Monday, April 27, 2015

Time for Senator Mike Duffy to Seek a Guilty Plea Bargain?

Mike Duffy 
It worked for Basi and Virk, sparing the BC political duo jail time in BC Rail corruption case

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

Tuesday April 14, 2015

By Bill Tieleman

"In a closed society where everybody's guilty, the only crime is getting caught. In a world of thieves, the only final sin is stupidity."

A long-awaited political corruption trial promises bombshell disclosures: Cabinet ministers and the leader's chief of staff will testify; the government fears election-changing damage; the accused profess innocence; and it's all followed by a shocking guilty plea bargain cutting the trial dramatically short.

The case of Senator Mike Duffy?

Sounds very familiar, but this is actually the British Columbia Legislature raid case in 2010, where two accused ministerial aides charged with corruption, repeatedly denied wrongdoing but eventually took a guilty plea bargain that kept them out of jail -- and off the hook for an astonishing $6 million in legal fees over seven years.

And make no mistake, it could happen in the Duffy case, based on my seven years covering the B.C. Legislature raid in court and beyond for The Tyee.

Dave Basi and Bob Virk were BC Liberal government ministerial aides who triggered an unprecedented police raid on the B.C. Legislature over allegations they provided inside information on the $1 billion privatization sale of BC Rail to one of the bidders.

Bill Tieleman interviews Dave Basi outside court

Years of pre-trial motions and hearings produced enough bombshells based on wiretaps, disclosed emails and other evidence to guarantee a riveting trial. It would have been devastating for the BC Liberals, with 40 witnesses expected in a multi-month series of tough cross-examinations.

Plea bargain

But after just two witnesses, one of them Martyn Brown, former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell's chief of staff -- the defence and prosecution suddenly announced a plea bargain that saw Basi and Virk admit guilt they had denied for seven years in exchange for probation sentences and no repayment of a taxpayer-funded legal defence, which cost $6 million.

That deal shocked B.C., particularly since political aides' legal bills are only indemnified if they are found innocent, not guilty, and raised enormous anger about how it conveniently ended a trial guaranteed to badly damage the BC Liberals regardless of the outcome.

Elected cabinet ministers, government officials, prosecution and defence all denied any political interference. But the trial was over.

Now it could happen again with Duffy, whose "diaries" and other evidence are exposing the embarrassing inner workings of the Conservative government just as Basi and Virk did with the BC Liberals.

Why a guilty plea? Duffy faces 31 charges of breach of trust, fraud and bribery, the same Criminal Code offences Basi and Virk were accused of -- and conviction would be equally devastating.

Despite Duffy's bluster, he is a 68-year-old man with heart and health problems. Would anyone want to risk dying in jail in his remaining years?

And his financial situation is ruinous even before trial -- suspended as a senator, without income and little chance of earning a living in journalism or politics even if found innocent, let alone if convicted.

So Duffy's skillful lawyer Donald Bayne is maximizing the impact of every day in this trial, and Bayne knows that the odds of being offered a plea bargain increase significantly as media attention and political pressure build while he offers plausible reasons for acquittal.

None of this is to suggest any wrongdoing by the Conservative government -- simply that the prosecution's goal is a conviction and a plea bargain guarantees it, while a judge's decision on guilt or innocence after much testimony is the great unknown.

Basi and Virk had exceptional defence lawyers in Michael Bolton and Kevin McCullough who did their utmost to exonerate the pair for years and then negotiated the best possible terms in exchange for a guilty plea. Duffy's lawyer Bayne is so far following a very similar course in court, introducing dramatic evidence, exhaustive cross-examination and raising doubts at every turn about the prosecution's case.

Mike Duffy may face a full trial and the Conservatives the full negative impact of vigorous and damning defence testimony and evidence. The verdict is unknown.

But it would be foolish not to think that a guilty plea bargain by Duffy in exchange for leniency is a very probable outcome -- and one that would be welcomed by both the accused and a Conservative Party facing an election in October.


Friday, April 17, 2015

No Pre or Post-Election Coalition Government in Sight for NDP and Liberals

NDP leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal leader Justin Trudeau in happier times - Star photo
It's risky, unwieldy and neither party wants it.

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

Tuesday April 7, 2015

By Bill Tieleman

"Coalitions, though successful, have always found this: that their triumph has been brief."

- Benjamin Disraeli, British prime minister, 1804-1881

A Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government has ruled England for the past five years -- will Canada see its own New Democrat-Liberal coalition running this country after October's federal election?

Don't bet on it -- because there are an enormous number of reasons it won't happen -- and as many equally good arguments against it.

