Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Fight HST delivers petitions to Elections BC at culmination of great citizens Initiative campaign!

PHOTOS FROM TOP LEFT: Chris Delaney & Bill Vander Zalm with all 85 riding boxes of petitions at Elections BC

Bill Vander Zalm & Sal Vetro hand boxes of petitions for delivery
Bill Tieleman hands over the Vancouver-Point Grey riding Fight HST petitions to be submitted to Elections BC

Bill Vander Zalm gets ready to unload 85 boxes with Fight HST citizens Initiative petitions for each of BC's provincial ridings with Rick Dignard handing off

What a faaaaantaaastic day in Victoria delivering 705,643 signatures from BC voters who want the Harmonized Sales Tax eliminated!

A great day for democracy and there will be more to come!

I'm just back from Victoria where a crowd of more than 250 people welcomed Bill Vander Zalm and the Fight HST team.

I'm out tonight but watch this space for much more soon.

Thanks to everyone who supported Fight HST - this fight isn't over!


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Time to Recall BC Liberal MLAs who won't listen to British Columbia voters and kill the HST

Bill Vander Zalm & Bill Tieleman at launch of Fight HST citizens Iniative campaign April 6, 2010 at Kitsilano High School. - Cassandra photo

What It Would Take to Recall BC Liberals over refusal to listen to public and eliminate the HST

Odds of recalling MLAs over HST will grow as tax hits and public feels ignored

Bill Tieleman's 24 hours/The Tyee column

Tuesday June 29, 2010

By Bill Tieleman

"Where there is little or no public opinion, there is likely to be bad government, which sooner or later becomes autocratic government."

- Former prime minister William Lyon Mackenzie King

On June 30, the Fight HST citizens initiative petition signed by over 700,000 British Columbia voters demanding the Harmonized Sales Tax be killed will be delivered to Elections B.C. in Victoria.

And on July 1 -- Canada Day -- the B.C. Liberal government will ignore that unprecedented and historic exercise in direct democracy, imposing the new 12 per cent HST that will shift $2 billion in taxes onto consumers from big businesses.

Premier Gordon Campbell, Finance Minister Colin Hansen and B.C. Liberal MLAs will show contempt not only for the initiative process that obtained almost as many signed petitions as their party got votes in the 2009 provincial election --751,791 -- but for poll after poll showing overwhelming opposition to the HST.

Instead of listening to the will of the people, this bad government will push ahead with a tax that will dramatically and negatively hurt B.C. consumers, with a Statistics Canada study estimateing the average household will pay an extra $521 more in HST every year.

Rather than respecting public opinion, this autocratic government will push an extra seven per cent tax down British Columbians' throats on everything from restaurant food to domestic airline tickets to home repairs, cleaning and renovation to realtor and accounting fees to concert and sports tickets to gym memberships to dry cleaning to massage therapy to funeral services to investment counselling fees to new homes over $525,000 right down to postage stamps.

There is now only one answer to such an autocratic, undemocratic government -- to recall its elected members.

Ignoring the message

I proposed recall in this column Aug. 11, 2009, arguing that: "The appropriate response to abuse of power is to remove power."

The citizens initiative petition led by Fight HST leader and former B.C. premier Bill Vander Zalm that I support has given the B.C. Liberals a clear indication of just how angry British Columbians are with the HST -- a tax that party denied they would impose before the May 15, 2009 election.

And the citizens initiative provided Campbell and Finance Minister Colin Hansen an opportunity to reverse their serious mistake by cancelling the HST.

Despite this, the B.C. Liberal government has rejected every single indication from the people that the HST is despised. They even ignored one of their own cabinet ministers -- Blair Lekstrom -- who resigned from the B.C. Liberal caucus over imposing the HST.

The initiative process has succeeded beyond my wildest dreams from when I first proposed it here on Aug. 18, 2009. The NO BC HST Facebook protest group I started last July after the HST was announced has also had a fantastic response -- today it has over 136,000 members.

But the initiative -- as powerful an expression of public will as it is -- cannot stop or reverse the HST. Its main purpose has been to unmistakably demonstrate widespread voter anger and give the B.C. Liberals a chance to repent.

Whether the initiative results in a non-binding vote in September 2011 or the introduction of the initiative's HST Extinguishment Act in the B.C. Legislature, the government is under no obligation to kill the HST.

So now is the time for even more dramatic action against a government that simply will not listen to reason -- make them listen to the recall of their own MLAs who voted to impose the HST.

Recalls face a high bar

Recall is a very tough test -- to remove an MLA from office requires obtaining the signatures of 40 per cent of those voters registered in the riding at the time of the 2009 election within 60 days.

But just like the extremely challenging initiative rules -- obtaining 10 per cent of all registered voters in every one of B.C.'s 85 ridings in 90 days -- it definitely can be done.

There are now at least 11 ridings where the B.C. Liberal MLA got fewer votes than the number of voters who signed the citizens initiative petition.

And Fight HST has released a "hit" list of 24 B.C. Liberal MLAs who could be targets for recall campaigns when they are officially permitted, starting November 15.

Canada Day marks HST era

I predict a firestorm of anger will erupt starting on Canada Day as British Columbians who have not been following the HST controversy wake up to discover that hundreds of goods and services they buy are now seven per cent more expensive.

And then there's the one cent a litre carbon tax increase at the pumps, also effective July 1, literally throwing gas on the HST fire.

Life in B.C. is getting a lot more expensive -- and Gordon Campbell and his MLAs will pay a high price for imposing the HST.


BC Liberal-linked businesses file lawsuit to block Fight HST citizens Initiative; Fight HST obtains 705,643 signatures on petitions

Breaking news - Fight HST citizens Initiative petition final count is 705,643 voter signatures!

And a group of business organizations closely connected to the BC Liberal Party have filed an application in BC Supreme Court seeking a judicial review of the Fight HST citizens Initiative petition, the Globe and Mail is reporting.

The intent of the judicial review would be to throw the draft HST Extinguishment Act legislation attached to the petition out.

That Act would eliminate the HST and return the Provincial Sales Tax as it exists today, saving BC consumers $1.9 billion a year in new HST taxes on hundreds of goods and services that will jump by 7% on July 1.

The law firm handling the business group application is Heenan Blaikie - the firm that also employs former BC Liberal Attorney General Geoff Plant - who has recently written a Vancouver Sun opinion article arguing that the petition should be thrown out.

The business organizations include the Council of Forest Industries, whose member companies are major financial contributors to the BC Liberal Party, the B.C. Chamber of Commerce, the Mining Association of B.C., the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association - another major BC Liberal Party donor - and the Western Convenience Stores Association.

Meanwhile - here is the news release from Fight HST outlining the final numbers of its citizens Initiative campaign:

* * * * *

Jun 29, 2010 Press Release

Fight HST Petition breaks 700,000 signatures in final week

44% of total voters in last election sign up to repeal the HST

Port Coquitlam – Fight HST Lead Organizer, Chris Delaney, reported today that the Initiative to repeal the Harmonized Sales Tax broke the 700,000 signature mark this past weekend.

He says that represents a total of 44% of all voters in the last election who have signed the petition.

“We are extremely happy as we prepare to deliver the petitions to Elections BC this Wednesday. The Initiative was an extraordinary success. We have an enormous number of signatures, and are even able to deliver it a week early,” said Delaney.

