Thursday, January 31, 2008

Basi-Virk defence demands BC government disclose secret documents; says still more emails missing

Lawyers in the B.C. Legislature raid case are demanding the provincial government waive assertions of privilege on a series of documents related to the $1 billion sale of B.C Rail that they says are critical to defend their clients.

And the defence says still more emails that should have been disclosed as evidence are missing. It was revealed early this week in B.C. Supreme Court that up to 140 emails had not been disclosed and that a hard drive apparently seized in the 2003 search of the Legislature was wrongly found in the court registry.

Former provincial ministerial aides David Basi and Bob Virk face breach of trust charges for alleging leaking confidential B.C. Rail documents to a lobbyist for one of the bidders.

Michael Bolton, counsel for Basi, said the government position argued by lawyer George Copley of claiming cabinet or solicitor-client privilege over the emails is delaying the trial.

“I am going to urge that the special prosecutor assert to the government, to the cabinet, to Mr. Copley that privilege be waived over these documents so we can get on with this trial,” Bolton said. “We’ve had serious, serious problems.”

Bolton said the trial had previously heard: “The premier’s comments in the House last May that there’s going to be openness and the special prosecutor will get what he needs.”

Virk’s lawyer Kevin McCullough argued that emails continue to be missing, including from personal Blackberry devices.

“There’s serious concern, looking at everything there, that there are emails missing,” McCullough said. "We don't have the Blackberry files."

The court also heard a clarification from Justice Elizabeth Bennett about how she had discovered a mystery computer hard drive in the Supreme Court Registry, which she reported on Tuesday.

"I did not go to the registry looking under a desk covered in cobwebs," Bennett said, adding that the registry clerk found the hard drive after Bennett called.

Crown prosecutor Janet Winteringham told Bennett on Thursday the hard drive is a "mirror-image" copy of other computers taken Dec. 28, 2003, when the B.C. legislature was raided. It was apparently booked into the registry's vault in March 2004 but should have been disclosed to the defence.

McCullough complained that there appear to be two standards for police when dealing with computer records, one for the accused and another for the two lobbyists accused of bribing Basi and Virk - Erik Bornmann and Brian Kieran - who turned key crown witnesses and face no charges.

"My client's position is going to be that emails are missing - that clearly indicates the originals must be checked," he said to Bennett .

"So are you saying that there was a flaw in the duplication process or that emails were deleted before the hard drives were seized," she asked.

"I don't know, milady," McCullough responded. "When it came to Mr. Bornmann and Mr. Kieran and a corrupted hard drive the police made no real effort to correct it compared to Mr. Basi and Mr. Virk's computers."

Then, referring to a third defence disclosure request for more evidence, McCullough seemed to warn of future fireworks in court: "I don't bring this application wihtout a mountain of problems to support it."

The hearing resumes February 18 at 9 a.m. for a one hour session to deal with the privilege questions over the emails. The trial remains scheduled to begin on March 17.

NOTE: A shorter version of this story was published by 24 hours newspaper Friday February 1, 2008.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Basi-Virk: another suspiciously surreal chapter in a political scandal case

Railgate Just Got Weirder

Fast ferries, secret e-mails, mystery hard drives: Basi-Virk case's wild week.

By Bill Tieleman

Published: January 30, 2008

Secret e-mails about B.C. Liberal political operatives' actions in the sale of B.C.'s ill-fated fast ferries. E-mails the government wants to keep secret about the $1 billion B.C. Rail privatization. E-mails perhaps sent to the office of Premier Gordon Campbell.

And a mystery computer hard drive seized in the 2003 B.C. legislature raid and found in the wrong place in 2008 -- the B.C. Supreme Court Registry -- by the presiding judge herself!

Welcome to another suspiciously surreal chapter in the case of former provincial government aides David Basi, Bob Virk and Aneal Basi who face corruption charges, now entering its fifth year without going to trial.

But this week's B.C. Supreme Court pre-trial hearings opened up the intriguing possibility that evidence from up to 140 e-mails not previously disclosed to the defence will give the public another window into the operations of the Gordon Campbell government.

And for the first time, the subject of Virk's "running orders" as a political aide regarding the sale of B.C.'s controversial three fast ferries built under the previous New Democratic Party government's term was raised in court.

Virk's lawyer Kevin McCullough let slip that reference Tuesday when telling Justice Elizabeth Bennett that he wanted to ensure she saw both the e-mails and attachments to them because: "when something deals with the fast ferries and Mr. Virk's running orders...."

Just following orders: defence

Outside the courtroom, David Basi's lawyer Michael Bolton elaborated on what might be in the e-mails, which the defence has not seen but presumably the accused have some knowledge of, having received them while in government.

"The role of documents like that relates to the roles and functions of ministerial assistants regarding political initiatives," Bolton said. "It's relevant to the broader defence."

