Thursday, May 03, 2012

Van Dongen raises a good question about the BC Rail scandal legal deal

I might have considered MLA John van Dongen's questions on the $6-million payment of the legal fees of  Dave Basi and Bob Virk in the B.C. Rail scandal a fishing expedition.
But Attorney General Shirley Bond's failure to provide answers suggests he might be on to something.
Van Dongen, now a Conservative after leaving the Liberals, asked Bond a straightforward question.
The government's position is that the decision was made by deputy finance minister Graham Whitmarsh, who had the legal ability to release Basi and Virk from their commitment to cover the $6 million if they were found guilty.
But deputy ministers don't have unlimited power to spend taxpayers' dollars.
Van Dongen asked which section of the Financial Administration Act gives the deputy minister the power to make that decision without authorization from cabinet or elected officials.
And Bond couldn't come up with one, although the government surely must have prepared for every possible question on the B.C. Rail scandal.
Van Dongen noted "The act sets out very specific limits for the forgiveness and extinguishments of debts owing the provincial government." That's sensible. A manager shouldn't have the power to let people or companies abandon their debts to the province without checks and balances.
So where in the act is the the deputy minister given the power to forgive a $6 million promise to pay legal fees, he asked?
Bond couldn't, or wouldn't answer, except with an unsupported clam the authority is somewhere in the act.
Maybe she reflected a general government approach of refusing to provide specific answers to any questions.
Or maybe van Dongen has identified a serious legal problem in the B.C. Rail payment.
The ethical problem, of course, remains in any case.
Basi and Virk pleaded guilty to get $6 million to pay their legal fees (and light sentences). If they had not, they would have lost their homes and everything they had.
Without the inducement provided by the provincial government, the trial would have continued.
The appearance - at the least - is that the provincial government paid to persuade the defendants to plead guilty. And that is not how the justice system is supposed to work.

You can read the exchange between Bond and van Dongen here.


Ian said...

HI Paul,
I think he is on to something. It's based on a careful reading of both the act and the regs re indemnities. It looks to me like the DM didn't have the authority he assumed - if it was him - when he signed off on the deal.

Take care and love your dispatches from Honduras.

off-the-radar said...

great article. Glad to see you're still covering BC politics.

And providing better coverage from the Honduras than MSM in BC.

thank goodness for political bloggers like you, Ian, Ross K, Laila, Bill T, Alex T, Norm and Harvey. Some welcome light being shone in some very murky places.

Anonymous said...

It's been clear since the deal was made that the benefit to the party in power was avoiding the need to answer questions at trial. No doubt van Dongen knew that while he was a Liberal and is now cashing it in as a Conservative.

Scotty on Denman said...

The BC Liberals keep trying to keep the suspicions of their culpability in the corrupt sale of BC Rail in the realm of the circumstantial by keeping essential accounting information in the realm of the insubstantial. They have too long maintained their hands are tied by cabinet confidentiality or solicitor/client privilege to remain beyond suspicion. Evidence notwithstanding, the cross-examination has bolted out of the gates: where is the info? why is it being keep secret, is it accurate, has any been destroyed or tampered with?...what are they trying to hide? We are only at the info-missing-in-action phase, yet; it is still a stalwart stalling strategy in the gentle court of the Legislative Assembly. As we move toward the more stringent courts, however, our prejudice that the BC Liberals are guilty of something with be satisfied if they resort to the much more suspicion-arousing MISinformation-in -action. For now (and for as long as they're in power, I think) withholding a little info is serving their purpose. When they are no longer able to do so, that is, after they lose the next election, they will have arrived at a virgin field still unstained by misinformation (lies) about what really happened with the $6 million and other details of the corruption of the BC Rail corruption trial. And the Inquiry will have only just begun.

Anonymous said...

John van Dongen applied May 7, 2012 for intervenor status in Auditor General John Doyle's lawsuit against the government.

Anonymous said...

The BC Government story on the $6M payoff to end the trial continues to change.

This plea deal needs an *asterisk beside it.