“Congratulations go to all of our regional organizers, captains and canvassers who worked so hard, and of course to British Columbians, who signed up in droves to send a loud and clear message to their government: Repeal the HST now!”

Delaney says there has never seen anything like the citizen Initiative petition to repeal the HST in BC or Canadian history.

"Full credit goes to former BC premier Bill Vander Zalm, who introduced the Referendum, Recall and Initiative Acts while he was in office,” Delaney explained.

Delaney says British Columbians owe a debt of gratitude to the former premier for having the courage and vision to provide them with a set of truly democratic tools to hold governments accountable between elections.

He says back in 1992, Vander Zalm’s BC Referendum legislation forced the federal government to conduct a nationwide referendum in an attempt to ratify the Charlottetown Accord constitutional amendment.

“Prime Minister Mulroney decided the only way to stop BC from vetoing his Accord was to counteract the ability of British Columbians to vote directly on the proposed amendment by holding a national referendum,” said Delaney.

“The Charlottetown Accord was defeated, due largely to Bill’s unique and progressive Referendum legislation, which allowed the people to stop what many believed would result in an unbalanced and unworkable federation.”

“Now, he has done it again with the Initiative Act by completing the first successful petition. The only thing left to be tested successfully is Recall. And we’ll get that chance in November.”

Delaney says the BC Government reaction to the petition has been so incompetent and dictatorial, that British Columbians have essentially abandoned the Liberals as a political force.

“The people are getting ready for Recalls to begin in the fall. It is clear to everyone that the Liberals are prepared to commit political suicide rather than listen to them, so people are going to oblige them.”


Basi-Virk - nothing again to report - jury to return Wednesday - hopefully

Bill Tieleman surveys the damage after his office was broken into and trashed over his Basi-Virk case coverage in December 2007

Still nothing reportable out of the Basi-Virk/BC Legislature Raid trial yet again today as legal arguments continued in the absence of the jury - and are therefore covered by the publication ban.

The jury is scheduled to return to the courtroom for what should be the remaining testimony of the first witness called - Martyn Brown, Premier Gordon Campbell's Chief of Staff.

The last question asked - but not answered - of Brown was whether he was aware of the brother-in-law relationship between RCMP Inspector and lead investigator Kevin DeBruckyere and Kelly Reichert, BC Liberal Party Executive Director.

But I'll not be there Wednesday - instead I will be helping former BC Premier Bill Vander Zalm deliver over 705,000 Fight HST citizens Iniative petitions to Elections BC in Victoria - something very reportable indeed!

The trial is supposed to resume at 11:15 a.m. Wednesday, then not return until Monday July 5 at 11:15 a.m. But count on nothing when it comes to schedules in this case!


Monday, June 28, 2010

Yes, we have no Basi-Virk today.....

Another BC Supreme Court day, another day with no publishable testimony in the Basi-Virk/BC Legislature Raid trial.

Legal arguments in the absence of the jury continued again Monday, and due to the publication ban imposed by Associate Chief Justice Anne MacKenzie, nothing can be reported.

The jury is scheduled to return Tuesday morning, as presumably is last witness Martyn Brown, Chief of Staff to Premier Gordon Campbell.


Thursday, June 24, 2010

Another week without evidence given at Basi-Virk trial - jury and witness Martyn Brown dismissed until Monday June 28 at 11:15 a.m.

The long-delayed Basi-Virk/BC Legislature Raid case has once again gone a week without any evidence presented to the jury.

Associate Chief Justice Anne MacKenzie dismissed both the jury and witness Martyn Brown, Premier Gordon Campbell's Chief of Staff, until Monday June 28 at 11:15 a.m. due to the need to hear legal arguments that cannot be reported because of a publication ban.

When Brown was last on the witness stand lawyer Michael Bolton, representing David Basi, asked Brown if he knew that RCMP Inspector Kevin DeBruyckere was the brother-in-law of BC Liberal Party Executive Director Kellly Reichert.

Special Prosecutor Bill Berardino objected to that question before Brown could answer and the cross examination was suspended at that point.

MacKenzie also informed the jury on Wednesday that two jurors had been approached by a man who spoke to them about the case at a SkyTrain station on June 16.

That man, MacKenzie told the jury, is the father of one of the three Special Prosecutors in the case.

MacKenzie instructed the jurors to not draw any negative inferences from the incident.

The trial resumes on Monday June 28 but at 11:15 a.m. instead of 10 a.m. in order to accomodate a juror who is taking a work-related educational course.

The trial will sit from 11:15 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. without a break and again from 2 to 4:30 p.m. until July 7, when it will be suspended until late August. The court does not sit on July 1 - Canada Day.

The trial is expected to continue until March of 2011.


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Bizarre turn of events in Basi-Virk - father of Crown Counsel approached jurors outside trial

Could the Basi-Virk/BC Legislature trial get any stranger?

The answer is a resounding "yes" after today's hearing.

I was unable to attend this morning but my colleague Neal Hall of the Vancouver Sun reports that Justice Anne MacKenzie informed the jury that the father of one of the Special Prosecutor team approached two jurors at the Patterson SkyTrain station and spoke to them about the trial last Wednesday.

MacKenzie told them not to infer anything adverse from the incident and that it would not happen again.

But after that the legal wrangling that can't be reported resumed in the jury's absence.

Premier Gordon Campbell's Chief of Staff Martyn Brown is expected to return to the court for his 10th day of cross examination on Thursday.


Basi-Virk - Legal wrangling means no stories from Tuesday court session; Berardino cleared

Legal wrangling down at the Basi-Virk/BC Legislature Raid case all day Tuesday means no stories can be told, as Associate Chief Justice Anne MacKenzie's publication ban applies when the jury is mercifully absent from such arguments.

There is one story of minor note however - Special Prosecutor Bill Berardino has been cleared of any conflict of interest or wrongdoing over his donation of $500 to the BC Liberal Party in 2005 - specifically to the campaign of Wally Oppal, the former Attorney General.

Here is the BC Law Society news release of June 22, 2010

Law Society concludes inquiry into special prosecutor, William S. Berardino, QC

Vancouver – The Law Society of BC has concluded its investigation into complaints made about BC lawyer William S. Berardino, QC and found no evidence of professional misconduct.

The complaints were made on May 6, 2010 and alleged that Berardino had compromised his role as a provincial special prosecutor because his firm had donated to the Liberal party and did not make appropriate disclosure.

The Law Society retained the services of Perry Mack, QC, a well-respected and experienced lawyer from Alberta, to assess the evidence and determine whether Berardino’s conduct constituted a discipline violation. After a thorough review of the facts and law, the Law Society has determined that no further action should be taken and has now closed the file.

The Law Society of British Columbia regulates the more than 10,000 lawyers in the province, setting and enforcing standards of professional conduct that ensure the public is well-served by a competent, honourable legal profession.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

BC Liberals asking the wrong HST question because they want you to give the wrong answer

Bill Vander Zalm, 2nd from left, watching Bill Tieleman speak at Fight HST rally September 19, 2009 in Vancouver

Wrong HST Question, Premier Campbell

He asks how we can afford to drop the hated tax, so he can give the wrong answer.

Bill Tieleman's 24 hours/The Tyee column

Tuesday June 22, 2010

Bill Tieleman

"We must make some difficult choices. Do we increase income taxes, increase the provincial sales tax, or cut programs and services?"

- Ex-B.C. Liberal MLA
Blair Lekstrom, after quitting over the HST

B.C. Liberal MLAs are asking you the wrong question about the 12 per cent Harmonized Sales Tax to be imposed July 1 -- because they want you to give the wrong answer.