That defence, of course, asserts that Basi and Virk were merely pawns in a larger game played by higher ups.

Basi and Virk face charges of breach of trust and fraud for alleging giving confidential government documents on the B.C. Rail deal to Erik Bornmann, a lobbyist acting for OmniTRAX, in exchange for money and other benefits. Bornmann and Pilothouse Public Affairs lobbyist partner Brian Kieran have both turned crown witnesses and face no charges.

In a May 2007 court session, Bolton laid out the defence argument for Bennett.
"The case of the defence is that at no time did the accused do anything that was not explicitly or implicitly authorized by their political masters," Bolton said then.

Bolton argues that Basi and Virk merely facilitated a government-wide strategy to ensure B.C. Rail bidder OmniTRAX stayed in the dubious privatization process after fellow bidder CP Rail dropped out. Had OmniTRAX quit it would have left only the eventual winner CN Rail as a bidder, causing political turmoil for the B.C. Liberal government.

"What they did was critical to the survivability and electability of the [provincial] government," Bolton said in May, arguing that Basi and Virk are fall guys for politically more important or more connected players.

Government allegedly sitting on many e-mails

Details about those players and their role in the B.C. Rail sale may also come tumbling out -- if the defence is successful in having up to 140 secret e-mails connected to the deal disclosed to them.

Provincial government lawyer George Copley divulged their existence Monday and said the government is claiming either solicitor-client or cabinet privilege over them, meaning they should not be disclosed unless Bennett finds them relevant to the defence.

Copley's statement drew a frustrated response from lawyers for the accused.

"The net of it is the defence says we have a big problem," McCullough told Bennett. "These documents should be here right now, you should be reviewing them right now."

"This process has fallen down so badly that we have 100 to 140 e-mails that no one has reviewed," he said.

That led to another surreal scene, as Copley said that Associate Chief Justice Patrick Dohm, who had initially authorized the search warrants for the legislature, might have previously reviewed the e-mails and inadvertently misplaced them somewhere.

"So I should ask his secretary to search his office?" Bennett asked to much laughter in the courtroom.

But McCullough didn't find it a totally amusing suggestion.

"I appreciate the humour, but I don't think these e-mails ever went to Mr. Justice Dohm," he told Bennett. "That's outrageous. They dropped the ball and they want to suggest that maybe Mr. Justice Dohm didn't put some of them back in the envelope?"

Bennett decided the safest course was to indeed check with Dohm. She later reported back that, no, Dohm did not have the missing e-mails or recall reviewing them.

Hard drive turns up in wrong place

But on Tuesday Justice Bennett's perseverance in attempting to find out where the e-mails had been hidden for four years led to yet another discovery announced in court -- that she herself had located a mysterious computer hard drive possibly containing the original e-mails sitting undetected in the B.C. Supreme Court's registry.

"Can anyone shed light on the hard drive at the registry?" Bennett asked a courtroom full of surprised lawyers. "It shouldn't be at the registry -- that's about the last place it should be -- although it's safe there."

Bennett, a former prosecutor herself, wasn't kidding about the inappropriate location of the hard drive. Defence lawyer Bolton was aghast as well.

"We'll certainly be asking questions about how and why this came to be here," Bolton said outside court, adding that it appeared the hard drive had been there "for years."

"There absolutely is the possibility of a chain of custody issue," he said. "Very serious concerns were raised about the integrity of evidence."

In court, special prosecutor Janet Winteringham told Bennett she's not sure why the hard drive was at the registry or whether information it contained had been disclosed.

But Bolton said outside court that he believes the hard drive "certainly would appear to include the missing e-mails."

In court, McCullough raised another issue: he wants to know the names of everyone who actually received the e-mails, including those who may have had it forwarded to them.

"It's very helpful to see the forwards," McCullough said. "When a person you wouldn't think in the premier's office is getting it."

NDP on the attack

All of these developments combined to draw fire from the NDP opposition Tuesday. "The ongoing problems around disclosure raise suspicions these documents are compromising to the government," NDP MLA Mike Farnworth (Port Coquitlam -- Burke Mountain) said in a news release. "The only way to clear this up is to bring them into the public light as the premier personally promised."

A call to Campbell's communications director Dale Steeves was not returned by deadline, but in the past Campbell has declined to comment about issues related to the case, saying only that it is before the courts.

And defence lawyer Bolton ended the day by telling reporters he fully expects the trial to proceed as scheduled on March 17 this year despite disclosure problems.

"The judge is certainly doing everything she can to move the case along," he said when asked if the trial can start on time.

For wary reporters who have seen the trial date postponed half a dozen times and faced other regular and substantial delays, it was a rare bit of optimistic news, perhaps even as surreal a possibility as anything else in this strange case.

