Basi-Virk first anniversary renews calls for inquiry

B.C. Liberal government paid $6 million legal bills

They come from opposite ends of the political spectrum, but Vancouver commentators Bill Tieleman and Alex Tsakumis agree on one thing: British Columbia needs a public inquiry into the corrupt 2003 sale of B.C. Rail.

Tuesday is the first anniversary of the halt to the bribery trial of ministerial aides Dave Basi and Bob Virk. On Oct. 18, 2010, they copped a surprise guilty plea to breach of trust and fraud, but the B.C. Liberal government paid their $6 million legal bills.

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As a radio commentator and newspaper columnist, veteran NDP strategist Tieleman followed the scandal through years of hearings before the brief trial and controversial plea bargain. Conservative blogger Tsakumis has published hundreds of internal government, police and corporate documents about the $1 billion sale of the Crown corporations freight operations to CN Rail.

It's certainly one of the biggest political scandal cases B.C. has ever seen, Tieleman said. We've never seen the Legislature of the province raided by the police before for evidence, we've never seen the finance minister of the province under RCMP videotape surveillance in a fancy downtown Vancouver restaurant before.

After they sold it, the way that it was sold and the myriad of questions that have arisen from that sale, you're left with only one conclusion, said Tsakumis. This government has done it to themselves, they have lost complete moral authority to govern this province.

Martyn Brown, the former chief of staff to former premier Gordon Campbell, and B.C. Rail director Brian Kenning were the only witnesses to testify. Ex-finance minister Gary Collins was to be number three. Campbell, lobbyist and Liberal campaign manager Patrick Kinsella and CN chairman David McLean were also expected on the stand.

Campbell, Tieleman said, not only promised he wouldnt privatize B.C. Rail, but he also promised British Columbians he would explain what happened. Campbell announced his resignation just over two weeks after the trial ended and successor Christy Clark refuses to call an inquiry.

Documents on Tsakumiss blog show Clark, while deputy premier, socialized with Basi, Virk and Erik Bornmann, the lobbyist for B.C. Rail bidder OmniTrax who admitted bribing Basi and Virk for inside information. Police even searched the home of her brother, Washington Marine Group lobbyist Bruce Clark, and seized confidential documents about the B.C. Rail spur line at Roberts Bank.

If Christy Clark has nothing to hide she should be the first one to call for at least an investigation, a full-on investigation, of the specific deal that led to essentially the buying of Bob Virk and Dave Basi's silence, Tsakumis said.

Two narrow reports are coming, but neither is a substitute for an inquiry. University of B.C. president Stephen Toope was hired to examine the general policy of paying public employees legal bills. That report is due Oct. 28. Auditor General John Doyle sued the government to get a copy of Basi and Virks legal bills for his audit, expected by year-end.

Look at what's happened to the key players, Tieleman said. [Campbell] is sitting in London as the high commissioner, Bornmann is a practising lawyer in Ontario despite bribing public officials, Gary Collins is a successful executive in Vancouver, Ken Dobell's got the Order of B.C, Gordon Campbell got the Order of B.C., CN Rail is making loads of money off B.C. Rail, and Basi and Virk are under house arrest.

Tieleman is hoping the first anniversary will renew interest in his Basi-Virk Public Inquiry Facebook campaign.

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