The real question on killing the HST isn't about cutting services or raising the provincial sales tax

The real HST question Premier Gordon Campbell fears is this: "Do you want to personally pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars in new taxes every year to subsidize big business?"

It's that simple.

And it's why the Fight HST citizens Initiative petition campaign has gathered nearly 700,000 signatures in less than 90 days -- because the answer is clear: NO!

All hell won't break loose

But Campbell wants voters to answer a very different and highly misleading question, because he wants you to give the wrong answer and begrudgingly accept the HST.

Don't be fooled.

Campbell wants you to worry that if B.C. rejects the HST and returns the $1.6 billion one-time-only grant from the federal Conservative government to "implement" the tax, all hell will break loose.

Hospital cuts, school cuts, public services slashed and taxes will have to go up, too, they want you to believe. What a disaster. We'd better keep the HST!

What garbage.

The reality is that this B.C. Liberal government is spending many times that $1.6 billion on several projects that won't even benefit most British Columbians and will be paid for over many years.

The new Port Mann Bridge alone is going to cost $3.3 billion -- double the federal HST bribe money.

The Canada Line rapid transit project cost

$2 billion, the Golden Ears Bridge, $800 million, the Trade and Convention Centre, $883 million -- including a $388 million cost overrun -- and B.C. Place's new roof will run a minimum $458 million.

And then there's a little item called the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics -- with a price tag B.C.'s auditor general
estimated at a minimum of $2.5 billion and that some critics say cost $6 billion or more.

And for non-Metro Vancouver residents -- did you happen to notice that none of the B.C. Liberals favourite big ticket items are coming to your town? But you will get to enjoy the HST every day.

A very small bribe

To put the $1.6 billion HST grant amount in perspective, it is just one per cent of British Columbia's total budget expenditures over four years – and only four per cent of one year's roughly $40 billion budget.

It's an amount that can be dealt with sensibly over the budget cycle in a number of ways without cutting needed services.

And by eliminating the HST, B.C.'s recovering economy wouldn't be hurt by the negative effects of the extra seven per cent tax on so many consumer goods and services,
meaning higher government revenues are likely.

But keeping the HST means the ongoing transfer of taxes onto consumers from big business amounts to $1.9 billion each and every year -- over four years ordinary British Columbians will have to fork out an extra $7.6 billion from their own pockets in extra HST costs.

And while paying 7 per cent more for restaurant food, domestic airline tickets, haircuts, home repairs, basic cable, realtor fees and hundreds of other items, they won't get one thin dime more from the HST for new healthcare, education or public services.

Perhaps the only thing we will get is the sincere thanks of large corporations whose costs will drop by $1.9 billion.

Pass on the savings? Not likely

But if you think they will reduce prices on consumer goods you purchase by an equivalent amount to balance that, think again.

B.C. companies don't make many of the products we consume here -- so even if they did reduce their prices, it wouldn't balance the increased costs of the HST.

Think about the really large corporations who will benefit -- Alcan, Canfor or Teck Cominco, for example, and then ask yourself -- how many rolls of aluminum foil, two by fours or coal and copper will you use this year?

Even if those companies reduce their prices thanks to the HST -- a very big "if" indeed -- how will individual British Columbians possibly benefit when the products they purchase aren't made here?

The HST supporters also argue that by reducing business costs through shifting the tax burden to consumers, the overall economy will improve, jobs will be created and more money spent in B.C. -- the
trickledown theory in other words.

This is about democracy

Even assuming -- again a huge risk -- that this is actually true, did you get a vote on whether or not to personally finance this enormous corporate subsidy expenditure?

Errr, no.

In fact, the B.C. Liberals in the 2009 election expressly rejected the idea they would introduce the HST when pressed by both the
restaurant and home building industry associations.

And previous B.C. Liberal cabinet ministers like
Carole Taylor and Rick Thorpe even warned about the negative effects an HST would have on the economy.

So remember the facts when a glad-handing premier and his MLAs make the rounds this summer trying to convince you that paying $1.9 billion every year in new HST costs for the rest of your life is worth getting $1.6 billion just once.


Thursday, June 17, 2010

Patrick Kinsella never lobbied me on BC Rail, says Premier Gordon Campbell Chief of Staff Martyn Brown

Patrick Kinsella

BASI-VIRK: Premier Campbell top aide denies BC Liberal insider Patrick Kinsella worked for both CN Rail and BC Rail in $1 billion sale

By Bill Tieleman, 24 hours columnist

Premier Gordon Campbell’s chief of staff strongly denied defence allegations Thursday that B.C. Liberal Party insider Patrick Kinsella was working for both sides at the time of the $1 billion sale of B.C. Rail to CN Rail.

Martyn Brown denied repeated allegations from a lawyer representing one of three former government aides facing corruption charges related to the sale, that Kinsella was “working both ends” in the $1 billion deal.

Brown responded that Kinsella was not only not a lobbyist but was “one of the most community-minded, giving, considerate people that I know who cares very deeply about the future of the government in British Columbia - not just in British Columbia but Canada, who has an active role in politics and supporting government of his political persuasion.”

But Michael Bolton, representing David Basi, alleged that Brown did nothing to determine if NDP opposition charges in the B.C. Legislature about Kinsella – co-chair of the B.C. Liberal 2005 election campaign – were accurate.

“I'm going to suggest to you that it did not suit your purpose or the premier’s purpose to find anything out about that because that’s just what you wanted – you wanted him to be working both ends because the plan was to sell B.C. Rail to CN Rail,” Bolton charged.

Brown rejected the allegation.

“You can suggest that – that’s effectively suggesting I’m being dishonest and I suppose it’s your right to suggest that from your position but the answer is the same – I gave you an honest answer,” Brown replied.

“I don’t recall any awareness of Mr. Kinsella’s role with B.C. Rail at that time. I don’t recall even the issue of him working for CN Rail, let alone B.C. Rail,” Brown said. “I don’t recall being quote ‘lobbied’ by Mr. Kinsella on anything.”

Kinsella was paid $297,000 by BC Rail between 2001 and 2005.

The tense exchange came on the ninth day of testimony from Brown, who was originally expected to be a witness for just two days.

The trial breaks until Tuesday June 22.


In earlier testimony Thursday morning Brown agreed with Bolton's suggestion that the privatization of BC Rail had become a political problem for the government in November 2003 because two bidders - Canadian Pacific and Burlington Northern Sante Fe railway companies - had dropped out, saying the process was unfair.

"I would agree that if even one of the bidders says they have a problem with the bidding process, then that's a public perception problem," Brown responded.

Bolton then returned to the defence theme - its allegations that CN Rail was always the favoured bidder - that "the fix was in" - but that OmniTRAX, another bidding rail company, stayed in the process to make it seem competitive in exchange for getting a promised "consolation prize" of the Roberts Bank spur line.

Bolton: "Do you recall me talking about a 'stalking horse' - a bidder who's staying in the process, knowing they won't win, to help the seller drive up the price?"

Brown: "You said that, yes. I said...that was preposterous."

Bolton: "But not if they were goint to do other business with the BC government?"

Brown: "You'd have to ask them that."

Bolton then raised a dinner meeting between Gary Collins, then-Finance Minister, and two OmniTRAX executives - CEO Pat Broe and VP Dwight Johnson - at the Villa del Lupo restaurant in Vancouver after BC Rail had been announced as sold to CN Rail and before bids closed on the Roberts Bank spur line, worth up to an estimated $70 million.