Related Tyee stories:

· Railgate: Unearthed E-mails 'Out of this World' Says Defence 'Very critical stuff' from premier's 'inner circle.'

· Railgate: Judge Blows Stack 25,000 new pages of evidence; defence pursues dismissal.

· Tieleman Hit by Break-In Reporter thinks intruders sent Railgate 'message.'

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Judge discovers mystery computer hard drive in Supreme Court Registry containing BC Legislature raid emails; defence raises fast ferries politics

A case involving allegations of political corruption got more bizarre Tuesday when B.C. Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Bennett revealed that a computer hard drive seized in the B.C. Legislature raid in 2003 is sitting in the court registry.

And defence lawyers said up to 140 emails the provincial government is trying to keep secret include information about the “running orders” of an ex-ministerial aide regarding “political initiatives” around three fast ferries sold by B.C. Ferries for a fraction of their initial cost.

“Can anyone shed light on the hard drive at the registry?” Bennett asked a surprised courtroom full of lawyers. “It shouldn’t be at the registry – that’s about the last place it should be – although it’s safe there.”

Lawyers for David Basi and Bob Virk, former provincial aides accused of leaking confidential government documents to a lobbyist representing a bidder in the $1 billion B.C. Rail sale, were alarmed by the latest discovery of missing evidence.

“Very serious concerns were raised about the integrity of evidence,” Michael Bolton said outside court. “We’ll certainly be asking questions about how and why this came to be here.”

Bolton said the emails on the B.C. Rail deal, whose existence was only revealed in court Monday, also include information about the controversial fast ferries that is relevant to the Basi and Virk’s defence.

”The role of documents like that relates to the roles and functions of ministerial assistants regarding political initiatives,” Bolton said.

Kevin McCullough, Virk’s lawyer, said in court that the defence also wants to know exactly who the emails went to, asking if staff in Premier Gordon Campbell’s office were among the recipients.

“It’s very helpful to see the forwards,” McCullough said. “When a person you wouldn’t think in the premier’s office is getting it.”

In court special prosecutor Janet Winteringham told Bennett she’s not sure why the hard drive was at the court or whether information contained on it had been disclosed.

But Bolton told reporters afterwards that the hard drive would appear to have been in the court registry for years.

And Bolton said he believes that despite problems with disclosure of evidence, the case is moving towards the planned March 17 trial start.

“The judge is certainly doing everything she can to move the case along,” he said when questioned whether the trial can start on time.

Monday, January 28, 2008

"Prince of Pot" Marc Emery should stop the whine, do the time for drug charges he brought on himself

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Column

Tuesday January 29, 2008

Emery needs to face music


This is an epic struggle between good and evil. You couldn't pick a more virtuous person to go up against evil.

- Marc Emery

B.C.'s self-proclaimed "prince of pot", Marc Emery, will soon have to call himself the "prisoner of pot" when he starts serving a five-year sentence for marijuana smuggling.

And I'm tired of hearing Emery's pious complaints and self-serving heroic justifications for his actions.

Emery freely admits he sold $15 million worth of marijuana seeds by mail in the last 10 years and that over half his customers were in the U.S., more than 70,000 people.

That's what brought U.S. charges of drug dealing and an extradition request.

Emery's lawyers have negotiated to avoid the U.S. courts, where he could face a life sentence.

Instead, he will plead guilty and accept five years in a Canadian jail with no parole or early release, while charges are dropped against his co-accused employees.

I don't feel sorry for Emery at all. He willfully broke U.S. laws to challenge America's losing "war on drugs".

Fighting what one believes are unjust laws can be a noble calling. But shipping marijuana seeds illegally into a foreign country and then whining about it when they take offence isn't noble - it's just dopey.

And while some defend Emery, saying marijuana should be legal and his business hasn't been busted in Canada, put the shoe on the other foot.

Would Canadians accept an American handgun activist mailing pistols into this country because our own restrictive laws should be changed? How about sending cocaine or heroin?

Of course not. The point isn't whether marijuana should be legalized, it's that each country has its own laws and the right to determine them.

We can strongly disagree with their laws but we can't freely violate them.

But a few journalists think Emery is a hero.

Ian Mulgrew wrote in the Vancouver Sun that: "He shouldn't do a day, period." And a National Post editorial said: "This is a travesty for a man who, as he correctly states, 'has no victims.'"

Emery isn't personally responsible but as Metro Vancouver counts the mounting dead in gang murders how can anyone think the illegal drug trade doesn't have victims?

Emery is right on one thing though - Canadian authorities have been shamefully gutless in not charging him with trafficking marijuana.

Police and governments are afraid he would get a minimal sentence but it also shows that Emery could have kept selling seeds in Canada without fear of prosecution and remained "prince of pot" in freedom.

