The rapid clicking of heels on hard tile floor, mirrored the staccato beat of my heart as I walked quickly down the hall towards the room where history was waiting. Within those walls lay 8000 strands of spider-web,( as Bill Tieleman so smoothly refers to them) just waiting to be woven into a snare…
Let’s go back in time… to December 28th, 2003, when the B.C. Legislature was raided by both the RCMP and the Victoria police – based on information uncovered in an investigation regarding organized crime and drug trafficking.
Think about that for a moment.
An organized crime and drug trafficking investigation led police to the government buildings in Victoria.
Let’s continue. It was finally revealed in March 2004,that the police had in fact, been also investigating a possible breach of trust in the sale and privatization of one of our provinces oldest institutions, BC Rail .
BC Rail was sold to Canadian National in November 2003, in a billion dollar privatization deal that was plagued with rumours and accusations of unfair treatment to the other companies who had submitted bids. In 2004 ,Dave Basi and Bob Virk( aides to the Transportation and Finance ministers ) were charged with fraud and breach of trust for allegedly providing confidential government documents to some lobbyists who were working on behalf of one bidder – Omnitrax. It is alleged that they provided these documents in exchange for money and “goodies”.
After so many years, the case is still dragging on in pre-trial stage in BC supreme court. When- and if- the trial does finally begin, it may very well last as long or longer than 6 months – and could see a witness list containing some of British Columbia’s most notable politicians and players within the political scene.
Up until the NDP legally asked for these documents in court, there were far more questions than answers surrounding the BC Rail deal. Questions that the Liberals have not been eager or willing to address.
Bidders had pulled out during the process, complaining of unfair treatment,accusing the BC Liberals of “leaking” secret documents to CN Rail and saying that the entire process was skewed. Within the 8000 pages of documents are emails and correspondence that would seem to support this. I would refer you to Bill Tielemans Tyee article that highlights the specifics in an easily read manner: http://billtieleman.blogspot.com/2009/03/tyee-article-railgate-bombshell-bc-govt.html
But there was more to be found in those documents, much more.
Documents that demonstrated the extent to which Gordon Campbell and his government would go to spin both the media and henceforth,the public – in order to achieve the desired result. In an excerpt from a recent column by Bill Tieleman, one can clearly see why the public never hears the truth:
“ B.C. Liberal government ministerial aides are under strict orders when the B.C. Legislature is in session and rule No. 1 is to not provide answers to the opposition in Question Period and spin the media, a newly released confidential government document shows.
“It’s Question Period, not Answer Period,” reads an internal government document titled House Review: A Day In The Life dated January 2007.
“Answer the best you can each time, every time. But if you can’t, ATTACK!! NDP record, evidence of internal conflict, etc ….” the document instructs ministerial assistants to B.C. cabinet ministers.”
Read the full column here: http://billtieleman.blogspot.com/2009/03/revealed-bc-liberal-ministerial.html
Now,be honest here. Does this really surprise you?
No, I’m sure it doesn’t. We all know the government employs spin doctors – those snake tongued, smooth talking agents of deceit that occasionally seem capable of turning water into wine.
Or scandal into a “miscommunication”.
Either way, I’m certain that the average joe has no idea just how many of our hard earned dollars are being wasted on monitoring all the media, and how much of it is spent on coming up with real and hypothetical responses to any given situation- in advance.
But come back to the meat and potatoes with me – the bidding process and the the sale of BC Rail to CN.
Back to the accusations that the bidding process was tainted, leading to bidders pulling out.
Among the 8000 documents are quite a few emails that directly indicate that the Liberals knew they sale was going to CN on October 1st, 2003, and yet the announcement didn’t happen until November 25th, 2003!
Gordon Campbell’s government knew who the bid was going to , yet carried on the illusion and continued to string along the other bidders to better their negotiating position.
Now, we can talk about emails here and emails there, and believe me – there are some whoppers in this bunch that in my opinion are as incriminating as they come – but there are also other bits of very interesting reading that were released with those 8000 documents. And to my eyes , the following items contain scribble that are about as incriminating as they come.
Not just any notebooks, but the notebooks of Yvette Wells, who up until now has remained an obscure figure in all of this.
Yvettee Wells was the Executive Director of the Crown AgenciesSecretariat at the time of the sale. The Secretariat is responsible for the accountability of crown corporations, so keeping that in mind, it could be said that she was basically the person to oversee the accountability of the entire BC Rail sale in her position. She would very much have been the “go-to” person of preference to reference anything to do with the ongoing negotiations.
Her notebooks were released because of the relevance of the information within them to the entire BC Rail deal, and they do not disappoint. Among all the hundreds of pages that I read through, the following excerpt clears any question as to the fairness of the bidding process for me.
” dilema :
– don’t want to mislead other bidders
– don’t want to tell them CN are getting other info – don’t want them to do work, spend $
– don’t want them to drop out b/c if can’t resolve issues- we may go back to other bidders.
– CN got data from CIBC that they shouldn’t ”
October 22, 2003 notes.
Kind of hard to explain those notes away no matter how you try to spin it. Remember – this was coming from someone who was in charge of accountability and governance of crown corporations.
In fact, many of her copious and detailed notes back up the accusations voiced by other bidders in reference to an unfair bidding process. Don’t take my word for it though, check it out for yourself .
Important dates in her notebook ?
September 4, September 11, September 25, September 29, October 2, and October 22 -all 2003
Her notebooks are available online in PDF format here: http://www.bcndpcaucus.ca/en/node/2512 and oddly enough, despite both a journalist from The Sun and the Globe and Mail in attendance at the document release, neither has written about these notebooks to date.
Why is that?
Believe it or not, in an effort to quash any lingering accusations surrounding the bidding procedure, an independent review of the sale was then done by an outside American firm in an effort to find any wrongdoing.
The firm declared the sale price to be fair and that the bidders were treated equally. However, even back in 2004 there were sizable questions as to the information that was given to Charles River Associates, and how they arrived at their valuations. This article from a local paper in 2004 addresses the seeming discrepancies of the accounting involved in compiling that report itself. http://www.republic-news.org/archive/79-repub/79_potvin_bcrail.htm
And, no matter what pronouncement of innocence of inequity was made at the completion of that report, you can bet that no one was privy to any of these 8000 documents that have now been brought to light by the NDP.
Clearly, the documents indicate that the entire bidding process of the sale of BC Rail was tainted.
BC Rail was in effect, given away – and the public has a right to know why.I have a right to know why. BC Rail was not merely a rail road, it was a part of the grand history of the province of BC and as such, should have been protected from disassembling as much as any other historically significant entity.
It also brings into question the validity and legality of the sale contract itself, considering what has now been revealed. Some say it should be declared null and void. Some say this could mean the Premier may have to answer to allegations of breach of trust.
As for myself?
I say the premier’s time on the gang-plank has run out, and the sharks are circling,famished.
The only way for Gordon Campbell to save his skin is to finally live up to his own claim of holding a transparent government – and call for a full public inquiry into the sale of BC Rail immediately.
Anything less is akin to an admission of wrongdoing.
* The full 8000 documents are available online in an easy to read , PDF format here : http://www.bcndpcaucus.ca/en/bcrailcorruption
For full and ongoing coverage of the BC Rail scandal and the Basi-Virk Trial , check out the following sites for indepth and complete analysis: