Sunday, October 31, 2010

BC Liberal MLA caucus to hold emergency meeting this week - Gordon Campbell's future on the line

Global TV reports Sunday night that BC Liberal MLA caucus whip John van Dongen has called an emergency meeting for this week following Premier Gordon Campbell's disastrous television appearance, ongoing uproar about the Basi-Virk/BC Legislature Raid deal and increasing organized opposition to the Harmonized Sales Tax.

Watch this space for more information as it become available.

UPDATE MONDAY - Global TV's Catherine Urquhart had the story on Sunday but it seems to have not been followed by any other media to date.

Urquhart reports that an "extraordinary caucus meeting has been scheduled for this week. No meetings were scheduled for several weeks after that but an urgent order came from party whip John van Dongen."

"It's believed the meeting is due to increasing dissension in caucus ranks," she said.

Urquhart pointed out that an Ipsos Reid poll after Campbell's TV address last Wednesday found that only 13% of viewers had improved their opinion of the premier while 47% said their opinion had worsened after watching it and 39% said it had no real impact.

UPDATE - MONDAY 7:30 p.m.

CBC online is reporting
that BC Liberal MLA caucus chair Ron Cantelon is admanant that Premier Gordon Campbell's leadership is not on the agenda for the caucus meeting Thursday and that it is a regularly scheduled meeting - not the "emergency" meeting Global TV reported on Sunday evening.

"No, it's one of our regular meetings," Cantelon told CBC. "We realize it would be timely to gather the troops together before we go to convention in Penticton. There's been a lot happening."

No kidding, Ron!

Friday, October 29, 2010

David Basi house arrest conditions tightened after alleged violation of release terms

Aneal and David Basi outside court October 18 with lawyers Erin Dance & Michael Bolton - Bill Tieleman photo

Only two weeks after his suprise guilty plea bargain suddenly ended the BC Legislature Raid trial in BC Supreme Court, David Basi reappeared before Associate Chief Justice Anne MacKenzie again and had his house arrest conditions tightened.

CTV BC reports that Basi was charged with violating the conditions of his sentence for breach of trust and fraud for passing on confidential government information on the $1 billion privatization of BC Rail in 2003.

CTV BC quotes Basi as saying outside court: "It was a stupid mistake."

Canadian Press is reporting that a ban on publication of the hearing was imposed by MacKenzie, who was the trial judge, but that she agreed to tighter restrictions on Basi that were requested by the Crown.

Basi was represented by his defence lawyer, Michael Bolton, while Special Prosecutor team member Andrea MacKay, Province court reporter Keith Fraser says.

Basi and Bob Virk, both BC Liberal government ministerial assistants in 2003, were sentenced to 2 years less a day house arrest under a set of restrictions that allow them to work, shop, exercise and attend legal and medical appointments. Aneal Basi - the third government aide facing money laundering charges related to benefits obtained by Basi and Virk - had his charges stayed.


Thursday, October 28, 2010

Tieleman - Premier Campbell's TV address a disappointing lecturing re-run with a hidden tax cut in the middle

GCTV is now on the air! Gordon Campell during television address.

Premier Campbell’s prime time rerun won’t be renewed

By Bill Tieleman, 24 hours columnist

Premier Gordon Campbell spent 15 minutes encouraging viewers to turn the channel on his hyped half-hour television address Wednesday before delivering the only news of the night.

Campbell lectured viewers about why they are apparently too dumb to understand that the hated Harmonized Sales Tax is a good idea, complete with charts and graphs for the 80% who still don’t get it.

But then came the only hard news – a 15% income tax cut – which he should have led off with to hold the audience.

Campbell also vaguely promised to increase spending on early childhood learning after admitting that one in three kids are not ready for Grade One when they get to school.

Welcome changes but why no details on a positive plan most would approve of?

Campbell’s recycling old statistics – like how much he has cut income taxes since 2001 – left the impression the premier was merely defending his record, not cutting a new one.

Campbell also hinted at rumored radical changes to school boards but didn’t explain.

With the premier’s personal approval rating at just 9%, this television address was mostly a disappointing rerun not fit for prime time – and likely to be cancelled next season.

[This column ran in today's 24 hours newspaper]

UPDATE - Will HST referendum question make voters choose between eliminating new income tax cut or HST?

The real question now is the HST question - will the government with Elections BC approval make the upcoming HST referendum questions read as follows:

"Do you want the BC government to cancel the HST, which would require it to also cancel your 15% income tax cut? Yes or no?"

The value of the 15% income tax reduction effective January 1, 2011 is estimated at saving those making over $72,000 about $616 and $354 for those making $50,000 a year - about the average in BC.

But the HST has been estimated to cost the average BC family $521 according to a Statistics Canada model developed for the Victoria Times-Colonist newspaper.

The Times-Colonist stated that: "A household with an annual income of $40,000 to $50,000 will pay $253 more because of the HST, while households in the $80,000 to $90,000 range will pay $1,128 more annually."

Even after the income tax cut, that would leave many British Columbians paying more taxes thanks to the HST.

But it also likely means the Campbell or Campbell-less BC Liberals would have to cut public services to pay for the income tax cut, which will cost the government $568 million in lost revenue the first year and rise to $638 million by 2013-14.

It's also important to know - as economist David Schreck aptly points out - that the tax cut goes proportionately more to wealthy British Columbians because it applies to the first $72,000 of income, not just to those making UP to $72,000.

Schreck estimates therefore that 50% of the tax cut benefits will go to just 20% of British Columbians and guess who they are? The richest 20% of course!

Of the $568 million cut in taxes in the first year those making over $72,000 annually will get $284 million per year.

And while Finance Minister Colin Hansen has claimed BC will have an estimated $2.1 billion in higher corporate tax revenue over the next three years, that's far from money in the bank.

The income tax cut likely means public services will be slashed to ensure BC's existing deficit does not grow further.

Meanwhile, 799 people have viewed the premier's TV show on YouTube at this point and pundits have been most unkind in reviewing the performance - not a great investment so far for the $240,000 plus cost to taxpayers to produce and air the 22 minutes snoozer.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Tieleman joins Public Eye Online panel live-blogging Premier Gordon Campbell's TV address Wednesday

UPDATE - What a terrible show that was! I'll have a report here Thursday morning and check 24 hours newspaper for my opinion also. Unbelievable.
* * * *
I will be live-blogging BC Premier Gordon Campbell's Wednesday 7 p.m. TV address at PublicEyeOnline - Sean Holman's fine website. Here's the scoop:

"On Wednesday evening, beginning at 6:30, join us for Public Eye's coverage and exclusive analysis of Gordon Campbell's televised state-of-the-province speech on Global TV.

We'll be live blogging the event with 24 hours' columnist Bill Tieleman, former provincial New Democrat legislator David Cubberley, former Non-Partisan Association Vancouver school trustee Eleanor Gregory, former Liberal legislator Sheila Orr and Malaspina University-College political science professor Allan Warnke.

We'll be taking your questions and sharing our thoughts on what could be a career-defining moment for the premier."

Tieleman: Basi and Virk guilty of being pawns in $1 billion game all the big players won

Top - Bill Tieleman meets David Basi for first time in February 2010 after covering the case since 2003;
Bottom - Tieleman sits in his trashed office after break-in related to his Basi-Virk coverage in December 2007

Hung Out to Dry

Basi and Virk are guilty of being pawns in a much bigger game that others won

Bill Tieleman's 24 hours/The Tyee column

Tuesday October 26, 2010

By Bill Tieleman

"Tell him his commandment is fulfill'd,
That Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead:
Where should we have our thanks?"

- William Shakespeare, Hamlet: Act IV, Scene 2

David Basi and Bob Virk are guilty alright -- guilty of being unwitting pawns in a much bigger chess game where all the other players came out winners.

Former BC Liberal ministerial aides Basi and Virk do not deserve to spend a single day under house arrest, let alone the two years less a day they were sentenced to last week under a guilty plea bargain agreement admitting to reduced breach of trust and fraud changes for leaking confidential government information on the sale of B.C. Rail to lobbyists for a bidder.

Like the ill-fated Rosencrantz and Guildenstern -- a pair of minor actors working for the corrupt King Claudius who are sent off unsuspectingly to their deaths by the scheming Danish prince Hamlet -- Basi and Virk were simply hung out to dry after police raided the B.C. legislature on Dec. 28, 2003.

At the heart, this case is about Premier Gordon Campbell and BC Liberal MLAs breaking their 2001 promise to voters not to sell publicly owned B.C. Rail.

The real breach of trust was a political one that came from the premier and his government, who committed it against British Columbians who expected and deserved better.

What the case was about

This case is about selling a profitable railroad serving the public to CN Rail, a company that has contributed over $300,000 to the BC Liberal Party since 1994 and whose chairman,
David McLean, is a close personal friend and long-time backer of Campbell.

Basi-Virk is about two different reputable rail companies -- Canadian Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe -- dropping out of the B.C. Rail bidding process because they said it featured a "lack of fairness" and was "fundamentally flawed" with "blatant favouritism" shown to the successful bidder CN.

Basi-Virk is about the astonishing disregard for good judgment repeatedly demonstrated by the RCMP. Lead investigator superintendent Kevin DeBruyckere continued on through the case despite disclosing to the force early on that his brother-in-law is BC Liberal Party executive director Kelly Reichert.

RCMP officer Andrew Cowan, another key investigator, actually had bought a house from David Basi's own mother a few years before the raid and had direct dealings about it with Basi himself yet also stayed on the case.

RCMP notes titled "Kelly Reichert -- Do Not Disclose" that the defence obtained through tenacious court action alleged that Reichert was briefed by officers on key aspects of the case, which he allegedly passed on to Campbell.

According to Virk's lawyer Kevin McCullough, reading from the RCMP document, Reichert was even asked if additional charges against Basi should be pursued or whether that would be "outweighed by the harm of embarrassment" to the BC Liberal Party.

But because the trial ended, none of those documents were ever filed in court and remain unproven allegations.

Forget the noise being made in the media and opposition about the government giving up any chance to recover the $6 million in legal fees the province already paid Basi and Virk's lawyers by not taking away Basi's house and garnisheeing their future wages.

Those legal fees are mere chump change compared to what British Columbia lost in the $1 billion B.C. Rail privatization that still lies at the dead centre of this travesty.

B.C. Rail produced net profits in 18 of the 21 years between 1980 and 2000 and in all the three years it didn't the reason for losses was due to "special charges" against the railway, as The Tyee's Will McMartin ably pointed out.

That meant B.C. Rail contributed $137.8 million to the provincial treasury but Campbell's chief of staff Martyn Brown maintained in testimony June 10 that he was "not aware" of that.

"I'm aware of the problems they were having... My understanding was they were saddled with debts, saddled with costs," Brown swore.

Media quick to close the book

Disregard media claims that a case which began publicly with a police raid on the B.C. legislature on Dec. 28, 2003 was merely a
"grubby little episode" where the guilty confessed to being "small-time shakedown artists" -- conclusions drawn by two pundits who together spent less time observing proceedings in B.C. supreme court over five years than Campbell's chief of staff Martyn Brown did in his short testimony this spring as the first of only two witnesses.

Ignore Premier Gordon Campbell last week oozing disdain for Basi and Virk, calling them "criminals" and saying they only have themselves to blame.

"Two people acted on their own and acted criminally. And I think unfortunately for seven years they've claimed innocence, and their lawyers have pretended that they were innocent when they knew they were guilty," Campbell told reporters. "They dragged their families through this for seven years."

It's a little tough to take this premier expressing real concern for anyone's family when his province has the highest child poverty rate for those same seven years running.

And if Basi and Virk "acted on their own," then why did Campbell and attorney general Mike de Jong both instantly reject calls from the NDP opposition and media for a public inquiry, saying it would be a waste of money when justice has run its course?

They couldn't have anything to fear in that case.

Or could they?

Pressures on the defendants

First -- consider why the two aides might have made the guilty plea bargain.

Basi was fired from his well-paid government job as ministerial aide to then-finance minister Gary Collins nearly seven years ago, Virk as ministerial aide to then-transportation minister Judith Reid almost six years ago.

Basi and Virk each have a wife and two young children. Neither has earned any significant income since then, doing odd jobs and receiving financial support from their families.

Had the trial continued through to April 2011 as planned, they would have been dealing with this case for eight years before resolution.

If found guilty by a jury on multiple breach of trust and fraud charges they faced a jail term of up to five years, plus responsibility for their legal fees that were already $3 million each -- with six months of trial to go -- plus potential fines.

Both men would have faced personal bankruptcy and in Basi's case, loss of his family home.

Basi also faced additional charges -- to which he also pled guilty -- of breach of trust in receiving $50,000 from Victoria development company Shambrook Hills for help getting land removed from the Agricultural Land Reserve. He has been fined $75,695 in total in both case, representing all the money he wrongly received.

How many people would gamble everything they own, risk five years in jail and ensure their family was reduced to poverty -- after already living through seven hard years of limbo?

Especially when your alternative to disaster is two years less a day house arrest, multi-million legal fees paid off and the ability to work while living with your family.

Under that kind of extended, excruciating financial and psychological pressure, it's hardly surprising Basi and Virk took the deal.

And it also explains Basi's post-sentencing statement that: "I want my kids to know that their dad had integrity, that their dad does sleep with a clear conscience at night. I know some people who don't, I'll tell you that much, and they're very relieved today."

One could argue that Basi is merely another guilty criminal spinning a self-serving story. But why would he bother to go to those lengths and dare talk about integrity after confessing?

In the crosshairs

Then consider the defence arguments throughout this case -- that Basi and Virk were simply political staffers who were told by their superiors to keep OmniTRAX in the B.C. Rail bidding at all costs to make it look competitive, especially after Canadian Pacific dropped out before the decision was announced.

Michael Bolton, Basi's lawyer, and McCullough argued that the RCMP investigation was tailored and targeted at their clients and away from any other political figures.

And they alleged that OmniTRAX was offered a lucrative "consolation prize" worth up to $70 million -- the B.C. Rail Roberts Bank port subdivision spur line that was also up for sale -- if the company stayed in the bidding.

Needless to say, those allegations were never proven in court. The premature end to the trial made sure that any documents, wiretap transcripts or other evidence that might have supported defence contentions will never see the light of day.

And it all happened just before Collins was slated to testify.

The RCMP was at great pains to point out early on after the B.C. legislature raid that no elected officials were under investigation.

It turned out later, however, that Collins had been the subject of an intense video surveillance operation in Dec. 2003, when he met with officials of losing bidder OmniTRAX after CN had been awarded B.C. Rail.

The agreed upon statement of facts signed by both the defence and special prosecutor Bill Berardino is revealing on both counts.

"After the Freight Division bidding process concluded, Basi set up a dinner between Dwight Johnson and Pat Broe of OmniTRAX and minister Collins at the Villa del Lupo. Basi told the OmniTRAX representatives that minister Collins would be discussing with them some form or consolation prize such as another opportunity to do business with the provincial government as a reward for their participation in the bid," the statement reads, referring to owner Broe and top executive Johnson.

"At no time did minister Collins offer a consolation prize to OmniTRAX. Minister Collins' meeting with Mr. Johnson and Mr. Broe occurred after CN had been announced as the successful bidder on the Freight Division," it says.

One can only ask why this level of detail is included in the agreed-upon statement of facts.

Was this a key point in the defence-Crown negotiations, to ensure that the term "consolation prize" was accepted as a fact even if it was also accepted that Collins did not offer one?

Mysterious motivations
And what were the enormous benefits that Basi and Virk obtained as bribes for attempting to illegally throw a $1 billion deal to one of the bidders?

A total of $25,695 was paid to Basi. And Basi, Virk and their wives got a trip to see a Denver Broncos football game in the company of an OmniTRAX executive, something worth $3,000.

Who in their right mind would risk losing their well-paid jobs and spending serious time in jail all for less than $30,000 on a $1 billion deal?

Who in their right mind, given all the evidence obtained by police and the pending testimony on behalf of the prosecution by the two lobbyists who provided the bribes, would hold out for six years of court proceedings constantly proclaiming their innocence?

Unless, perhaps, the defence argument actually made sense.

It should be noted that the third accused -- former government communications staffer Aneal Basi, David's cousin -- had his charges of money laundering in connections with those benefits stayed last week as part of the guilty plea bargain deal.

Aneal Basi's charges should have been dropped long ago. Instead he was left on the hook for seven years and had to pay his own legal bills for defence lawyers Joe Doyle and Erin Dance.

Ironically the least involved of the three accused is the only one who paid for his own lawyers.

New facts in statement of facts

The statement of facts surprisingly raises new issues not previously disclosed.

It notes previously disclosed information that Bruce Clark -- a long-time executive member of the federal Liberal Party in B.C. and brother of ex-BC Liberal deputy premier Christy Clark -- was in possession of documents "improperly disclosed to Clark" by Basi and Virk regarding the B.C. Rail Roberts Bank subdivision.

But it states -- for the first time to my knowledge -- that Clark was working for the Washington Marine Group, the owner of Vancouver Shipyards, as a consultant and that his employer was interested in acquiring the spur line.

And notwithstanding ex-Pilothouse Public Affairs principal Brian Kieran's recent charm offensive blaming business partner Erik Bornmann for much of his troubles, the statement of fact says Kieran -- not Bornmann -- was given the bid values for CN's, CP's and OmniTRAX's bids by Virk three days before the government's evaluation committee learned them.

The resolution of the charges still leaves many other questions unanswered, making the call for a public inquiry all the more salient.

Gordon Campbell and other officials in his government repeatedly refused any comment on a series of questions about the role Basi played in BC Liberal Party dirty tricks, even though no charges were laid in connection to any of them.

Defence lawyers alleged in court hearings that Basi was involved in stacking paid callers to radio talk shows, including to hosts Jon McComb at CKNW AM 980 and Ben Meisner in Prince George; that Campbell knew of Basi's interventions; that Basi organized counter farmed salmon protests; that he set up a protest outside the B.C. Federation of Labour convention and that his actions were directed or known by staff in the office of the premier.

It was revealed in court hearings that Basi held two $10,000 contracts with the BC Liberal Party for so-called "media monitoring" that appeared to be about media manipulation.

There is no legal reason on earth now for Campbell and others not to answer those questions -- but it may take the compulsion of a public inquiry to get them -- unless the premier's Wednesday night prime time television address is to tell the whole truth about this sordid affair.

What was the Grit connection?

Also unclear is why so many of the key players in this case had strong connections to the federal Liberal Party of Canada during a period in which Paul Martin and his supporters successfully worked to dethrone prime minister Jean Chretien.

Former cabinet minister Herb Dhaliwal blamed Basi for organizing the takeover of his then-Vancouver South riding association, where membership jumped from 500 to 4,000, and criticized Campbell's government for not reining in its staff from interfering in federal politics.

Basi was allegedly just part of the Martinite takeover led by B.C. lieutenant Mark Marissen that saw federal Liberal members in B.C. jump from about 4,000 in 2001 to more than 37,000 by Jan. 2004, primarily through new memberships sold in the South Asian community. At $10 per adult member, the Liberals raked in over $300,000.

While federal Liberal leadership has since changed from the hapless Martin to the more hapless Stephane Dion to the becalmed Michael Ignatieff, some things haven't changed much. After running the surprisingly successful Dion leadership campaign in 2006, Marissen is currently doing contract pre-election field work for the Liberal Party.

And as recently as Feb. 2009, Bruce Clark was chairing the federal Liberal Party's high-dollar Laurier Club fundraising efforts in B.C. although he no longer holds that position.

Where are they now?
Lastly, it is sadly unavoidable to ask the question why the only players in this vast scandal who have been punished by the courts are two Indo-Canadian men, while Caucasians who were also deeply involved have avoided that fate.

Those who admitted to paying bribes and receiving the bids -- Bornmann and Kieran -- became Crown witnesses and were never charged.

Bruce Clark, according to the statement of facts, was in possession of confidential government information but was never charged.

OmniTRAX and its executives hired the lobbyists who paid the bribes -- something OmniTRAX denies any knowledge of -- but no one faced charges.

Then there are the other players who have all done very well despite this political corruption scandal landing on their doorsteps.

Despite breaking his solemn promise to voters not to sell B.C. Rail, Premier Gordon Campbell survived two elections before the trial began. And he will likely retire soon with a lucrative, publicly financed pension and multiple corporate directorships from a grateful business community.

Ex-finance minister Gary Collins is a well-paid senior vice-president for Belkorp Industries, a prominent B.C. firm.

David McLean remains chair of CN Rail and a wealthy businessman.

OmniTRAX was never charged with anything and issued a statement saying it was not ever under any police investigation.

Patrick Kinsella co-chaired two BC Liberal Party election campaigns and was paid $297,000 for B.C. Rail consulting work alone over four years, despite some senior executives not knowing what he did there. Today he is a registered provincial lobbyist.

Brian Kieran has started a political blog and last year said he was opening a new business providing communications and public affairs advice, including "monitoring the provincial legislative agenda."

Erik Bornmann completed law school at the University of B.C. and, astonishingly, may become a lawyer in Ontario if he can pass a "good character" hearing by the Law Society of Upper Canada.

RCMP superintendent Kevin DeBruckyere was promoted during the course of the case.

But after seven years in legal limbo, Basi and Virk are under house arrest for two more. And their future job prospects are dubious at best, given the admission of guilt in a political corruption case.

Fleeting prize

After nearly seven years of covering this case from day one, breaking many stories and having my own office broken into and trashed because of my coverage, I have just one lasting image in my mind.

It's the picture of two young Indo-Canadian political aides and their wives sitting in VIP seats at the Denver Broncos football game in 2002 with then-OmniTRAX chief operating officer Gary Rennick, thinking to themselves: "We've finally made it -- we're part of the elite now! It just gets better and better."

And all the while, neither Basi nor Virk knew that their world would soon collapse and they would likely never again cross the U.S. border due to their criminal records.

Like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, these two minor players who inconveniently got in the way have been dispatched from the scene forever.


Monday, October 25, 2010

Toronto's right wing Rob Ford enjoys smashing win to become mayor over centre, left candidates

Toronto Mayor-Elect Rob Ford

There is much to be learned from the overwhelming Toronto mayoralty election victory tonight of right-wing Councilor Rob Ford over centrist opponent George Smitherman and left-wing Councilor Joe Pantalone.

But one thing is clear - there is no Vancouver version of Rob Ford waiting in the wings to become this city's next mayor.

Despite pre-election polling that showed a neck and neck race between former Ontario Liberal deputy premier "Furious George" Smitherman and suburban Etobicoke councilor Ford it wasn't even close. And voter turnout soared to 52% from just 39% in 2006's last Toronto election.

Ford cruised to victory with a 47% to 35% margin over Smitherman, while Deputy Mayor Pantalone - outgoing Mayor David Miller's endorsed successor - had just 11%.

And Ford's win was all the more impressive after Toronto's elite lined up to denounce him as a barbarian at the city's gates, an uncouth lout with a past drunk driving conviction [true - and familiar here in BC for having no great effect] and a privatizing conservative who would demolish public services [which may indeed happen].

None of it mattered because - lesson learning time - voters were simply fed up with classic politicians.

Ford is a real, if flawed, person.

Ford wisely ignored the daily attacks from the country's largest newspaper - the Toronto Star - and stuck to his campaign message throughout - to "stop the gravy train" at city hall. He promised to cut taxes, hire more police and slash the number of city councilors in half.

His chief opponent Smitherman unwisely wandered all over the political map, talking about privatizing city garbage collection, bus routes and other services while also trying to appeal to centre left voters - it didn't work.

"The two places where big dollars are spent and where outsourcing are going to be most prevalent are garbage and also with respect to the operations of the Toronto Transit Commission," Smitherman said early in the campaign in March.

Ford also talked about privatizing but came at it from a classic right-wing perspective, so no one was shocked or appalled. And when a Ford advisor publicly suggested privatizing the TTC, the candidate immediately distanced himself from doing so. Advantage - Ford.

Pantalone was never in the running, having no chance to escape Miller's long shadow, but he didn't help himself either by hiring long-time Conservative backroom strategist John Laschinger as his campaign manager.

No doubt intended to show that Pantalone wasn't simply a left-wing candidate, hiring Laschinger simple did nothing to solidify the veteran councilor's attempt to continue Miller's coalition.

And while Laschinger had run Miller's successful previous campaigns, his other efforts included the ill-fated Belinda Stronach Conservative Party leadership effort in 2004.

As for Vancouver similarities - there is no Rob Ford here. Even the unofficial opposition and Non-Partisan Association's partisan blog - City - endorsed Smitherman, not Ford. And Ford wasn't running against an incumbent, while the NPA will be forced to take on current Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson in the 2011 contest.

One big difference - Metro Toronto has 44 councilors representing regional wards, plus the mayor.

That system allows councilors to create their own power base, while Vancouver's archaic at large electoral system forces councilors to run city-wide and encourages dependence on political parties which can get the message out.

Put simply, a potential Rob Ford has almost no hope of being elected councilor, let alone mayor, in Vancouver.

Whether that's a good or bad thing will soon be seen.


Gordon Campbell Chief of Staff Martyn Brown takes the fall for premier's dive; cabinet shuffled but same old deck

Premier Gordon Campbell's long-time Chief of Staff Martyn Brown has taken the fall today for his leader's endless dive in the polls, being replaced by former Finance Deputy Minister Paul Taylor.

Brown had filled the job since the 2001 election and before that had worked for Campbell in opposition. Brown was originally research director for the BC Social Credit Party and later top staff aide to BC Reform Party leader Jack Weisgerber, leaving after the 1996 election when Campbell lost to NDP Premier Glen Clark.

Brown also served as Executive Director of the Citizens’ Voice on Native Land Claims, a short-lived privately-funded effort to defeat the N'isgaa First Nation treaty.

Taylor, who was also CEO of the Insurance Corporation of BC in the past and most recently CEO of Naikun Wind Energy Group until June, was recruited to BC from Alberta before the 2001 provincial election. The New Car Dealers Association - major donors to the BC Liberal Party - hired Taylor the year before that election.

Taylor got himself into some controversy during the lengthy BC Legislature Raid corruption case when it was revealed in 2007 that he was friends with Brian Kieran - a Pilothouse Public Affairs lobbyist whose office were raided by police in December 2003.

Kieran and business partner Erik Bornmann became Crown witnesses and were never charged despite admitting providing bribes to former BC Liberal ministerial aides David Basi and Bob Virk in exchange for confidential government information about the privatization of BC Rail. Bornmann and Kieran worked for losing bidder OmniTRAX.

While an email between Bornmann, Kieran and third Pilothouse partner Jamie Elmhirst suggested that Taylor would be helpful to them, a KPMG review initiated by the provincial government cleared Taylor of any wrongdoing.

I obtained that email through a source in March 2007 and interviewed Taylor and Kieran but did not publish a story on it due to my concerns and those of 24 hours newspaper's legal counsel that the information leaked to me was part of the evidence planned to be presented in court.

However subsequently a story was published by Globe and Mail columnist Gary Mason on the same email. At that point I was contacted by RCMP and informed an investigation was underway to determine the source of the email leaked to me - I declined to disclose that source, citing journalistic principles of protecting confidentiality. No further action was taken by the RCMP.

Brown was the first witness in the ill-fated Basi-Virk trial, testifying repeatedly that he "did not recall" or could not remember many details of the $1 billion sale of BC Rail in tough questioning by defence lawyers.

Brown is likely the longest person to have held the job of chief of staff to any premier in recent political history.

But despite the BC Liberals complaining vigorously while in opposition that the then-NDP government had "politicized" the senior public service, the entirely political Martyn Brown moves on to become Deputy Minister of Tourism, Trade and Investment.


Friday, October 22, 2010

Bill Tieleman - I have lots to say about the sudden guilty plea bargain in Basi-Virk - stay tuned

Bill Tieleman outside BC Supreme Court - Lyle Stafford photo

Regular readers will note that I have not offered my opinion on the sudden guilty plea bargain deal by David Basi and Bob Virk despite covering this case for nearly seven years, starting December 28, 2003 when police raided the BC Legislature.

That will change on Tuesday October 26 in this space, in 24 hours newspaper and at The Tyee online.

Stay tuned - I have lots to say and some of it will be very controversial.

In the meantime, my 2008 article "The A to Z of the Basi-Virk/BC Legislature Raid Case" on the 5th anniversary of the raid is still the definitive listing of all the major and minor players in the biggest political corruption scandal in BC for years.

Re-reading it will raise many questions about how this case suddenly ended.


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Premier Gordon Campbell denounces Basi & Virk as "criminals" who acted alone in BC Rail corruption case

Special Prosecutor Bill Berardino and associate lawyer Andrea MacKay face media on Monday October 18 after guilty plea bargain revealed, with David Basi, Bob Virk, Aneal Basi and their lawyers in background at BC Supreme Court - Bill Tieleman photo

Sudden Basi-Virk trial ending will be costly for taxpayers as Gordon Campbell says Basi & Virk always criminally guilty

By Bill Tieleman, 24 hours columnist

Premier Gordon Campbell broke a seven year silence Tuesday on the B.C. Legislature raid case, calling two former B.C. Liberal ministerial aides who made surprise guilty pleas Monday “criminals” who acted on their own simply for personal benefit.

Campbell said that despite years of defence lawyer allegations that David Basi and Bob Virk were merely following the orders of political superiors to ensure one of the companies considering buying B.C. Rail stayed in the bidding, the claims were “groundless”.

“Two people acted on their own and acted criminally. And I think unfortunately for seven years they’ve claimed innocence, and their lawyers have pretended that they were innocent when they knew they were guilty,” Campbell told reporters.

Basi and Virk struck a plea bargain deal with Special Prosecutor Bill Berardino that saw several charges dropped in exchange for a two year house arrest sentence and a $75,695 fine for Basi.

But the most controversial part of the deal is that despite pleading guilty, Basi and Virk’s $6 million legal fees will be paid by the government.

Berardino said in an interview with 24 hours Monday that not pursuing reimbursement of the fees was “my decision” and there no political interference in it.

***UPDATE - Oct 21 - After reviewing notes of my interview with Berardino I should clarify that he was referring to the plea bargain deal overall, not the reimbursement of Basi and Virk's legal fees. At the time it appeared there was only one agreement but it is now clear the decision not to pursue reimbursement of fees paid by the provincial government was made by BC officials, not Berardino. ***

Campbell declined comment on the fee issue but said that: “Legal services felt this would be an extra cost to taxpayers that would yield no benefit to the taxpayers.”

Berardino declined to say if plea bargain discussions with defence had taken place at previous points in the six year case.

“I don’t think I should comment on that. It’s privileged,” he said.

Campbell also rejected New Democratic Party calls for a public inquiry into the $1 billion sale of B.C. Rail in 2003, saying it would cost millions of dollars and justice has run its course.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Bill Tieleman joins Globe and Mail online discussion of Basi-Virk case Wednesday at 1 p.m.

I will be participating in a Globe and Mail newspaper online discussion about unanswered questions from the Basi-Virk/BC Legislature Raid case on Wednesday October 20 at 1 p.m. BC time.

I will be joining Globe reporter Mark Hume, who has extensively covered the charges against David Basi and Bob Virk that ended with a surprise guilty plea bargain on Monday, to answer questions about the case.

You can post questions in advance or live on Wednesday at 1 p.m. through the Globe link above.

Rising BC Conservative Party poses threat to not only BC Liberals but NDP with populist approach

Top - Federal Conservative MP John Cummins speaks to BC Conservative Party AGM on October 16; bottom - ex-Reform/Allliance/Conservative MP Randy White answers questions - Bill Tieleman photos

BC Conservatives Rising

Upstart party aims to capitalize on Campbell's collapse, but NDP should worry too.

Bill Tieleman's 24 hours/The Tyee column

Tuesday October 19, 2010

By Bill Tieleman

"Doesn't it make you feel a bit like the early days of Reform?"

- Former Reform Party MP Randy White to BC Conservatives

When has a Conservative politician publicly said he voted for a provincial New Democrat MLA, wants to appeal to unionized workers, supports the role of government in the economy and backs environmental critics of run of river projects?

It happened in Vancouver on Saturday when veteran federal Conservative member of parliament John Cummins addressed the provincial BC Conservative Party's annual general meeting.

And Cummins got strong applause for his views from the almost 200 delegates in attendance, including former premiers from two provinces and several ex-MPs.

Cummins gave a campaign-style speech making clear the BC Conservatives are going to target not only disgruntled BC Liberal voters but also the NDP's traditional support bases.

With Premier Gordon Campbell facing a disastrous nine per cent personal approval rating in a new Angus Reid Public Opinion poll while his party sits at just 24 per cent thanks to the hated Harmonized Sales Tax, past BC Liberal supporters are looking for a new centre-right home.

The NDP are pleased to hold 49 per cent in the same poll, but leader Carole James has only a 27 per cent approval rating and faces internal party issues highlighted by caucus chair Norm Macdonald's resignation last Friday over
James' expulsion of MLA Bob Simpson without any discussion or vote by her MLAs.

The two major parties' problems helped create an ebullient mood among delegates, perhaps unrealistic for a party that has no leader, no elected members, only ran 24 candidates in the 2009 election and garnered just two per cent of the vote, but that optimism is not totally misplaced.

The same poll shows the BC Conservatives rising to eight per cent and positioning themselves as the go-to alternative for voters angry at the BC Liberals but afraid of the New Democrats.

That's why the BC Conservatives -- who are not connected to the federal party -- have been able to attract a collection of senior ex-politicians to advise them on how to build the party.

Right-wing veterans

Led by former Conservative and Reform MP Randy White, their "Tactical Advisory Group" includes ex-BC Social Credit premier Rita Johnston, ex-Newfoundland Conservative premier Brian Peckford -- now a long-time resident of Qualicum Beach, and other former Reform MPs Darryl Stinson, Jim Hart, Andy Burton and Reed Elley, along with former Cowichan Lake mayor Jack Peake and party president Wayne McGrath, a three-term Vernon mayor.

But it's sitting MP Cummins who has the highest profile -- and who may well be the front runner for leader in 2011, though he has to date denied any interest.