Instead Emery deliberately provoked the U.S. government into charging him. Now he has to accept the consequences - do the time, stop the whine.

Basi-Virk defence demands over 100 emails on BC Rail case that government wants kept secret be disclosed to judge

The defence in the B.C. Legislature Raid case is demanding that up to 140 emails related to the $1 billion privatization of B.C. Rail that the provincial government wants kept secret be disclosed to the judge hearing the case.

Defence lawyer Kevin McCullough argued in B.C. Supreme Court Monday that Justice Elizabeth Bennett must immediately review the undisclosed emails to determine if they are relevant to the defence of David Basi and Bob Virk, former provincial ministerial aides facing breach of trust charges.

“The net of it is the defence says we have a big problem,” said McCullough, Virk’s lawyer. “These documents should be here right now, you should be reviewing them right now.”

Provincial government lawyer George Copley, who revealed the existence of the emails, told Bennett he would get them to her right away. The full day pre-trial hearing was instead adjourned before lunch until Tuesday.

New Democratic Party MLA Mike Farnworth said after attending the court session that the government should not be trying to restrict defence access to documents.

“Any and all documents should be fully disclosed – it’s a disgrace if they’re not,” he said in an interview. “Once more, another day, another delay.”

The defence was previously seeking access to 17 B.C. Rail-related emails but Copley acknowledged in court that there are far more over which the government is claiming either solicitor-client privilege or cabinet privilege.

McCullough again criticized the lack of disclosure to the defence.

“This process has fallen down so badly that we have 100 to 140 emails that no one has reviewed,” he said.

At one point Bennett contacted Associate Chief Justice Patrick Dohm, who initially authorized search warrants for the Legislature, to see if he had reviewed them. Dohm had not.

NOTE: A shorter version of this story was published in 24 hours newspaper Tuesday January 29.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Ooops! Green Party's Elizabeth May does it again! Embarrassing comments on troops in Afghanistan

National Green Party leader Elizabeth May has done it again, issuing an embarrassing news release on the John Manley Afghanistan report that raises serious questions about her political judgement.

May says sending more troops from a "Christian/Crusader heritage" could fuel an insurgency that has been "framed as a Jihad" in Afghanistan.

The Conservative Party is calling for May to apologize for her remarks, which it says insult Canadian and NATO troops by categorizing them as "Christian crusaders".

Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre also managed to draw federal Liberal leader Stephane Dion into the fracas, calling on Dion to end his electoral cooperation agreement with May, who Poilievre calls: " a leader so out of the mainstream to smear the reputation of our soldiers, diplomats and aid workers." May and Dion have a deal not to run candidates from their party in each other's riding in the next federal election.

May has fired back, demanding Poilievre himself apologize for an "irresponsible distortion of the party's views on Afghanistan."

The May gaffe recalls her comments last year that got her in hot water when she compared the Conservatives' climate policies to appeasement of the Nazis by British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain.

The Canadian Jewish Congress was not amused with May's strange comparisons.

"Whatever the Earth is doing, warming up, it has nothing to do with what the Nazis did to the Jews of Europe," said Congress spokesperson Ed Morgan.

Interestingly, May and the Greens don't actually say whether or not they support extending the Canadian troops mission in Afghanistan beyond 2009. The Conservatives do, the NDP and Bloc Quebecois don't and the Liberals are pondering what to do.

So you be the judge on who's crusading - here is the Green Party's original news release. Comments most welcome!


Green Party rejects Manley Report conclusions

OTTAWA – The federal Green Party shares a vision of a stable and secure Afghanistan, but today challenged the newly-released Manley Report’s premise that Canada’s troops must remain in Khandahar beyond February of 2009 to achieve this objective.

“The Manley Report fails to consider that the recommendation of more ISAF forces from a Christian/Crusader heritage will continue to fuel an insurgency that has been framed as a ‘Jihad’. This, in turn, may feed the recruitment of suicide bombers and other insurgents,” said Green Party leader Elizabeth May.

“Better human security is certainly needed in the South but it should be provided by a different cultural mix of UN countries as well as the Afghan army and police. Even if this proves challenging to accomplish, this key objective should have been included.”

The Green Party also questioned the Report’s recommended indefinite exit date for the Canadian Forces from Kandahar, citing concern that an open-ended departure date could significantly prolong the training time of the Afghan military and police. The continuous availability of external personnel and logistical support in a poor country like Afghanistan risks creating a structural disincentive to rapid military preparedness, especially in an ongoing conflict situation.

Green Party International Affairs critic Eric Walton also raised concern about the Report’s cursory reference to poppy plant cultivation, which helps fund the insurgency and worsens government corruption.

“It was critical that the Manley Report strongly advanced the Poppies For Medicine (P4M) program, but what we saw was little more than a lukewarm endorsement,” said Mr. Walton.