UPDATE:  Since this column went to publication, Justin Trudeau has said that he "maybe" is interested in a coalition and then days later that "I’m unequivocally opposed to any sort of coalition."

But nonetheless, much of Ottawa's national press gallery appears infatuated with the idea -- and NDP leader Tom Mulcair has supercharged speculation recently with his comments opening that door.

An Ekos poll in December 2014 found 60 per cent of respondents would prefer a Liberal-NDP coalition government led by Justin Trudeau over the 40 per cent who want Stephen Harper's Conservatives to stay in charge.

Add in recent public opinion polls showing all three major parties within nine percentage points of each other and Canada could have a hung Parliament after the fall election.

Odds against a majority

And that means either a lot of backroom negotiations and horse-trading to form a coalition, or the biggest party attempting to run a minority government by doing deals with one or more of the other opposition parties.

With the Conservatives at 32 per cent, the Liberals at 28 per cent and the NDP at 23 per cent in a national Ekos poll in late March, none is close to the magic 40 per cent needed for a majority government.

The Stephen Harper Conservatives have ruled since 2006 but only got their cherished majority government -- and ability to implement hard right policies -- since obtaining 39.6 per cent of the vote in the 2011 election.

That vote was ironically the result of an ill-fated 2008 NDP-Liberal "coalition" vote in Parliament to defeat Harper and teach the Conservatives a lesson.

Some defeat, some lesson.

But a coalition government is a far bigger deal than simply defeating the government -- and an extremely risky endeavour.

Columnist and commentator Andrew Coyne makes the case for a post-election coalition, concluding: "A coalition might not sound like such a scary proposition to cautious centrists any more. It might even be a plus."

Or it just might not.

Maclean's columnist Aaron Wherry chimed in with a column headlined: "Why wouldn't the Liberals and NDP make a deal to replace Stephen Harper? Why not a coalition? Or at least an accord?"

But the reality is that the more a coalition is talked about before an election, the more voters will wonder exactly what they're getting afterwards.

A Conservative-Liberal coalition government? A Liberal-NDP government? An NDP-Liberal government?

All are theoretically possible. Even the Bloc Quebecois and Green parties could be involved if they have enough seats.

And a coalition government with what policies and priorities? Which prime minister? And how long would it last?

Conservative columnist Tasha Kheiriddin identified one big problem for New Democrats with a coalition:

"Once the darling of so-called 'progressive' Canadian thought, the concept of uniting the left to beat the right has slowly fallen from favour. That's probably because a coalition led by the popular Trudeau would look more like an enlarged Liberal party than a marriage of equals," Kheiriddin wrote in December 2014.

But for many New Democrats, the idea that Liberals are either "left" or "progressive" is both absurd and offensive. They see the Conservatives and Liberals as Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

Or in Tommy Douglas's famous phrase, Conservatives and Liberals are merely "black cats and white cats" who run Mouseland and must seek the votes of mice -- despite the obvious contradiction of interests.

So a "cat and mouse" coalition is ridiculous to many NDP voters. They also know that former federal NDP leader David Lewis got much progressive legislation from Pierre Trudeau's 1972-74 minority government without forming a coalition.

But for the Conservatives, the coalition word has an irresistible charm. It's how they defeated the ill-fated Liberal-NDP attempt to push them out of office in 2008 without an election. Public anxiety about the prospect of another possible coalition gave Harper his majority win in 2011.

The Conservatives know and love the fact that many left New Democrats and Greens are willing to throw in the electoral towel and demand an accord or coalition with the Liberals to stop the "horrors" of Harper.

That means many sitting NDP Members of Parliament and potential MPs will be defeated as just enough panicked progressives vote Liberal in NDP-held or friendly ridings to let Conservatives squeak in with three and four way splits.

So count on Harper to focus on the NDP and Liberals coalescing as a means of consolidating Conservative votes -- and attracting apprehensive right-Liberals who are increasingly anxious about Trudeau's inexperience and abilities.

Mulcair's strategy is different -- and has changed dramatically since he outright rejected any coalition government talk in 2012.

"The 'no' is categorical, absolute, irrefutable and non-negotiable. It's no. End of story. Full stop," he said then.

Last month Mulcair said it was Trudeau, not him rejecting any coalition talk.

"Whenever we have opened that door, Justin Trudeau slams it shut," Mulcair in March. "My first priority is to get rid of Stephen Harper. The first priority of Justin Trudeau is Justin Trudeau."

"We're a progressive party. We want to get results. I'll let other parties explain to you why they don't think that that's a good idea," Mulcair said.