Cummins' speech may change that perception.

'People are environmentally conscious'

"You don't want people voting for you simply because they don't like the other guy -- we need to stand for something," Cummins, a commercial fisherman and teacher, told members.

"British Columbians believe there is a role for government," he said, extolling the actions of former Social Credit premier W.A.C. Bennett in nationalizing BC Electric to create publicly-owned BC Hydro and creating BC Ferries as a Crown Corporation.

But the BC Liberals have removed the role of government and ignored environmental concerns with their controversial independent power projects across the province, Cummins said, a mistake the BC Conservatives must not repeat.

"People are environmentally conscious -- this party has to be seen as a protector of the environment -- if not, we're not going to make it to government," he said.

And Cummins reminded BC Conservatives that in past federal elections the right wing Reform, Alliance and Conservative parties had all gained workers' votes to win seats, despite the NDP having strong ties to organized labour.

"The union guy voted for us -- don't ever forget that," Cummins said forcefully and to a round of applause. "Those are the people we need on our side."

"There are voters, some of whom have voted for the NDP -- and I've done that in the last year," Cummins said, referring to his public endorsement of NDP Delta North MLA Guy Gentner. "The NDP MLA in my riding was helpful on some fisheries issues, so I gave him my vote, because I can't vote Liberal."

Cummins also reminded the audience that Bennett was premier for 20 years because he always won votes from union workers, many of whom supported his championing of major infrastructure projects like the BC Hydro dams that opened up the province.

Cummins didn't shy away from some of the BC Conservatives' chequered history either.

"The party has a bit of a coloured past -- now we're a new Conservative party," Cummins says.

"As [former Reform leader] Preston Manning said -- bright lights attract flies. In the past year this party has been the bright light in politics and yes we've attracted flies, but now we have the flypaper up," he said to laughter.

And perhaps anticipating a rough ride from journalists in days ahead -- although surprisingly I was the only media person present at the event -- Cummins told members not to fear scrutiny.

Shifting issues anticipated

"How do you deal with the media? They aren't ogres. They're people like you and me who go home at the end of the day to their families," he said. "Tell the truth as you see it. If you do that you will be well served."

And likely referring to the HST -- which Cummins voted for in parliament as a Conservative MP and has said in a recent interview is "necessary" -- he advised the audience that the "issues of the day seem big but don't really matter in the long run."

"Nobody really knows the issues which will be fought over in the next election," he said.

Cummins also fired both barrels at the BC Liberals, whose MLAs have accused the upstart BC Conservatives of vote splitting of voters on the right-centre which could lead to an NDP victory, as it did in 1972, 1991 and 1996 with the social democrats taking around 40 per cent of the vote but a majority of the seats.

"As to the question of splitting the vote -- who is splitting the vote?" Cummins asked, pointing out that with the record low turnout in the 2009 election of just 51 per cent, the B.C. Liberals' 46 per cent winning vote came from less than 23 per cent of all eligible voters.

"We're coming up like gangbusters. We're going to be the party to beat in the next election," Cummins said to applause, before delivering his punch line. "Then it will be the Liberals splitting the vote!"

"I see this meeting today as the start of a great Conservative movement in this province. We are going to win the election in 2013!" Cummins concluded to a standing ovation.

Campbell not welcome: McGrath

Earlier at the AGM, party president McGrath answered questions from members in a sometimes overly frank way.

McGrath said that if recall attempts organized by Fight HST, which I support, were successful in removing BC Liberal MLAs the BC Conservatives would contest subsequent by-elections.

But he warned that the party's lack of constituency associations in several ridings would be a problem.

"It could be that we have a by-election through recall in a riding were we don't have a C.A. -- that would be unfortunate but it could happen," he said.

While McGrath also said sitting BC Liberal MLAs were welcome to join the BC Conservatives, they would have to apply and go through a process to be accepted.

However, he added to loud applause: "If Gordon Campbell were to apply, I as a board member would vote no!"

McGrath was also asked why Fight HST organizer Chris Delaney had quit the BC Conservatives in September to join a new political party, BC First.

"Chris Delaney was very opposed to the HST -- as we were, as we are. He formed his own party and said we were in favour of the HST -- a total fabrication," McGrath claimed. "But I don't want to be negative today, only positive."

Confusing stances on taxes

While the BC Conservative policy online clearly states that it opposes the "totally unfair BC Liberal HST" on several grounds, it also proposes to eliminate the Provincial Sales Tax, lower the corporate income tax, end the Property Transfer Tax and double personal income tax exemptions -- all at a cost of billions in government revenue without any explanation of how public services would be maintained.

And with Cummins defending his vote in favour of the HST in parliament, while White recently said it wouldn't be possible to now remove it, the HST may be the biggest challenge for the party to overcome.

One solution -- despite Cummins' stated advice to simply be truthful with the media -- came from the BC Conservatives' communications director, Nanaimo city councillor and retired newspaper publisher Merv Unger.

"There are people out to discredit us. It's always important to control the message," Unger said. "If there's anything you need to disseminate to the public, send it to me first."

White also addressed a question about how the Tactical Advisory Group would be accountable to the members.

"None of us want to be elected. Our job is to keep these people out of the minefields -- just ask my wife," White said to laughs. "We have a limited shelf life until the new leader is elected in 2011."
Leadership contest not scheduled

McGrath said that leadership contest will "hopefully" take place in the first half of 2011 but definitely take place later in the year if not.

"Perhaps some of the answers have been a bit nebulous but I believe they have to be," McGrath concluded.

Nebulous indeed. But the potential for the BC Conservatives to strike fear into BC Liberal MLAs is very clear.

Less certain but not to be discounted is the potential that BC Conservatives may have to appeal to traditional BC NDP working class voters -- especially if led by a populist like John Cummins.

For any who doubt that, take a good, long look at the results of the federal election of 1993.

That was the election when Reform wiped out the federal Conservative government as English Canada's right wing party and took 24 of B.C.'s 32 seats by devastating the NDP, which lost 17 of its previous 19 seats.

NDP MPs going down to defeat at Reform hands included former B.C. premier Dave Barrett and current New Westminster NDP MLA Dawn Black.

How many B.C. seats did the Reform Party hold before that 1993 election? Exactly none, which is just as many as the BC Conservatives have today -- for now.


Monday, October 18, 2010

Basi-Virk sudden guilty plea brings public inquiry demands and questions who paid their legal fees

David Basi, centre, Aneal Basi, right & Bob Virk, farther right, face media after their trial suddenly ended with a plea bargain - Bill Tieleman photo

Surprise guilty plea in Basi-Virk political corruption trial of ex-BC Liberal aides brings call for public inquiry

By Bill Tieleman, 24 hours columnist

The surprise guilty plea Monday of two former B.C. Liberal government ministerial aides to political corruption charges related to the $1 billion B.C. Rail sale suddenly ends a seven-year case that began with a 2003 police raid of the Legislature.