“The Green Party would advance the P4M plan while strongly rejecting US proposals for widespread chemical spraying of poppy fields this spring. This pivotal choice could very soon determine the ultimate success or failure of the mission. It should also be a factor when determining if Canada stays in Afghanistan at all.”

BC pushes Public-Private-Partnerships even more with international conference featuring Premier Gordon Campbell

If there was any doubt that the BC Liberal government is leading the way in privatizing the province, get over it.

Today I received information about a huge public-private-partnerships conference featuring Premier Gordon Campbell and Richard Abadie, the global head of PriceWaterhouseCoopers’ PPP Advisory Group in Britain, will be held in Vancouver on March 6.

BC currently boasts that there are more than $7.8 billion in P3 projects underway here and claims that California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is following Campbell's lead by introducing P3 as a solution to that state's fiscal crisis and infrastructure needs, as reported here and in my 24 hours column this month.

And that does not include the up to $60 billion in contracts likely to be given to so-called "independent power producers" for expensive, long-term deals to supply BC Hydro with electricity from run-of-river dams and other power projects, as also reported here and in 24 hours.

Here are the details of an invitation to the conference, which will cost $300 per person for non-members of the Vancouver Board of Trade, which is sponsoring the event.

* * * * * *

B.C. Public Private Partnerships Forum
Top UK expert joins Premier and Partnerships BC Larry Blain

Event: Public Private Partnerships in B.C. Forum
Time: 8:00 am – 2:00 pm
Date: Thursday, March 6, 2008
Place: The Fairmont Hotel Vancouver, BC Ballroom

VANCOUVER, B.C. (Jan. 23, 2008) – With the number of public private partnerships (PPPs) growing as the province embarks on major infrastructure projects, one of the UK’s foremost PPP experts will join Premier Gordon Campbell and Larry Blain, CEO of Partnerships BC, to review British Columbia’s PPP experience to date and examine the future potential of PPP opportunities.

It’s all part of The Vancouver Board of Trade’s annual half-day B.C. Public Private Partnerships Forum (Thursday, March 6 at The Fairmont Hotel Vancouver), which will kick off with a breakfast keynote address by Richard Abadie, the global head of PriceWaterhouseCoopers’ PPP Advisory Group in Britain.

As the size and scope of PPPs grow, attracting the interest of major national and international firms, Abadie will detail what local companies, communities, and economies can expect from PPPs, and will examine the unique challenges and opportunities presented by the global nature of PPP projects.

At the B.C. Public Private Partnerships Forum luncheon, Premier Campbell will describe how PPPs are helping make new and upgraded infrastructure projects practical and affordable for government and taxpayers alike, and what British Columbians can expect from this approach in future.

With a range of views still out there on the effects and impact of PPPs, top business, community and labour leaders will also be invited to voice their opinions during a lively panel session.

For more information on the BC Economic Forum or to register for this half-day event, visit

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

BC Liberal government's arrogance is its political Achilles Heel

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Column
Tuesday January 22, 2008

Arrogance can hurt B.C. Libs


Most of any government's troubles come from trying to uphold the blunders it makes.

- Bob Edwards, publisher, 1919

The B.C. Liberal government of Premier Gordon Campbell would seem rather secure with the May 2009 election just 16 months away.

A strong economy, a 10-point lead over the New Democratic Party, unity in the ranks and the 2010 winter Olympics on their way - Liberal life looks good.

But Campbell's Liberals have a sizeable Achilles heel that could yet be their downfall - an endless supply of shameless arrogance. Consider these recent examples.

In a province with a shocking 10,500 people homeless and the highest child poverty rate in Canada, Finance Minister Carole Taylor extends the $570 annual homeowner grant to people with houses worth more than $1 million.

The grant was raised to $570 in 2006. Seniors can claim $845 and even owners of homes worth $1.2 million can get a partial grant.

In a January news release, Taylor's crows that increasing the threshold to $1,050,000: "Will ensure the homeowner grant remains as an important support to B.C. families."

The homeless? Well, they need not apply.

Campbell's former deputy minister Ken Dobell is now lobbying the provincial government despite being investigated by a special prosecutor for possible Lobbyists Registration Act violations.

As 24 hours' Sean Holman first reported, Dobell is helping Cubic Transportation Systems, a transit turnstiles company, get a government contract worth tens of millions.

And despite the investigation, Dobell can lobby any official he chooses and has already contacted Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon and the government's public-private-partnerships agency.

Of course, no one would lobby provincial politicians if the B.C. Liberals had not taken over TransLink, the body responsible for all transit in Metro Vancouver, from elected municipal governments.

And the new provincially-appointed, unelected TransLink board of directors announced that all meetings will now be held in secret without the public or media in attendance.

