Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Liberals, Campbell look bad in Dobell affair

The Liberals' biggest problem in the Ken Dobell scandal isn't the long-time Campbell advisor's illegal activity. The most troubling aspect is the failure of the premier's office to see the problems, let alone deal with them.
Even when concerns were raised about Dobell's activities and access, the premier's office denied any problems.
Jessica McDonald, the premier's deputy and top public sector manager, investigated. There was nothing for the public to worry about, she reported.
But there was. This week a special prosecutor - appointed because of opposition pressure - reported on the case. He concluded Dobell had violated provincial law by failing to register as a lobbyist, even though he was trying to influence government policy for paying clients.
He also found a "substantial likelihood" that Dobell could be convicted of the Criminal Code offence of influence-peddling.
The City of Vancouver had hired him to try and get provincial money for social housing; his lobbying activities included meeting Housing Minister Rich Coleman. At the same time, Dobell was being paid $250 an hour as a special advisor to Premier Gordon Campbell.
"One of the reasons he wanted the title Special Advisor in his contract was 'the linkage to the premier,'" prosecutor Terrence Robertson reports. "Mr. Dobell recognized that people would assume that he would make recommendations to the premier and that those recommendations would have some credibility."
So when Vancouver hired him to get as a consultant, in part to get housing funding from the province, Dobell was likely breaking the law, the prosecutor found. It's against the law to take money in return for providing special influence in government.
Robertson decided against influence-peddling charges, saying they wouldn't serve the public interest. Dobell held an honest but wrong belief that he wasn't breaking any laws and co-operated completely. The lead RCMP investigator "saw this as a case in which there was no corruption," Robertson said.
And conviction would likely result in an absolute discharge anyway, the special prosecutor said.
Dobell agreed to plead guilty to failing to register as a lobbyist and repay the $6,950 he was paid for his time spent meeting provincial officials. Attorney General Wally Oppal denied there was a plea bargain, but it looked that way.
It's a grimy, sloppy business. Dobell has been a close Campbell associate since the mid-80s, when he was the Vancouver city manager and Campbell was mayor. When the Liberals were elected in 2001, Dobell was hired as deputy minister to the premier. He ran the show for Campbell.
And through that time, he had an excellent reputation.
In 2005, Dobell stepped down and went into business as a consultant. Campbell was his best client, hiring him as a special advisor at $250 an hour with annual payment cap of $230,000. He chaired the Vancouver convention centre project - that didn't work out so well, given the massive cost overruns - and represented the province on the Olympic organizing committee. Dobell worked on the softwood lumber dispute, coastal forest problems, conflicts with teachers, the Gateway transportation project and as a lobbyist to push B.C.'s interests in Ottawa.
He even kept an office in the government's Vancouver headquarters. But Dobell had other clients, including the City of Vancouver. The work included getting money from the province. And who better to lobby than someone who Campbell valued so highly that he was paying $250 an hour for his opinions.
The conflict should have been obvious. No matter what Dobell might have thought, potential clients could reasonably expect him to have the inside track as a special advisor to the premier. Other municipalities, for example, must have wondered whether their housing plans were being ignored because they didn't have the premier's associate on the payroll.
Campbell and the government still haven't acknowledged any wrongdoing. Dobell is still a lobbyist, trying to woo the government on behalf clients. And the Liberals are looking more arrogant than accountable over the whole issue.
Footnote: Attorney General Wally Oppal was left to handle questions about the affair and he offered nothing but repeated claims that it would be inappropriate to comment until Dobell pleaded guilty. Campbell said only that he respected Dobell as a person. The Liberals would have slammed such responses from an NDP premier under the same circumstances.


Anonymous said...

The great thing is that ignorance of the law is no excuse. Many have gone to jail because they have not realized they were breaking a law.Different rules for different folks'

Anonymous said...

Paul only one word best describes the actions and words of this government - ARROGANCE.

Anonymous said...

Gordo is up in the polls after a number of events that would sink others. He figures he can ride this one out as well. Up to the voters. DL

RossK said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
RossK said...

Re-posting after post-outrage editting....


"Robertson decided against influence-peddling charges, saying they wouldn't serve the public interest."


Why, given the 'substantial likelihood' of influence peddling having occurred in the highest public offices in this province (ie. the Premier's office and the offices of the City of Vancouver) would the Special Prosecutor conclude that a prosecution would not serve the public interest?


Put another way, if this is not sufficient, what type of influence peddling would it take to actually prod the prosecutor into proceeding?

Anonymous said...

How can the Special Prosecutor have it both ways? On one hand he says that there is a substantial likelihood of a conviction under section 121 of the CCC. But then he says that Ken Dobell did have a defense that suggests he had an "honest and mistaken belief" that he was not guilty of influence peddling. Now does that make any sense?

Since when did it become corporate policy that our public officials, who may have used insider knowledge to benefit personally, not be prosecuted?

It is crystal clear that this is an attempt to cover up the 'plea bargain' that occurred here for a good friend of the Premier.

We have other investigations going on in Victoria such as allegations of impropriety in the awarding of contracts to an IT company in the Ministry of Health. And of course let us not forget infamous raid on the legislature case.

Unfortunately, the premier isn't being lobbied by those people.

Anonymous said...

Ken Dobell obviously lobbied effectively under the "cultural precinct" project.

On Thursday March 6, 2008 Premier Gordon Campbell announced several new arts and cultural initiatives totalling $209 million, including $50 million for a new home for the Vancouver Art Gallery, $150 million for an arts endowment fund and $9 million for an expanded and renovated Vancouver East Cultural Centre.

Anonymous said...

Let's see: I'm hired and paid a bundle to run a government. I'm given a staff of thousands to provide advice and support but I decide to hire my buddy to give extra advice on the side at $250/hour. I make it clear that if someone wants something from government, they should pay my buddy another $250/hour to include their request in his advice to me.

A year later, my buddy's got, say, half a grand or so sitting in a bank account, thanks to me. Government has done exactly what it would have done anyway or worse, delivered preferentially to those who paid to play. I would have to forgive anyone who suggested that a very nifty heist had been pulled off in slo-mo.

And let's be clear, the problem in the real case at hand is Campbell, not Dobbell. This sort of thing erodes confidence in the idea that we have a democratic government of the people, for the people.

As we see from the above comments, it gives the impression that a bunch of good ole boys have seized all the controls of power to live high off our tax dollars, and that all the checks and balances of democracy are meaningless if those in charge can use their power to protect each other from public accountability.

Anonymous said...

Much is to be said about how you can not knowingly break the law you helped write however and see that it does not apply to you. How is it you can break a law plead quilty and then continue on like nothing happened. I have heard radio hosts say that because he is such an upstanding guy he does not deserve to be punished. Oh to have laws like the US. Also why all this talk about the New York Governor on the radio and little about Mr. Dobbel. One law for the mighty another for us Pee ons.