That has the New Democrat opposition calling for a full public inquiry and asking if the plea bargain deal struck by David Basi and Bob Virk to serve two years less a day under house arrest includes their legal fees being paid for by government.

UPDATE 5 p.m. - BC Attorney General Mike de Jong confirmed late today that the government has been paying Basi and Virk's legal fees, will not be attempting to recover them and will not hold a public inquiry into the scandal

“Are the taxpayers on the hook for Basi and Virk’s legal bills? If so that’s outrageous,” NDP MLA Leonard Krog said in an interview. “If you’re found guilty as a government employee why should the taxpayers pay for your defence.”

Krog says ending the trial without testimony from several former cabinet ministers and government insiders is a “complete shock” that makes an inquiry essential.

Basi, Virk and Aneal Basi – whose money laundering charges were stayed as part of the agreement between Special Prosecutor Bill Berardino and defence lawyers – all referred questions about their legal fees to the B.C. Attorney General’s office. The Attorney General’s office has not yet responded to interview requests.

David Basi also pled guilty to a separate charge for being paid $50,000 by developers to help remove property near Victoria from the Agricultural Land Reserve.

He was fined a total of $75,695 on all charges – repaying the $50,000 amount and another $25,695 he allegedly received for passing confidential government information on the sale of B.C. Rail to a lobbyist for one of the bidders.

B.C. Supreme Court Associate Chief Justice Anne MacKenzie accepted the guilty plea deal, noting that although their crimes were “serious breaches of trust by public officials” Basi and Virk both have no previous criminal record and each has a young family.

Basi & Virk plead guilty in stunning development that ends trial, 7-year investigation!!!

Bill Tieleman outside BC Supreme Court


A stunning development - David Basi, Bob Virk have pled guilty to reduced corruption charges in a deal with the Special Prosecutor announced this morning!!

Aneal Basi has had money laundering charges against him stayed!

That ends a trial scheduled to go until next April and a 7-year investigation into political corruption that began with an unprecedented police raid of the BC Legislature on December 28, 2003.

I was not in court for the scheduled resumption of the trial but am heading there now and will have full coverage throughout the day.


Saturday, October 16, 2010

BC Conservative Party AGM features former PMs and campaign style speech by MP John Cummins at AGM

Top photo - Conservative MP John Cummins; bottom photo - former Newfoundland premier Brian Peckford & former BC premier Rita Johnston at BC Conservative Party AGM Saturday - Bill Tieleman photos

The mood at the BC Conservative Party's annual general meeting Saturday in Vancouver could only be described as "ebullient," with close to 200 delegates in attendance, including two former premiers, one sitting Member of Parliament and several more former MPs.

Keynote speaker
John Cummins, the federal Conservative MP from Delta-Richmond East gave an election campaign style speech in which he declared the growing party will be "the one to beat" in the 2013 provincial election.

With former BC premier Rita Johnston and former Newfoundland premier Brian Peckford looking on, Cummins told the crowd that by the next election it will be the BC Liberals splitting the centre-right vote, not the Conservatives.

I will have a full report on Cummins speech - which contained warnings for both the BC Liberals and the New Democratic Party - and more in my column in 24 hours, The Tyee and this blog on Tuesday.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Was Moe Sihota being paid $72,000 a year to be NDP President? Who approved it?

According to sources in contact with me tonight, BC NDP President Moe Sihota has been paid for his role to head the party to the tune of between $60,000 and $100,000 a year.

A specific figure of $72,000 a year has been suggested.

Who approved this salary if accurate?

Why was the party president being paid for what has been a volunteer position if so?

Who knows this and who was he reporting to?

Did the party also pay for Sihota to travel to Washington D.C. with NDP leader Carole James to attend a "green jobs" conference?

UPDATE - Thursday October 14

I now have additional independent sources confirming that Moe Sihota is being paid as BC NDP president.

As a former BC NDP executive member for four years in the 1990s and political observer I am sure this is a unique situation.


Bob Simpson NDP riding association in Cariboo North supports their MLA, calls for reinstatement, leadership convention

Bob Simpson's Cariboo North NDP riding association executive has voted to support their MLA, demand his reinstatement to caucus and called for 2011 NDP leadership convention.

This news release was issued Tuesday and came to my attention today.

Meanwhile Public Eye Online's Sean Holman reports that NDP MLAs are "severely split" over the Simpson expulsion as they continue a policy retreat at Vancouver's Wosk Centre at SFU.

* * * * *

NDP Riding Association Executive Supports their MLA

For Immediate Release

October 12, 2010

Quesnel, BC

Last night the Executive of the Cariboo North Riding Association met and discussed the recent action that NDP Leader Carole James has taken against the Riding’s MLA. The Executive passed a motion supporting Bob Simpson remaining as the NDP MLA for Cariboo North.

“The Executive believes that what Leader Carole James did was an unjust overreaction to our MLA’s mild critique of her speech” said Riding Association President Keith Sandve.

“We believe that one of the fundamental principles of democracy is freedom of speech and the ability of our elected officials to act in accordance with their conscience and their common sense. We do not want our candidate to give up his principles or to mute his consistent and intelligent criticism of the problems with our electoral system.”

The President of the Riding Association will take the Cariboo North Executive’s concerns to the Party Executive and ask that MLA Simpson’s presence be restored on the Party’s website as he was not removed from the Party only the Caucus.

Fifteen people attended the Executive meeting and only one person abstained from voting.

The Executive also passed a motion reaffirming their previous motion calling for a Leadership Convention in 2011, again with one abstention. This motion will be taken to the Riding Association’s General Meeting on November 5th for ratification of the full membership.


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Basi-Virk trial delayed yet another week! Allegedly to resume Monday October 18

Before I could even summon up the courage to head to BC Supreme Court for the scheduled resumption of the Basi-Virk/BC Legislature Raid case comes the word I feared - once again the trial has been delayed - this time by another week.

The off again-off again trial is now slated to return Monday October 18. Believe it when you see it.

My colleague Neal Hall - who has been indefatigable in attending the non-trial for the past few months with little to report for it - has just posted the explanation on the Vancouver Sun's website.

A Crown decision to reorganize the witness list will "decrease the length of this trial substantially" according to Associate Chief Justice Anne MacKenzie, Neal reports.

At approaching the seven year anniversary of the police raid on the BC Legislature December 28, 2003 - I would certainly hope so!


Carole James makes serious error trying to look tough in personally expelling MLA Bob Simpson from caucus

James Created Her Own Crisis

BC New Democratic Party leader had no justification for ejecting MLA Bob Simpson from caucus.

Bill Tieleman's 24 hours/TheTyee column

Tuesday October 12, 2010

By Bill Tieleman

"Power is not revealed by striking hard or often, but by striking true."

- Honore de Balzac, 1799-1850

BC New Democratic Party leader Carole James wanted to look tough after Cariboo North NDP MLA North Bob Simpson mildly criticized one of her speeches in public.

So James personally threw him out of the NDP caucus.