Bolton noted to Brown that the RCMP had launched extensive surveillance of the meeting.

Bolton: "Was it appropriate for the Minister of Finance to meet with a bidder at that time?"

Brown: " I had and have great confidence in the integrity of Mr. Collins."

Bolton: "I'm going to suggest to you that it was unusual for Mr. Collins to meet Pat Broe and Dwight Johnson between the two bids - between BC Rail and the Roberts Bank subdivision."

Brown: "I don't have any view on why Mr. Collins would meet with them. You would have to ask him."

Bolton: "Did you, Mr. Campbell, Mr. Collins and Deputy Minister [Ken] Dobell meet in December 2003 to discuss the bid?"

Brown replied that they may have met - they had lots of meetings in December because it was "budget crunch time."

Bolton: "I'm going to sugget to you that Mr. Collins told that meeting he was going to meet OmniTRAX executives."

Brown: "If he did I have no recall of that whatsoever."

Bolton: "Well, he'd been advised by Charles River Associates [the BC government's fairness advisor on the sale] not to meet with bidders."

Brown: "You or Mr. [defence lawyer Kevin] McCullough told be that but I don't recall. I don't recall any discussion with Mr. Collins abouit any dinner meeting with OmniTRAX whatsoever."

Bolton: "The consolation prize was to be offered with thanks from the government for staying in the bidding."

Brown: "I would emphatically deny that - I cannot believe the government or Mr. Collins would be in a position to make a promise like that."

Bolton: "They would be told their Roberts Bank bid would be looked at with favour."

Brown: "The government would be grateful for all the bidders who stayed in the process. But in terms of offering a consolation prize - I would strongly say that didn't happen."

Brown added he wouldn't be surprised if Collins discussed the previous bidding process for BC Rail and thank them for their participation.

Brown: "They were a good bidder, they were an excellent corporate citizen it sounds like."

After an objection from Special Prosecutor Bill Berardino was resolved with the jury out of the courtroom, Bolton went on to the issue of BC government monitoring of the case in 2007.

Bolton told Brown that in April and May of 2007, BC government Public Affairs Bureau officer Stuart Chase was in the courtroom monitoring the case - a story I first broke at the time in 24 hours newspaper - and sending reports to Victoria.

Bolton: "Did you read those reports?"

Brown: "I don't specifically remember any of them - I could have seen one or more - they did go to the Premier's Office."

Bolton: "Did you meet with Mr. Colllins after receiving those reports?"

Brown: "I don't recall."

Brown added he did meet Collins at various public events."

Brown: "I absolutely would have talked to Gary Collins between 2007 and today on a number of informal occasions."

Bolton asked Brown if he discussed the Villa del Lupo meeting with OmniTRAX.

Brown: "I don't recall having any such discussions with him."

Bolton: "When did you learn about the Villa del Lupo meeting?"

Brown: "I don't recall."

Bolton also asked other questions about Patrick Kinsella's role.

Bolton: "I talked about the problematic issue of Mr. Kinsella working for BC Rail...I suggest to you that there's an obvious optics problem working with BC Rail and CN Rail at the same time."

Brown: "I believe that's true."

Bolton: "I've shown you some excerpts from Hansard this morning to indicate that the Leader of the Opposition [then Joy MacPhail] had raised those matters in the House in questioning the Premier."

Brown: "I don't believe that's a fair, accurate description of what we've just said. I believe she raised speculation that Mr. Kinsella was quote "a lobbyist" for CN. ...That's different from what you've said - her raising the fact that he worked ostensibly for both CN and BC Rail."

Bolton: "Mr. Kinsella was never an official registered lobbyist for CN or anybody else."

Brown: "That's my understanding."

Bolton: "He styles himself as a consultant rather than a lobbyist."

Brown: "I don't know how he styles himself and I'm not going to comment on his characterization. What I think I said earlier in my testimony is that I don't recall ever being quote 'lobbied' by Mr. Kinsella on anything - nothing I would consider lobbying."

Bolton asked why Brown didn't investigate the allegations MacPhail made in the Legislature.

Bolton: "Why did the premier's office not take steps to straighten out that optics problem at the time?"

Brown: "I don't know there was any optics problem - I didn't concede that there was an optics problem. Ms. MacPhail, leader of the opposition at the time and an avowed political opponent hurling about comments in the Legislature that even of themselves would necessarily pose a problem, so I don't accept your characterization."

Bolton returned to the issue again.

Bolton: "My question for you is this - as the Premier's primary political advisor, why on earth would you have not taken steps at this juncture - 13 days after the bid process began - to straighten out the issue of whether Kinsella was working for BC Rail or a consultant for BC Rail and also CN Rail at the same time - why didn't you take steps to straighten that out?

Brown: "Well, you've suggested that he, that as a result of this I would somehow know that Mr. Kinsella was consulting, working for BC Rail - I see nothing in that transcript from the debate would suggest that."

"So that's certainly not something that I was aware of, that I can recall being informed of, and the assertion from Ms. MacPhail that quote 'he's the lobbyist for CN' - I don't know what on earth she was talking about."

"And she used to make an awful lot of allegations and statements and the like - if we followed up on every one it could be a full time job."


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Premier Gordon Campbell's chief of staff Martyn Brown finds out in court today Blair Lekstrom quit BC Liberal cabinet & caucus


Premier’s chief of staff shocked in court to be last to learn MLA Blair Lekstrom quit cabinet and caucus

By Bill Tieleman, 24 hours columnist

There was a shocking disclosure in B.C. Supreme Court Wednesday – but only to Premier Gordon Campbell's top political advisor – when he learned that MLA Blair Lekstrom had quit the B.C. Liberal cabinet and caucus last Friday over the government’s handling of the Harmonized Sales Tax.

Campbell’s Chief of Staff Martyn Brown was visibly disturbed by the information – which he said he was not aware of because as a witness for the past two weeks he has not read any newspapers, watched television reports or spoken to anyone in the premier’s office.

“That comes as a complete revelation to me,” a clearly stunned Brown said. “And a disappointment.”

The dramatic moment came when defence lawyer Michael Bolton, representing David Basi – one of three former B.C. Liberal aides facing corruption charges related to the $1 billion sale of B.C. Rail in 2003 – asked Brown about Lekstrom.

“Blair Lekstrom is a B.C. Liberal MLA and cabinet minister,” Brown replied.

But defence lawyer Kevin McCullough, representing Bob Virk, said loudly from his desk: “He was. He resigned from cabinet and caucus.”

Brown is still unaware that the HST is the reason for Lekstrom’s resignation, as it was not raised in court.

In earlier testimony Brown admitted that B.C. taxpayers may be “on the hook” for up to $550 million in the B.C. Rail deal if the buyer – CN Rail – is not allowed to use tax losses incurred by B.C. Rail prior to its sale.

And Brown said he and then-Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon were both “very surprised” to learn in 2004 that B.C. Liberal Party election campaign co-chair Patrick Kinsella had been hired by B.C. Rail in 2001 for more than $6,000 a month.

Brown said Falcon told him he was surprised and was “planning to terminate the contract.”