New chair Dale Parker said it is "standard practice" for crown corporations to carry out board meetings in private, even though TransLink is not a crown corporation.

"It's a matter of what can be the most effective process for developing strategic plans and then within it considering the major decisions that have to be made," Parker said.

I guess that's how those responsible for the new Vancouver Convention Centre made such excellent decisions that led to a $388 million cost overrun. And did I mention that Ken Dobell chaired that project's board until last April?

Meanwhile, Campbell personally proved himself no slouch when it comes to arrogance, interfering repeatedly in the independent B.C. Electoral Boundaries Commission's work drawing up new electoral districts.

Never underestimate how fast an arrogant government can alienate voters.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

California's Terminator can’t beat BC’s Premier Fabricator on P3s!

P3 'success' just a big hoax
By Bill Tieleman

I congratulate Governor Schwarzenegger on his commitment to public-private partnership. In B.C., public-private partnerships ... have driven millions in taxpayer benefits.

California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger may also be Hollywood's fearsome Terminator but when it comes to politics, he's met his match in British Columbia's Gordon Campbell - the Premier Fabricator!

Last week, Schwarzenegger told Californians that, thanks to Campbell, he had the solution to their massive $14-billion budget deficit and $500-billion infrastructure needs - public-private partnerships or P3s like those used in B.C.

But there's only one problem - the Premier Fabricator has pulled the wool over the Terminator's eyes about the alleged success of P3s.

And if Arnie follows Gordo's advice, California voters may say "hasta la vista, baby" on Judgment Day, the next state election.

Here's why: Despite Campbell's boasts, public-private partnerships don't work.

In the vast majority of examples here in B.C. and elsewhere, the costs are higher as the public gets hosed to provide private corporations with substantial profits.

Look at some of B.C.'s own bad examples.

The Abbotsford Hospital and Cancer Centre was to cost $211 million under the original P3 budget and open in 2005 - the current estimated cost is $355 million, a 68 per cent jump, and it will open this year instead.

The William Bennett Bridge in Kelowna - priced at $100 million, now estimated at $170 million, up 70 per cent.

The rapid transit Canada Line to the airport was budgeted at $1.55 billion but will now cost $2 billion, or 29 per cent more.

Or look to Brampton, Ont., which was promised a new P3 hospital with 608 beds for $350 million. It now has a hospital with just 479 beds for $550 million.

The higher costs only makes sense because can any corporation, even the world's largest, borrow money at lower interest rates than a government? Of course not, but these enormous capital projects require significant loans to be completed.

The real reason governments use P3s is to take public infrastructure costs off their books and falsely claim they are balancing budgets and reducing debt. In reality they are borrowing money at higher rates over longer periods of time than if they had done them as public projects.
Schwarzenegger admits P3s could be a problem in California.

"Right now, it's such a new concept for our legislators that they're not there yet 100 per cent," the governor said Nov. 27. "They're concerned about it, they're suspicious about it, what it means, and so I think it will take a bit of time."

Watch out, Terminator! The Premier Fabricator may not be a muscle-bound cyborg, but when it comes to using P3s to separate taxpayers from their money, he knows no equal.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Basi-Virk delayed yet again - until January 28

In an all-too familiar move, the pre-trial hearing on the BC Legislature Raid case has been adjourned yet again - this time until January 28.

I was unable to attend BC Supreme Court at 10 a.m. but the session was so short that there wouldn't be much more to report here even if I did.

The Vancouver Sun's Neal Hall was there and reports that Justice Elizabeth Bennett gave Special Prosecutor Bill Berardino until this Friday to respond to a defence request regarding documents connected to the BC Rail privatization.

Hall says Bennett told the defence and Crown she is prepared to sit "as long as we need to" on January 28 and 29 to resolve disclosure issues.

The trial is scheduled to begin on March 17 but an appeal by the Special Prosecutor over Bennett's ruling that the defence could be in court to hear testimony from a secret witness could - guess - delay it again.

UPDATE - January 15

I've just learned that the BC Supreme Court session will begin at 9 a.m., not the usual 10 a.m., and may go late as well.

Justice Bennett is apparently intent on resolving the disclosure issues in this two-day session.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

NDP alleges Basi-Virk trial will be delayed by BC Liberal government blocking disclosure of evidence sought by defence

January 10, 2008

Gov't dragging its heels, says NDP


The B.C. New Democratic Party opposition is alleging the B.C. Liberal government is forcing the delay of a March trial for two former ministerial aides facing breach of trust charges by refusing to disclose evidence requested by the defendants’ lawyers.

Nanaimo NDP MLA Leonard Krog charged Wednesday the government is wrongly claiming solicitor-client privilege for political reasons over documents related to the $1 billion privatization of BC Rail.