But instead of succeeding, James has made it tough on herself by creating the biggest leadership crisis since she took over the party in 2003.

And it's far from over.

Some NDP MLAs are very unhappy Simpson was removed in what is perceived as an arbitrary and undemocratic way, while a dangerously dwindling number of NDP members have been given another strong reason to sit on their wallets or even leave the party.

Firing Simpson without even a caucus vote has prompted former NDP MLAs like Corky Evans, Tom Perry and Helmut Giesbrecht and other party voices to openly criticize James' leadership.

Worse still for James, the big question over her leadership isn't -- as some pundits wrongly interpret -- whether she is moving the party too much to the right, it's whether after losing the last two elections James can still win the next one.

A winner in the making?

With the unpopular Premier Gordon Campbell overwhelmingly expected to disappear well in advance of the 2013 election, and the Harmonized Sales Tax issue likely to be resolved long before then, James could face a new BC Liberal leader not handcuffed to the hated HST.

Despite the BC Liberals losing half their support over the HST, the budget scandal and other government actions, the NDP haven't capitalized on voter discontent.

Polls show the NDP with between the same 42 per cent it got in the 2009 election and 48 per cent, while the BC Liberals have dropped from the 46 per cent received in the 2009 election down to between 25 per cent and 33 per cent today.

The major beneficiaries of the BC Liberal crisis have been the Green Party at 12 per cent to 13 per cent versus the eight per cent they had in the election, and the Conservatives at seven per cent to 11 per cent, instead of the two per cent of voters they attracted in 2009, albeit with far less than a full slate of candidates.

Those numbers fueled Simpson's criticism of James, but it had remained internal -- until he was removed from caucus, allowing him to go public.

And those comments on her leadership are pointed.

"I think the path we're on is a path of losing the next election," Simpson told media last week. "It's a real question to ask, why are we not capturing the moment? Carole James, after seven years of leadership, is sitting with fully two-thirds of British Columbians polled saying we don't know her or we don't think she can be premier."

"Time is running short for us to address the major and complex issues which confront us and this small planet we live on," Simpson added in a statement after expulsion. "We need to spend much more energy finding ways to address these issues than we do simply finding ways to bring down the sitting government in order to gain power by default and without a mandate for change."

Tough, but wise?

"I find it troubling there was no process before I was convicted and removed from caucus by the leader," Simpson said of his ouster. "I guess I was mistaken in my belief that the NDP was a progressive organization which valued free speech and honest critique as a means to create a better society for everyone."

All in all, James quick decision to get tough on Simpson has been a disastrous strategy.

Those who defend James' action claim that Simpson was continually badmouthing the leader, was not a "team player" and wasn't "constructive."

Whether true or not -- so what? Simpson's only public criticism of James was so minor and in such an obscure place that ignoring it was the obvious best option.

A stronger punishment would have been to remove Simpson's legislative critic duties for aboriginal relations -- not really fitting the alleged "crime," but at least avoiding totally overreacting.

And dealing with dissent is a key part of being leader.

All Simpson said -- on a Williams Lake community website -- was that James "had little concrete to offer" in her speech to the Union of B.C. Municipalities, and that while her discussion of revenue sharing was positive, "the lack of specifics was a disappointment to delegates."

But that still caused James to issue this statement: "Through his public comments today, Mr. Simpson has made it clear that he would rather criticize our work than contribute to it. He has made it clear that he does not want to be part of our team."


Dissenting MLAs: crime and punishment

James also implied that there may be no room in the BC NDP for former BC Liberals like Simpson, who both ran unsuccessfully for a party nomination in 1996 and was that party's constituency president but was soon disillusioned by Campbell's leadership. Simpson became Cariboo North's NDP MLA in 2005 and was re-elected in 2009.

"He's clearly unhappy. And let's remember Bob was clearly unhappy with the Liberal Party when he belonged to them. He quit the Liberal Party, joined the New Democrats," James told host Vaughn Palmer of Shaw Cable's Voice of B.C. last Thursday.

"He's unhappy with us now as New Democrats. I hope Bob finds a place that's happy."
 When it comes to finding your happy place as a dissenter, James should look across the B.C. legislature floor, where several BC Liberal MLAs have actually opposed their own government without such dire consequences.

Blair Lekstrom voted against parts of the BC Liberals draconian labour legislation that ripped up the union contracts of hospital and other health care workers -- and was later ruled illegal by the Supreme Court of Canada.

Lekstrom not only didn't get tossed out of caucus, he was later promoted into cabinet by Campbell. (He only left cabinet and caucus after constituents rebelled against the imposition of the HST.)

Previous to that, the late BC Liberal MLA Val Anderson regularly and publicly disagreed with his party's positions on social assistance issues but never faced expulsion.

Federally, NDP leader Jack Layton has been pilloried for refusing to insist his members of parliament vote against killing the long gun registry, despite the overwhelming majority of party members, as well as Layton himself, being in favour of keeping it.

But no one, including critics like me, suggested that dissident NDP MPs be thrown out of the caucus, even though they voted with the Conservatives in the unsuccessful effort.

November 2011 reckoning

Unfortunately Simpson isn't the first NDP MLA to be exiled from caucus for disagreeing with the leader.

Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows MLA Michael Sather was shown the door when he voted against the Tsawwassen First Nation treaty in the B.C. legislature, solely on the basis that it removed 207 hectares of farmland from the Agricultural Land Reserve.

Despite the creation of the ALR being one of the NDP's proudest achievements under former premier Dave Barrett's government, James saw it as intolerable dissent and refused to at least allow MLAs a free vote on the treaty. Sather's no vote ended up with him out of caucus for several months, though he was eventually allowed back in.

Regardless of examples of tolerating dissent or not, Carole James will face a membership day of reckoning when party delegates at the Nov. 2011 NDP convention vote on whether or not to hold a leadership review.

That is, unless NDP provincial council members support a call next month from Simpson's Cariboo North riding to change that gathering into a full-fledged leadership convention.

Moe's double standard?

Lastly, James and her colleagues who support expelling Simpson might want to consider the most relevant of all examples -- the behavior of NDP MLAs tolerated in past caucuses.

Did the leader of the day throw out of caucus an NDP MLA who was suspended by the Law Society of B.C. from practicing law for 18 months and fined $2,000 for misconduct in handling the affairs of a client? No.

Was an NDP MLA ejected from caucus for allegations of being "overly aggressive" in lobbying the provincial Motor Carrier Commission in favour of friend's limousine license application? No.

Was an NDP MLA tossed out after racking up 21 driving demerit points for excessive speeding, despite being minister responsible for the Insurance Corporation of B.C.? No.

And these publicly reported offenses were all committed by just one MLA, not three.

That former MLA's name? Current B.C. NDP president Moe Sihota, the guy supporting Carole James' expulsion of Bob Simpson from the caucus.

To put it mildly, that's a little rich.

The smart thing now would be for James to restore Simpson as a caucus member and try to resolve but accept differences of opinion.

But the smarter thing would have been to not throw Simpson out in the first place.