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Basi-Virk - Tieleman not in attendance at court on Tuesday

Just a note to let regular readers know that unfortunately I was not able to attend the Basi-Virk trial Tuesday. My colleagues Neal Hall of the Vancouver Sun and Keith Fraser of the Province and Mark Hume of the Globe and Mail, among others, have filed reports as linked here on continuing testimony of Martyn Brown, Premier Gordon Campbell's Chief of Staff.

And as always, BC Mary's The Legislature Raids blog always has the latest reports and comments on this case.

Of particular interest were Brown's comments about Patrick Kinsella, former BC Liberal election co-chair in 2001 and 2005, and why Kinsella had a $297,000 contract for services with BC Rail.


Is Blair Lekstrom a hero or villain after quitting BC Liberal cabinet and caucus over HST?

Premier Gordon Campbell, left, and now-independent MLA Blair Lekstrom, right, who is now at Political Mile Zero after qutting BC Liberal cabinet and caucus

Is Blai
r Lekstrom Brave for Quitting?

Will he and indie MLA Vicki Huntington form a new party? Will other Libs defect?

Bill Tieleman's 24 hours/The Tyee column

Tuesday June 15 2010

"Aspire rather to be a hero than merely appear one."

- Baltasar Gracian, 1601-1658

Is Blair Lekstrom a hero for quitting both his BC Liberal cabinet job and the party caucus over the government continuing to impose its Harmonized Sales Tax?

Or is Lekstrom a villain, fleeing the scene of his crime after personally voting to impose the 12 per cent HST on all British Columbians before he could be recalled by angry voters?

Is Lekstrom a politician of great integrity for listening to his constituents, who overwhelmingly oppose the HST and told him so?

Or is Lekstrom an unprincipled opportunist -- a "rat," one B.C. Conservative already call him -- who knows the only way he could be re-elected to a $100,000 a year job and collect a gold-plated pension was by admitting the obvious, that the BC Liberals are finished, thanks to the HST?

Deserving of respect

I respect Lekstrom for his bombshell decision Friday. Despite the likely contradictory reasons that caused him to make that decision, the MLA from Peace River South has demonstrated personal courage and integrity in representing the true wishes of the voters who elected him, even if it took awhile.

It is never, ever easy to quit a political party and sit as an independent -- let alone to bail out of a prestigious job like energy minister that's worth an extra $50,000 a year and become a pariah to your former colleagues.

If Premier Gordon Campbell had the same degree of integrity -- or just common sense -- as Lekstrom, he would listen to the vast majority British Columbians who hate the HST, admit his mistake and cancel the tax immediately.

What took ya?

But before Lekstrom is nominated for political sainthood, let's remember a few important facts.

First, the Fight HST citizens initiative petition campaign Ied by former premier Bill Vander Zalm -- that I support -- had already obtained more signatures to stop the HST than the number of people who voted for Lekstrom in the May 2009 election, 4,985 on the petition versus the 4,801 who voted for Lekstrom.

Second, Lekstrom listened to nearly a year of public anger over the HST and months of solid, wide-ranging arguments from New Democrat opposition MLAs before finally deciding to quit just 20 days before the HST is imposed.

Third, Lekstrom stood up on
April 29 and voted in favour of the HST, despite already knowing his constituents were overwhelmingly opposed.

"Is there concern in my riding? Most definitely there is," Lekstrom
told CBC News in May. But he still defended it -- till Friday.

This doesn't match with that

Even in his resignation letter, contradictions abound.

"I fundamentally disagree with the direction our government is headed on the HST," Lekstrom
wrote. "I have reached a point where my beliefs and values no longer align with my government."

And in an
interview with Canadian Press about previously voting for the HST, Lekstrom went further: "Had I known what I know today about the HST and some of the ramifications... I wouldn't have made the same decision."

But Lekstrom's carefully prepared
statement to the media clearly implies he still supports the HST.

"I recognize and admit that I supported the HST when our government made the decision to move forward with it last summer," Lekstrom said.

"This is not about being right or wrong; in fact, I firmly believe that government is making a decision they believe will help the province, but as we have been unable to bring the public along, I acknowledge there is a need to re-evaluate this decision.

"In light of the widespread opposition to the HST, I believe it would be prudent to bring the move toward the HST to a halt and immediately engage British Columbians in a dialogue about our taxation policy.

"This is a major tax policy shift, and it is time to engage British Columbians with a series of discussions about our province's future."

Dialogue? Engage? How about just cancel the tax and be done with it!

But Lekstrom doesn’t say that. And what would he do about the HST in a perfect world?

"If the playing field was level across the province on the implementation of this tax, yes I could support it, but in saying that, I would support it only after I go out and have a good frank dialogue with British Columbians," Lekstrom said. "And at the end of the day, if they say, 'Look, it's not the way they want to go,' then I'm elected to listen to the people as well."

Doesn't that sound like the perfect answer for an aspiring political party leader -- he would support the HST unless people wouldn't let him.

Who will have Lekstrom now?

Will Lekstrom at some point rejoin the BC Liberal Party? Doubtful.

Will Lekstrom run for leader to replace Gordon Campbell? Impossible.

No MLA who quits a political party and cabinet in such dramatic fashion over the most important policy issue in the province has a tinker's damn of a chance to return as leader.

Or will Lekstrom join the BC Conservatives, now rising to seven per cent in recent polls, as an alternative to the centre-right BC Liberals and centre-left NDP?

Not likely, after a prominent member called him a
"rat" the day he resigned!

"You can't stand up in the house when 85 per cent of B.C. is against it according to the polls and support it, then stand up a few weeks later and say you're against it," B.C. Conservative Party spokesperson and former candidate Dean Skoreyko told The Tyee's Andrew MacLeod. "A rat is a rat is a rat." Other B.C. Conservative officials later
apologized, but clearly there's no consensus about Lekstrom in that party's leadership.

And Fight HST lead organizer Chris Delaney, another former BC Conservative candidate, told The Province's Michael Smyth that Lekstrom's "background is with unions."

Just a guess, but the BC Conservative door may be slightly closed to Lekstrom.

Chris Delaney informs me that his comment about unions was in answer to Mike Smyth's question on what Blair Lekstrom's political leanings might be, and whether he might consider jumping to the BC Conservatives. Delaney did not make a negative or dismissive reference to the labour movement.

Join forces with Huntington?

Lekstrom -- a former Telecommunications Workers Union member who voted against the B.C. Liberals when they legislatively ripped up Hospital Employees Union contracts -- is well-placed to put himself forward as leader of a populist, rural-based, right-wing party.

The most likely option for Lekstrom would be to create his own third party option, possibly joining forces with Vicki Huntington, the Delta South MLA who narrowly became B.C.'s first elected independent in 60 years -- defeating former attorney general Wally Oppal in 2009.

Huntington told Global TV News on Saturday that she is open to the possibility of working with Lekstrom but believes it will be "months" before that becomes clear.

"Yes, there's a lot of talk about the formation of a third option and I think it's going to take a few more months before that starts to jell in anyone's mind," Huntington said. "I think it's a ways off yet."

"Are you ruling that out?" Global's Ron Benzce asked.

"You can't rule anything out in politics," Huntington replied. "But as I've told people during the election and subsequently, I wouldn't make a move like that without discussing it in the riding first."

Never too late to say you're sorry

Lekstrom has lots of credibility now and can say, with honesty, that he puts the views of voters ahead of party politics. Taking a $50,000 pay cut by quitting cabinet certainly shows Lekstrom puts his money where his mouth is.

Lekstrom can also state that if he was elected premier -- compared to Gordon Campbell -- he might make mistakes but will always listen to the public for a final decision.

