated.
But it seems a considerable effort, one not usual in such cases.

HST turning into a political disaster

Finance Minister Colin Hansen's uncharacteristically snarky reaction to an Elections BC ban on a government campaign to sell the HST is a sign the Liberals are worried.
The Campbell government forced the HST bill through the legislature last week, using closure to shut down debate. All the Liberal MLAs, who ran on a platform rejecting the new tax, voted in favour. All New Democrats and Independent Vicki Huntington were opposed.
The broken promise not to bring in the tax and the widespread belief that the Liberals kept their real plans secret during the election campaign have turned into a devastating political issue.
The anti-HST initiative campaign led by former Bill Vander Zalm appears to be going strongly.
The legislation allowing British Columbians to petition for a referendum sets what most saw as an impossible threshold. In opposition, Gordon Campbell said the New Democrat legislation was designed to ensure initiative efforts would fail and promised changes. (That never happened.)
But opponents of the HST, or people just angry at a government that promised one thing and did the opposite, are flocking to sign the initiative petitions.
The task is still huge; 10 per cent of people on the voters' list for the last election must sign for the initiative calling for a referendum on the HST to succeed.
Even then, the result is uncertain. Provincial and federal governments signed the deal in November (six months after the election campaign in which the Liberals ruled out introducing the tax).
Hansen was testy after Elections BC said the government's plan to spend more than $2 million on a mailer defending the new tax would break the law.
The act is designed to keep rich special interests from buying legislative change. Interest groups - and the government is an interest group - must register and can't spend more than $5,000.
Hansen said the ruling was unfair. The government would normally send out ad material about the budget.
But Sean Holman reported on that Elections BC raised its concerns by April 22 after the public affairs sought an opinion.
And the independent office that protects the integrity of voting in B.C. didn't rule against a budget mailing, just the sales job on the HST.
The tax betrayal has been damaging for the Liberals, leaving them looking either dishonest or incompetent. Dishonest if they promised not to introduce the tax while secretly planning to move ahead. Incompetent if they had been rejecting a change that Hansen now says is the single best thing that can be done for the B.C. economy.
Basically, the HST will cut taxes for businesses by $1.9 billion a year and increase the taxes paid by individuals and families by the same amount - something like $460 a year per person.
That's good for business and encourages investment in the province. The government maintains that's good for you, despite the higher tax bill. Businesses might pass on their lower taxes in price cuts. They might need more employees. They might have to raise wages to attract good people.
Or they might pocket the tax cuts and invest in machines that reduce the number of people they need to employ.
The Liberals needed to address those concerns before they imposed the tax, not after.
It's not just that 82 per cent of British Columbians oppose the tax, according to an Angus Reid poll. The poll found 64 per cent of people believed the Liberals were uncaring; a majority believed them to be dishonest.
And it put NDP support at 47 per cent of voters, far greater than the Liberals' 29 per cent.
Grim days for Campbell and company, especially for the Liberals who hoped to succeed him and are now tainted by the doubts about HST honesty.
Whether the HST initiative succeeds or evolves into a recall effort against vulnerable Liberal MLAs, the government faces a legitimacy crisis.
Footnote: Former finance minister Carole Taylor added to the Liberals' woes last week. She repeated her opposition to the tax shift on to consumers. And the "bigger issue," she said, is that the Liberals "promised that they would not - they would not - do the harmonization of the sales tax. And then right after the election, decided to do it."