Trudeau opposed to coalition

Trudeau said last year that a coalition was a non-starter.

"There are significant substantive disagreements on very serious matters of policy between the NDP and the Liberal Party -- on unity and economy, for example," Trudeau said in February 2014.

"It's very clear that they are not part of the better government that Canadians need and... they're just trying to offer some sort of different government, and that's not good enough for us."

That was then, this is now. But the odds of Trudeau warming to the idea before an election -- or after it -- seem increasingly remote given Mulcair's recent attacks on the Liberal leader.

"Whether it's meeting premiers to work on the future of our federation or meeting world leaders to discuss economic opportunities or terrorist threats, being prime minister is not an entry level job," Mulcair said to a Montreal NDP audience in March, directly targeting Trudeau as having neither "the experience or a plan" to govern.

Green Party leader Elizabeth May, one of two Green MPs, is all for coalition, cooperation, electoral accords -- just about any deal.

That's not surprising, since the Greens would benefit the most from any changes to the electoral system that reward small parties with more seats in any form of proportional representation -- long a Green goal.

The Greens also face the potential of being this election year's Bloc Quebecois -- the party Harper used mercilessly against the Liberals and NDP in 2008 as a reason to reject the coalition approach and later to elect a Conservative majority.

Count on Harper to publicize Green policies as damaging to the fragile economy and ask what price May would exact from Trudeau and Mulcair for her party's support.

While a post-election coalition is not impossible, the odds against it happening appear to be going up, not down as voting day gets closer and closer.


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Despite Recent Rough Patch, BC Liberal Premier Christy Clark Firmly in Control

BC Premier Christy Clark - Kris Krug photo
Clark crazy like a fox - these aren't the moves of a mistake-prone government.

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column 

Tuesday March 31, 2015

By Bill Tieleman

"No enterprise is more likely to succeed than one concealed from the enemy until it is ripe for execution." 

Premier Christy Clark might appear to be having a rough time in B.C. politics -- but to conclude that she is in trouble would be a mistaken misread of her intentions.

Clark is indeed Canada's second most unpopular premier, according to an Angus Reid Institute poll taken before the last week's further damage, with just 33 per cent approving of her performance.

Since then, Clark surprisingly killed the appointment of former BC Liberal cabinet minister George Abbott as the new head of the B.C. Treaty Commission at the very last minute, alienating First Nations, angering the BC NDP opposition and even appalling BC Liberal friends of Abbott, of whom there are many.

But so what? Clark has no investment in the treaty process, no strong interest in reaching agreements and wanted to send First Nations a clear message that she is not happy with some of their members delaying resource projects.

What better way to do so than firing Abbott -- who opposed Clark for leader -- in public?

Whether the B.C. Treaty Commission is radically altered or even terminated won't determine the fate of the next provincial election, which is Clark's only motivation.

Public hanging was also used this month for the now-former impose standards for teachers' professional development introduced without even bothering to consult the BCTF.

That came after Education Minister Peter Fassbender appointed an auditor to look into the books of another adversary -- the Vancouver School Board -- and following a new order for all school boards to chop $54 million in administrative costs in the next two years.

Why should the BC Liberals care that trustees are elected to run schools? Or that Vancouver's school board had already hired its own private accounting firm to help find ways to save money?

BCTF president Jim Iker is one of those not fooled.

"This pro-development day legislation is a red herring to put a focus on us and away from government," said in an interview with 24 Hours Vancouver on Wednesday. "This is a diversion from underfunding."


B.C. liquor law changes that have infuriated the industry are part of the same approach of hiding your intent by causing controversy in another area.

The BC Liberals either consult but then ignore or just don't consult at all -- and do what they always intended.

As Iker says: "We know the record of this government on consultation and we have to be wary of that."

It's why the BCTF -- and First Nations -- are more intent on winning in the courts than reaching agreement with the BC Liberals. 

And Clark knows that.

So those who think this is a mistake-prone government on the ropes with neither a plan nor a process to get there are missing all the signs.


Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Supermarkets Win Big in BC's New Liquor Landscape - Higher Prices, Lower Service, Less Selection Ahead

Supermarkets may not get monopoly but most of liquor sales market.
'Machiavellian' plan could harm union and non-union liquor workers.

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

Tuesday March 24, 2015

By Bill Tieleman

"If you can't spot the sucker in your first half hour at the table, then you are the sucker."

- Rounders poker movie, 1998.

Forget about alleged BC Liberal government "incompetence" handling impending April 1 liquor price increases, Sunday openings for government stores or anything else. It's all a red herring.