David Basi and Bob Virk are charged with giving confidential government documents to a lobbyist representing one of the bidders.

“I can’t imagine any harm being done to anyone by the disclosure of business advice given to the provincial government except for the political harm that would fall on Gordon Campbell,” Krog said in an interview. “This has all the appearance of political whitewash.”

Campbell’s Press Secretary Mike Morton said Wednesday the premier has declined comment on any matters regarding the case while it is before the court.

The defence seeks 17 documents which came from the legal firm hired by the government to work on the B.C. Rail deal, saying they are only business advice and should not be classified as solicitor-client privilege.

Justice Elizabeth Bennett adjourned Wednesday’s B.C. Supreme Court pre-trial hearing until January 14 shortly after it began.

Information not published in 24 hours

Krog said the government should be held responsible if the trial is delayed - it is scheduled to begin March 17 after several delays. The B.C. Legislature was raided by police investigating the case on December 28, 2003.

“The problem is clearly on the government side where they are attempting to keep documents from the defence,” said Krog, who is a lawyer and NDP critic for the Attorney-General’s ministry.

Krog said the premier should not allow documents to be withheld on the basis of solicitor-client privilege because of the importance of the case.

“This was not a grow-op raid – this was a raid on the offices of cabinet ministers. This is not an ordinary prosecution and if there was ever a case where public interest trumps solicitor-client privilege, this is it,” Krog said. “And if this is the premier’s idea of cooperation, I’d hate to see him if he was resisting.”

“This wasn’t Gordon Campbell’s railway – it was our railway and the government broke a specific election promise and has no right now to say ‘It’s secret and none of your business’,” he added.

The court pre-trial hearing was adjourned to give the defence additional time to review materials presented to them by George Copley, the government’s lawyer, regarding the solicitor-client privilege issue.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Privatization of BC Hydro's power production will cost you billions - new book Liquid Gold shows

The B.C. Grits' great golden age

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Column

Tuesday January 8, 2008

I hope that I am not the only member in the house alarmed by this road now taken towards the privatization of B.C. Hydro.

- former B.C. Liberal MLA Paul Nettleton, 2002

Did you know that the B.C. Liberal government has undertaken the most massive privatization in Canadian history, worth up to $60 billion?

Did you know that B.C. Hydro is already paying more for the 10 per cent of electricity produced by private energy corporations than the 90 per cent supplied through public power facilities?

And did you know that provincial electricity rates will likely double and even triple because of the government's decision to privatize future energy production?

Probably not, but those facts are convincingly laid out in a new book about what author John Calvert argues is B.C.'s impending electricity disaster.

Liquid Gold: Energy Privatization in British Columbia [Fernwood Publishing, $24.95] explains how the government has quietly privatized electricity production, taking that role away from publicly owned B.C. Hydro and giving it to multinational corporations and friends of the B.C. Liberal Party.

It's an ironic tale, given that right-wing former Social Credit premier W.A.C. Bennett nationalized private electricity production in B.C. in 1962 to create publicly-owned B.C. Hydro and now Premier Gordon Campbell is reversing a move which gave the province the second-lowest power rates in North America.

Calvert outlines an almost-secret policy: He shows that B.C. Hydro's residential consumers are subsidizing the construction of private power facilities by paying higher electrical rates - and that once these high-cost contracts end, the companies can export their power to U.S. markets.

Liquid Gold shows that long-term contracts signed by B.C. Hydro with so-called "independent power producers" are already worth $15.6 billion for just one-third of future energy needs.

If the other two-thirds also come from IPPs as planned, the total cost could exceed $60 billion.

And that will mean skyrocketing B.C. Hydro rates as our power supply eventually becomes part of the continental energy market, where consumers in San Francisco already pay triple B.C.'s electricity rates.
Calvert, a Simon Fraser University professor, says the story hasn't gotten the attention it deserves because the B.C. government has deliberately obscured it by talking about buying "green" power rather than privatization.

But Calvert says that wind power and run-of-the-river projects are often environmentally problematic and are not being adequately regulated.

And the book also shows that between 1994 and 2006 alone, B.C. Hydro provided the government with $8.8 billion in revenue.

Sadly, Calvert fears the energy privatization may soon be irreversible due to long-term contracts and international trade agreement restrictions.

[Disclosure: I provided Calvert with my master's thesis on B.C. Hydro and he is a board member of B.C. Citizens for Public Power, one of my clients.]

Monday, January 07, 2008

Basi-Virk: more delay, new disclosure application as Crown appeals secret witness ruling, defence says case has "more paper" than Air India or Pickton

The long-awaited trial of David Basi, Bob Virk and Aneal Basi in the BC Legislature raid case may face further delays and not start in March as planned, it became clear today in BC Supreme Court.

