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.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

My driving test in 2039

My dad passed his driving test on his 87th birthday Friday in Medicine Hat. My mum passed her's earlier this year. Good going for both of them.
It struck me that if I take a driving test at the same age, it will be in 2039, which seems improbably far away. (I posted the observation on Facebook, and people commented hopefully on the possibility I'd take the test in a solar-powered flying car.)
Then I realized that if our two youngest, Sam and Rachelle, face the same retest at 87, it would be in 2072.
If our youngest grandboy Owen faces a test at the same age, it will be in 2096.
It's my birthday today, so I'm a little more conscious of the passing of time.
But I've never really thought about the prospect of being around  in 2039 (accepting that I might not be). The idea that a kid I know and care about will quite likely be waiting on the arrival of the next century is mind-blowing, to use a word that reveals just how long I have been around.
And instructive. I tend to think of the next few years. When I was a corporate guy, running newspapers, I thought of the next few months, the quarterly results being all important. Politicians think in terms of a four-year election cycle, or less if there aren't fixed election dates.
But for our children, and their children, the game is much longer. Logging protected areas to get three or four more years of production won't mean much in 10 or 50 years. Running a deficit to pay today's bills just means a debt that will be due in the future.
Then there are the big issues. Even if climate-change deniers challenge the scientific consensus on causes, the changes ahead are significant. Here in Honduras, they are imminent. People have planted beans and corn on the same days in May for generations, confident the rains would come soon after. If the rain doesn't come, and the crops wither, they go hungry and, perhaps, children die. In the 'developed world,' adaptation and technical responses are possible solutions. Not here, not for the 60 per cent of Hondurans living in poverty.
And there are the trend lines. In Canada, wealth has been increasingly concentrated in a small group, thanks in part to government policies, as I noted here. If that trend continues over decades, the gap will be enormous.
Voter turnout - the ultimate indicator of government legitimacy - has steadily fallen. When will it reach a point that democracy is no longer a credible concept?
It's past time that political parties - and all of us - start to talk about the future we see for our grandchildren.