It would sound a lot like former long-time Social Credit premier W.A.C. Bennett's famous
"second look" policy of reviewing unpopular decisions and sometimes reversing them.

BC Liberals -- like Bill Bennett, Lekstrom's replacement as energy minister, are desperately getting out their
message that an alternative to Campbell’s party could end up electing the NDP in 2013 -- or sooner.

Bennett is obviously worried: "To allow the Liberals to disintegrate the way the Social Credits did under Bill Vander Zalm, or the NDP under Glen Clark, would be a crime."

"The NDP trashed the province once in the 1990s, and they would do it again. I need to stay and help the people of this province understand the HST, and why it will be good for this province. I believe that Blair made a mistake," Bennett told the Cranbrook Daily Townsmen.

"Because I'm still there, one chair away from the premier, I can poke him with my elbow and talk to him. With all due respect to my friend Blair, he can't do that any more," Bennett claimed, invoking the unlikely image of the cabinet minister who previously had to
resign for rude comments to a constituent actually telling Campbell what to do -- while simultaneously "helping" over 80 per cent of British Columbians who don't want the HST "understand" it.

Stephen Harper's embrace?

Lekstrom has yet another possible future -- to replace federal Conservative Member of Parliament Jay Hill, who has said he won't run in the next election, in his Prince George-Peace River riding. But then how will Lekstrom explain to his constituents that he is joining the government that imposed the HST along with the BC Liberals?

But while Lekstrom weighs his options, who will be the next B.C. Liberal MLA to resign rather than face inevitable recall campaigns starting as early as November 15?

While many MLAs have rushed to tell media it won't be them, for fear of angering an already disturbed Gordon Campbell, the reality is that Lekstrom may have opened the door to future defectors.

And Ida Chong, the Oak Bay-Gordon Head MLA and -- thanks to Lekstrom's departure -- now the minister of small business, might be one of them.

Chong went to great lengths in an interview with CFAX Victoria radio's Adam Sterling to avoid saying she would not quit over the HST.

Adam Stirling: "The question on everybody's minds right now is: do you, or do you ever see yourself resigning over opposition to the HST as another BC cabinet member?"

Ida Chong: "You know, I got elected because I was worried about this province and I joined a party that I believe had all the fundamentals to keep our economy strong and moving forward. And as long as we can continue to do that, I will do that, and I realize that at times there will be tough decisions and tough decisions require courage and require leadership and that's what I'm prepared to provide."

Stirling: "So, that's a NO?"

Chong: "It means I'm going to continue to work hard to make sure our constituents get the best economy and the best quality of life that we can."

Stirling: "So is that not a NO?"

Chong: "You know, I think it's really clear that when you talk about standing for office you have to stand on the basis for which you were first elected and those are the principles that I have."

Thanks for the clear answer, Ida.

BC Liberals most at risk

But the most tell-tale sign of who might quit is simple to determine -- here's the Fight HST list of BC Liberal MLAs where more people have signed the citizens Initiative petition than voted for their MLA on May 15, 2009.

Blair Lekstrom / Peace River South: 4,801 votes in 2009; 4,985 petition signatures.

Pat Pimm / Peace River North: 3,992 votes in 2009, 7,791 petition signatures.

John Slater / Boundary-Similkameen: 6,681 votes in 2009; 11,309 petition signatures.

Donna Barnett / Cariboo-Chilcotin: 6,259 votes in 2009; 8,317 petition signatures.

Terry Lake / Kamloops-N.Thompson: 9,830 votes in 2009; 10,532 petition signatures.

Bill Bennett / Kootenay East: 8,404 votes in 2009; 8,729 petition signatures.

George Abbott / Shuswap: 10,764 votes in 2009; 11,806 petition signatures.

And that number of BC Liberal MLAs with fewer votes than anti-HST petition signatures will likely grow in the remaining weeks of the Fight HST drive. Get ready to rumble in B.C. politics!


Monday, June 14, 2010

BASI-VIRK - Defence makes case that Premier Gordon Campbell a "micromanager" who approved colour and design of highway signs

"And this sign represents some of my best work!"


Defence alleges Premier Campbell a "micromanager" - Chief of Staff Martyn Brown calls his actions "an appropriate response"

By Bill Tieleman, 24 hours columnist

Is Premier Gordon Campbell a “micromanager” who gets so involved in the details of government decisions that he had to sign off his approval on the design and colour of B.C. highway signs?

That was the unusual allegation Monday at the trial of three former B.C. Liberal government aides facing corruption charges connected to the $1 billion sale of B.C. Rail in 2003.

Kevin McCullough, representing ex-aide Bob Virk, was questioning Martyn Brown – Campbell’s chief of staff.

“Are you aware that Mr. Campbell approved each highway sign?” McCullough asked.

“I don’t recall…but I would hazard a guess he would see them and approve them,” Brown replied. “We obviously wouldn’t want a sign that the premier found objectionable,”

McCullough: “I’m going to suggest that Premier Campbell is a micromanager.”

Brown: “Some media have commented on that ….I don’t know that it’s micromanaging – that’s an appropriate response for a person in his position.”

At other points in Brown's cross examination he had repeated difficulty remembering meetings and conversations McCullough wanted to question him on.

For example:

McCullough: "Do you recall a draft of the Roberts Bank RFP [Request For Proposals] being placed on a government website?"

Brown: "No."

McCullough: "The Roberts Bank draft RFP - was it put on a website, then they realized it was a draft, took it down and the real RFP was put up?"

Brown: "No, I don't recall. Sometimes the wrong information is posted on government websites."

McCullough also got into Brown's media monitoring habits, asking if it was important to him when Province newspaper columnist Michael Smyth was criticizing the government.

Brown: "I think he criticizes more often than not."

McCullough: "Were you aware that Mr. Smyth also had a nightly radio show on CKNW?"

Brown: "I'm not sure exaclty when it was on - Nightline - but I was aware of it. I didn't follow that at all. There were times someone told me what he said. I did not follow his radio show closely."

Just before the lunch break Brown summed up the challeges he faces with McCullough's detailed cross examination.

Brown: "You're asking me about conversations and comms that I had mostly six or seven years ago - some of many, many, many, many conversations."

Brown is expected to continue his testimony Tuesday.

BASI-VIRK: Defence alleges Premier's top aide threatened cabinet job of Transporation Minister, staged Open Cabinet meeting, Vaughn Palmer's influence

David Basi and his lawyer Michael Bolton outside BC Supreme Court, April 2010

More controversial questions for and testimony from Martyn Brown - Premier Gordon Campbell's Chief of Staff - from defence cross examination Thursday June 10 in BC Supreme Court

The highlights of Martyn Brown's testimony have already been published at this blog Thursday but much, much more evidence was given that day - here are a few of the more newsworthy and amusing exchanges.

Brown denied allegations from defence lawyer Kevin McCullough - representing accused former BC Liberal government ministerial assistant Bob Virk - that he had "screamed" at Virk by phone that then-Transporation Minister Judith Reid had "exasperated" Premier Gordon Campbell and that if the "weak minister" didn't improve she'd be out of cabinet.

McCullough said the event followed a televised "Open Cabinet" meeting that he alleged was actually rehearsed the night before - something Brown admitted.

McCullough: "Do you recall Gordon Campbell correcting Judith Reid at an Open Cabinet meeting?"

Brown: "No."