There is only one fundamental shift coming in B.C liquor policy and it is enormous, replacing the existing system of public and private beer, wine and spirits stores with a near-monopoly for supermarkets.

There is no real incompetence -- it's simply a distraction to fool the suckers.

What does exist is a Machiavellian plan to eventually wipe out most private and publicly owned liquor stores and move the majority of booze sales to grocery stores.

The BC Liberals are picking winners and losers with its policies, which are far from free enterprise -- since the "competition" is government-controlled.

And the benefits the B.C. government gets are huge: continue to reap windfall profits from North America's highest liquor prices while jettisoning unionized labour costs in government stores and the troublesome patchwork quilt of small private stores.

The strategy is cunning and deceptive, with an allegedly consumer-friendly face promising "convenience" while increasing government profits and making sure the suckers -- the customers paying far too much per bottle already -- even thank you for it!

BC Liberal attorney general Suzanne Anton announced the changes in March 2014 as part of the government's "modernization" of liquor laws.

Supermarkets win

After recent talks with a wide range of people from private and government stores, liquor import agents, restaurants and bars and other players, the realization is sinking in that the only true winners are the ones not yet sitting at the table -- supermarkets.

But they are about to be dealt a winning hand by government and the pot is huge -- B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch sales net the province $1.2 billion -- on gross sales of about $3 billion.

And wine sales alone in B.C. passed the $1 billion mark in 2014.

Not all in the industry are ready to speak on the record but Jeff Guignard, executive director of the Alliance of Beverage Licensees of B.C., was.

"If supermarkets get a full suite of products, it's private stores and government stores that will suffer -- that will lose sales," Guignard said in an interview with The Tyee in mid-March. "Sixty-five to 70 per cent of wines in open markets get sold in grocery stores."

Guignard predicts that supermarket liquor stores will trigger a clash between remaining private and public outlets.

"Then government stores will fight harder against the private stores," he says. "But private stores employ 10,000 people -- why would you put that at risk?"

The government offers two models for grocery store sales -- buy an existing private or public liquor store and relocate within the supermarket or sell only B.C. wines on existing supermarket shelves.

But that latter plan is already under siege by winemakers in other countries like the United States, who say it violates several trade agreements.

Guignard has no doubt foreign wineries will win.

"There will be huge pressure to open grocery stores to all wines -- not just B.C. wines," he told me. "Ultimately, less B.C. wine will be sold, not more."

Prices to rise

That's because the big wineries and their agents will demand supermarkets give them premium shelf space, promotional deals, advertising and other marketing advantages that a small B.C. winery simply can't offer. And with French, American, Italian, Spanish and other big wine producers enjoying huge economies of scale, B.C. wines will cost more.

The union representing government liquor store workers actually applauded the new BC Liberal policies, including allowing government stores to open on Sundays, have longer hours and sell cold beer and wine -- all of which will hurt private store sales.

But B.C. Government and Service Employees Union members' jobs are not really secure beyond the expiry date of their current contract in 2019.

And government stores' ability to compete with supermarkets while paying workers considerably more in wages and benefits than grocery store clerks make is questionable at best, given that B.C. is implementing a single wholesale price for all stores as of April 1.

Previously there were separate discounted wholesale prices for different private liquor store categories but now there's just one -- and public stores are being told to compete or close.

The supermarkets are gearing up -- food giant Loblaws has lobbyists registered on liquor issues and others are likely to follow.

Just like the "incompetence" of BC Liberal government "Happy Hour" changes that actually increased drink prices -- and helped big bar chains compete with small independent pubs, this move reeks of calculated risk.

None of it will happen overnight -- that would be too obvious, too dangerous. It will take place over a few years.

And there is still a chance the BC Liberals will bail out at the last moment, as they did after promising complete privatization in 2002. Back then, the government reneged after many LRS owners and investors spent serious money preparing to see government liquor stores closed and their own stores expand or new ones established.

Then-finance minister Gary Collins and then-premier Gordon Campbell got cold feet when they saw big risks to the government's liquor sales revenue stream after the BC Liberals' vaunted 25 per cent income tax cut blew a giant hole in the budget and forced a 0.5 per cent sales tax increase to compensate. Risking a big dip in liquor income just to keep a political promise was too big a stake then.

This time, the only outside chance of public and small private stores surviving this game is if consumers get wise to being played for suckers -- to protest the coming higher prices, smaller selection from fewer suppliers and reduced service.

But the BC Liberals, just like governments in other jurisdictions, believe that you won't care that you are paying several dollars more for the convenience of buying beer, wine and spirits in your local grocery store.

Or that if you do notice, you'll just sigh and have another drink rather than do anything about it.