And an exasperated defence lawyer complained that the Basi-Virk case now has "more paper" - documents entered as potential evidence - than either the Air India bombing trial or the Robert "Willie" Pickton murder trial!

Two new developments - one from the Special Prosecutor, one from the defence - could further push back the trial, which has suffered from lengthy delays already.

Special Prosecutor Bill Berardino is appealing a decision of BC Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Bennett to allow defence lawyers to be present when a secret witness who is a police informer testifies. Berardino will take that fight to the BC Court of Appeal but the timing and length of that hearing are as yet unknown.

The defence has also filed another application for disclosure of evidence, arguing that the Crown has not provided information needed to prepare a full defence against charges of breach of trust, fraud and money laundering against the former BC Liberal government aides.

I was in BC Supreme Court for a short period today, just long enough to hear Berardino tell Bennett: "We need a week plus a couple of days to comply with most of this. I suggest we return January 16 if it's alright with your ladyship."

"I thnk we need to back up a bit so I can see what issues are outstanding," Bennett replied.

In the end Bennett decided court will resume pre-trial hearings Wednesday January 9 to complete the issue of BC government claims of solicitor-client privilege over documents related to the $1 billion privatization of BC Rail - documents the defence wants turned over.

And then a pre-trial hearing on BC Rail "vets" - a review of BC Rail documents to see which are relevant to the case - and on a notice of motion - will resume on Thursday January 17.

Bennett also heard a complaint from Kevin McCullough, lawyer for Bob Virk, that the defence is being swamped by massive disclosures of documents.

McCullough said the defence has received more than 45,000 pages of evidence from the Crown since October 22, following 12,000 in July. The court has previously heard that there are more than 100,000 pages of evidence.

McCullough told Bennett that this case now has more documents than either the Air India bombing trial or the Willie Pickton trial for the murder of six women from the downtown eastside - both lengthy and complicated cases.

The veteran criminal lawyer said he cannot read more than 1000 pages a day - 500 if they are reviewed comprehensively.

Meanwhile, I have been able to piece together some information on the Monday December 17, 2007 court session.

As you may know, there were no reporters present and no stories filed - regrettably I was unable to attend myself. The Canadian Press has almost religiously covered the pre-trial hearings but no reports were issued for that day.

My understanding is that arguments continued on the issue of the BC government claiming solicitor client privilege over BC Rail documents the defence is seeking access to.

As noted in my earlier reports, the defence has argued that Bob Virk, through his position as Ministerial Assistant to the Minister of Transportation and an attendee at BC Rail Evaluation Committee meetings, saw these documents previously but is now denied copies for his defence.

Government lawyer George Copley has yet to respond to those defence arguments but is expected to do so Wednesday January 9.

Lastly, Justice Elizabeth Bennett has ruled that the defence lawyers could remain in the courtroom to hear the testimony of the secret witness-police informer but has not published reasons for that ruling, which, as mentioned above, will be appealed by the Special Prosecutor.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Basi-Virk case witnesses will include members of Paul Martin Liberal Leadership BC Team

The upcoming trial of David Basi, Bob Virk and Aneal Basi this year will feature a number of connections to the past federal Liberal Party leadership campaign in British Columbia of former Prime Minister Paul Martin.

While no aspersions should be cast on Martin or his BC team, and none of those members are facing any charges, it is interesting to note that several individuals are expected to be called as witnesses, including key Crown witness Erik Bornmann, who was responsible for "Operations" on the campaign and was also a federal Liberal Party in BC executive member.

Bornmann is alleged in police documents to have bribed David Basi and Bob Virk to get confidential BC government information about the $1 billion BC Rail privatization. Bornmann and Brian Kieran, another Crown witness, were lobbyists acting for OmniTRAX, one of the BC Rail bidders.

This organizational chart for the Paul Martin Liberal Leadership - BC Team was obtained by me in 2004 and has been written about in my past columns for the Georgia Straight newspaper but has never been published before now.

[CLICK on chart for larger version]

Others listed here include Bruce Clark, whose home was searched by police, who alleged in "information to obtain" documents that they expected to find confidential BC Rail documents there. Clark was also an executive member of the federal Liberals in BC; Mark Marissen, the strategist credited with Stephane Dion's upset Liberal leadership win and now federal Liberal national campaign co-chair, who was visited by police and who has publicly stated he gave them documents that he thought may have been helpful; and Amar Bajwa, a federal Liberal organizer who defended David Basi in the days after the BC Legislature raid and was membership chair in Vancouver South when then-Liberal cabinet minister Herb Dhaliwal lost control of his riding. Bajwa and Clark's names were also "identified" in police ITO documents but were not under investigation, the ITO said.

Dhaliwal publicly blamed David Basi for that takeover by Martin forces. Basi was also very active in the Martin campaign but is not listed on this chart.