McCullough: "Do you recall Gordon Campbell getting fed up with Judith Reid?"

Brown: "No - Judith Reid was an excellent minister."

McCullough: "Do you recall a column from Vaughn Palmer [of the Vancouver Sun] drawing attentiong to that?"

Brown: "No."

McCullough: "Media monitoring - that was part of your job?"

Brown: "Part of it - not hour to hour, minute to minute issues management. Media monitoring people advise us of issues by the hour."

McCullough: "I'm going to suggest to you that you told Mr. Virk and other ministerial assistant that Vaughn Palmer's colums get read by everybody, so know what they say?"

Brown: "I may have. I do read Vaughn Palmer regularly."

McCullough: "I'm going to show you an article - perhaps it will jog your memory. Take your time to read it - it's not long - two pages."

After giving Brown time to read, McCullough continued: "Palmer is writing about the clear exasperation of the premier with Ms. Reid about tolls, BC Rail..."

Brown: "It's not the first time Mr. Palmer has interpreted things in a way we disagree with. It's Mr. Palmer's take on it - that's what columnists do."

"I can tell you he [Campbell] was rarely exasperated."

McCullough: Did you call Mr. Virk on his cell phone and scream at thim to come in about something Ms. Reid said?"

Brown: "I can tell you I never screamed at Mr. Virk to come in and talk to me. That's an unfair characterization.

McCullough: "Did you say Ms Reid is a weak minister?"

Brown: "I never characterized her that way.....I try to be respectful of ministers."

McCullough: "Who appointed Bob Virk?"

Brown: "I did."

McCullough: "Transportation was a very political ministry - you were selling BC Rail and had problems with BC Ferries."

Brown: "We weren't selling BC Rail and the problems with BC Ferries we inherited from the previous government."

McCullough: "Did you ever tell anyone else Judith Reid was a weak minister?"

Brown: "I don't recall saying that to anyone else?"

McCullough: "Are you saying you deny that?"

Brown: "I dont' think I ever said that and in my mind I don't believe I ever would have said that."

McCullough: "Are you really sure Mr. Brown?"

Brown: "I'm as sure as I just said."

The testy nature of that exchange was missing from an earlier discussion of the reason for the Open Cabinet meetings - an innovation of the first BC Liberal term that disappeared soon after the second term began in 2005.

McCullough asked Brown about why the Open Cabinet meetings were held - televised on the government's website.

"It wasn't wildly received by the media, to put it bluntlly, but we promised it so we did it," Brown replied. "It was for transparency and fulsome understanding, naively perhaps."

McCullough: "But the media didn't believe it?"

Brown: "I think many people didn't believe it, not just the media."

McCullough: "The night before the open cabinet meeting did you have a practice session?"

Brown: "Yes. The reason for that - there was a bit of a practice session because it was a new concept. There was a bit of a question as to what you could say in public. We wanted it to reflect well on the government."

McCullough: "Was BC Rail intended to be discussed at Open Cabinet?"

Brown: "I don't know. I don't remember."

At this point BC Supreme Court Associate Chief Justice Anne MacKenzie interrupted the proceedings to address Bob Virk personally.

"Mr. Virk, please stop nodding your head," MacKenzie admonished.

Then the jury was excused from the courtroom and legal argument ensued that I cannot report due to MacKenzie's publication ban on anything that happens without the jury present.

When the jury returned, MacKenzie addressed them:

"Just before we broke you heard me ask Mr. Virk to stop nodding his not infer anything from that," she said.

McCullough returned to cross examination: "Wasn't that the intention - to discuss BC Rail at an Open Cabinet meeting?

Brown: "Yes."

McCullough: "Was that done?"

Brown: "No."

Brown explained that instead the government decided Premier Gordon Campbell would do a television address to the province.

Brown: "We wanted through television to speak directly to the public in an unmediated way [about BC Rail]."

McCullough: "Did you discuss with Mr. Virk the problems of discussing BC Rail in Open Cabinet?"

Brown: "I may have - I don't recall that conversation."

McCullough then moved on to the unprecedented police raid on the BC Legislature seeking information to charge David Basi, Bob Virk and Aneal Basi with corruption-related crimes.

McCullough: "After the Legislature was raided December 28, 2003, did you ever sit down with Gordon Campbell and [then-Finance Minister] Gary Collins and discuss how it would go?"

Brown: "I think it's fair to say on more than one occasion I discussed with Mr. Campbell and Mr. Collins what would not be appropriate to say, because we did not want to do anything to interfere wit the investigation."

McCullough: "Do you recall whether Gary Collins ever discussed with you what he was asked by police?"

Brown: "No....I didn't get interviewed by the police until June 2004."

McCullough: "Did you discuss the police interview with Mr. [Chris] Trumpy? [then a senior deputy minister involved in the BC Rail sale]

Brown: "We discussed the cancellation of the [BC Rail] Port Subdivision [privatization] bid because confidential information had been leaked."

And so it went - with McCullough drawing many memory blanks from Brown about what happened seven years ago but also at times significant details from the premier's top aide since he was elected to govern the province.

As likely the only other person in the room who has worked in the premier's office - I was Communications Director to NDP Premier Glen Clark in 1996 - I found it astonishing that Brown did not know about the long term profitability of BC Rail - discussed in the earlier story on this blog - for more than 20 years.

The biggest privatization in BC history. A deal worth $1 billion. Premier Campbell reversing the reversal of his ill-fated 1996 campaign promise that he would sell BC Rail - that in part cost him the election. Campbell promised in 2001 that he had learned his lesson - and would not sell BC Rail after all - then did it right after the election anyway.

And through all of this, Martyn Brown - his chief political advisor on the most important political issue in the province - has no idea about the state of BC Rail's books? Not a clue that it made money?

I would suggest there are three possible explanations:

1) Mr. Brown suffers from undiagnosed amnesia;

2) Mr. Brown is the most incompetent Chief of Staff to a BC Premier ever.

3) Something else.

The trial continues today - Monday - and I'm heading there right now for more.


Friday, June 11, 2010

Is Ida Chong the next Blair Lekstrom project resignation?

BC Liberal MLA Ida Chong and newly-independent MLA Blair Lekstrom - May 2006

Former BC Liberal Energy Minister Blair Lekstrom quit both the cabinet and BC Liberal caucus on Friday June 11 over his riding's opposition to the HST to sit as an independent - will BC Liberal cabinet minister Ida Chong be the next to go?

One thing is abundantly clear from Chong's interview with Victoria CFAX radio host Adam Sterling on Friday - the Oak Bay-Gordon Head MLA is not making any commitment to stay on the sinking ship captained by BC Premier Gordon Campbell after Lekstrom's stunning resignation.

The new Small Business Minister Chong - promoted courtesy of Lekstrom's departure - repeatedly refused to rule out quitting the caucus under intense questioning from Sterling.

The question is - why wouldn't she answer the question? Answer it plainly, that is.

Chong knows her very slim win in the 2009 election and overwhelming opposition to the Harmonized Sales Tax in her riding mean she is on the slippery slope to Recall come November.

Here is CFAX Radio AM 1070's news report of the interview - judge for yourself Chong's commitment to staying in the shell-shocked BC Liberal caucus.

And don't forget to vote in this blog's new poll on which BC Liberal MLA is most likely to quit next - it's on the upper right hand side of this web page.

Adam Stirling: "The question on everybody's minds right now is: do you, or do you ever see yourself resigning over opposition to the HST as another BC cabinet member?"

Ida Chong: "You know I got elected because I was worried about this province and I joined a party that I believe had all the fundamentals to keep our economy strong and moving forward. And as long as we can continue to do that, I will do that, and I realize that at times there will be tough decisions and tough decisions require courage and require leadership and that's what I'm prepared to provide.

Stirling: "So, that's a NO?"

Chong: "It means I'm going to continue to work hard to make sure our constituents get the best economy and the best quality of life that we can"

Stirling: "So is that not a NO?"

Chong: "You know, I think it's really clear that when you talk about standing for office you have to stand on the basis for which you were first elected and those are the principles that I have."

Apparently Chong is considering which priniciples those are - blind loyalty to Gordon Campbell or her responsibility to the voters who elected her as their representative - and who don't want the HST imposed on them.


BC Energy Minister Blair Lekstrom resigns from BC Liberal caucus over HST!

"My decision to resign from Cabinet and the BC Liberal Caucus was very difficult, but I fundamentally disagree with the direction our government is headed on the HST."

- Blair Lekstrom

Shocking news this morning - BC Liberal MLA Blair Lekstrom has resigned from the BC Liberal caucus and his cabinet position as Energy Minister over his opposition to the government's ongoing imposition of the new Harmonized Sales Tax - the HST.

The 12% HST will add 7% to hundreds of goods and services that previously were only subject to the 5% GST - shifting $2 billion in taxes from business to consumers and sparking a province-wide campaign to stop the tax - Fight HST - led by former BC Premier Bill Vander Zalm.

The Fight HST citizens Initiative petition has over 620,000 signatures and has reached both the 10% legal requirement for Elections BC to approve the petition and an additional 5% buffer to cover any possible disallowed signatures.

Lekstrom sent a letter of resignation to Premier Gordon Campbell this morning that states:

"Today I submitted to the Premier my formal resignation from the Cabinet position of Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources and I informed him that I would no longer be able to serve as a member of the BC Liberal Caucus."

"I will continue my duties as MLA for Peace River South."

"It is clear to me that the residents of Peace River South are opposed to the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) and are unhappy with the way in which our government moved forward with this policy,"

"The people of my riding face additional challenges as a border community."

"I recognize and admit that I supported the HST when our government made the decision to move forward with it last summer. And, as a member of Caucus and Cabinet, I can confirm that the HST was not contemplated before the May 2009 election."

"This is not about being right or wrong; in fact, I firmly believe that government is making a decision they believe will help the province, but as we have been unable to bring the public along, I acknowledge there is a need to re-evaluate this decision. "

"My decision to resign from Cabinet and the BC Liberal Caucus was very difficult, but I fundamentally disagree with the direction our government is headed on the HST."

"When I was elected, I promised myself, my family and my constituents that I would not change who I am to do this job, and I have reached a point where my beliefs and values no longer align with my government."

Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett has been appointed to replace Lekstrom as energy minister in place of Lekstrom.

Westside-Kelowna MLA Ben Stewart has been appointed minister of community and rural development in place of Bennett, and Vancouver-False Creek MLA Mary McNeil becomes minister of citizen services.

UPDATE 10:50 a.m.

The Canadian Press and other media are reporting on news conferences by both Lekstrom and Campbell this morning.

Said Lekstrom: "It was a tough decision but it had to be made. Fundamentally, the HST is it.The people I represent say we want to talk to you about this, we want you to put the brakes on the HST.

"I ran on who I was. The people I represent say we think you should be talking to us."

"We've done, I think, a tremendous amount of work for this province but the HST issue is one that you know, we made with the best of intentions, and I think to me a clear example of it was an idea
by government that forgot to bring the public along with that idea."

"It's been a challenge."

"It's probably one of the most difficult decisions I've made. Not so much, honestly, about myself but about the impact this will have on my colleagues."

"My priority is to listen to the public and that's my view on why I as elected and I'm going to follow through on that." Campbell was clearly surprised by Lekstrom's resignation.

"I wasn't expecting this one."

"I respect his position. I understand it but....we clearly disagree."

Campbell said Lekstrom informed him Wednesday that he might quit.

Campbell told him to think about it but Lekstrom tendered his resignation Friday morning.

"We had to do what was right, not what was popular."

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Premier's chief of staff Martyn Brown denies "fix was in" to sell BC Rail to CN, attempts to kill media stories, knowledge of BC Rail profitability


Martyn Brown, Premier Gordon Campbell's Chief of Staff, told B.C. Supreme Court today that he was unaware B.C. Rail had operating profits from 1977 to 2000 before it was sold by the provincial government in 2003.

Brown also denied defence allegations that "the fix was in" to sell B.C. Rail after the B.C. Liberals were elected in 2001.

Brown came under heavy pressure in cross examination by Kevin McCullough, defence lawyer for Bob Virk - one of three former government aides facing corruption charges related to the 2003 sale of B.C. Rail for $1 billion to CN Rail.

"Are you aware that B.C. Rail had operating profits from 1977 to 2000?" McCullough asked Brown in a tense exchange.

"No, I was not aware. I'm aware of the problems they were having.....My understanding was they were saddled with debts, saddled with costs."

McCullough then made a strong allegation: "I'm suggesting the fix was in, B.C. Rail was to be sold,"

Brown replied vigorously: "I would emphatically to my knowledge deny that."

McCullough: "You told Mr. Virk that CN was getting B.C. Rail."

Brown: "No - wrong - incorrect."

McCullough: "You told Mr. Virk that the appointments [to the board] to B.C. Rail were Liberal appointments, that they were going to make it happen."

Brown: "Baloney! That's not what happened."

McCullough: "Was there a decision communicated by Gordon Campbell to sell off the assets of B.C. Rail within five years of being elected?"

Brown: "That's preposterous!....That is not at all what I believe to be the case."

McCullough: "Five years - that was the plan - to sell all the assets of B.C. Rail."

Associate Chief Justice Anne MacKenzie intervened: "You asked the question - the witness denied it."

Brown: "Denied my knowledge of it, your honour."

MacKenzie: "Thanks for the correction."

In response to questions about the role of then-B.C. Rail board chair John McLernon, Brown's memor was tested.

"I'm not sure when Mr. McLernon was appointed," he replied.

Then McCullough made another startling allegation.

"On or about September 19, 2003 did you task Mr. Virk to go forward to the media to try and prevent them from running a story that CN [Rail] would be a presenter at a CIBC World Markets conference?"

CIBC World Markets was handling the sale of B.C. Rail for the provincial government at that time - CN Rail was the successful bidder. The defence argues that CN was always going to win the bid and that their clients role was to make it appear an honest competitive bidding contest took place.

Brown responded to McCullough's allegation: "I may have but I don't remember that."

McCullough: "What reason would you have to do that?"

Brown: I can't speculate on the reason because I can't recall."

McCullough continued: "Do you know where the [B.C. Rail sale] Fairness Advisor - Charles River Associates - are located?

Brown: "No - I'd presumed they were B.C.-based."

McCullough: "Would it surprise you to know they were based in Boston?"

Brown: "No.....they were highly recommended by Chris Trumpy [former B.C. deputy finance minister] and others.

Virk and co-accused David Basi face breach of trust and fraud charges for allegedly providing confidential government information about B.C. Rail to lobbyists representing a bidder in exchange for money and benefits. Aneal Basi faces money laundering charges.

The trial continues Thursday afternoon - check back here for more updates.