Why the BC Rail scandal shouldn't be forgotten

The B.C. Rail scandal is back in the news, a good thing. New information from search warrants has been released thanks to a media application.
If British Columbians decide just to forget about this scandal, we’ll have given up something as a society.
The issues are huge — corruption tainting the sale of a public railway, broken promises, bribery to exert influence in two cabinet ministers’ offices and a $6-million benefit to two offenders, at taxpayers’ expense, that encouraged guilty pleas and stopped the trial.
This is like stuff from some sleazy Florida municipal government.
The new search warrant information is grim.
It hasn’t been proved in court, but police swore that Erik Bornman, a lobbyist and political foot soldier, told them he started paying bribes to Dave Basi even before the Liberals were elected in 2001 — long before the B.C. Rail bribes.
The money was to pay for “his political support, his support in referring clients to my business and for assistance on client matters,” Bornman said.
After the election, Gary Collins became finance minister, and Basi was named his political aide. Bornman was with Pilothouse Public Affairs, a lobbying firm. Both Bornman and Basi were political operatives, working in federal and provincial Liberal campaigns, particularly active in the federal ones.
Bornman says he paid Basi, and in return Basi steered lobbying clients his way. He also got special treatment for the people who paid Pilothouse to influence government and “political support.”
There is a serious stench about this. Companies or individuals have a concern about government policy. They raise it and are told it might be wise to hire a specific lobbyist. The lobby firm pays a bribe to help get the problem solved.
And all involved co-operate to ensure the re-election of the party in power.
Too many questions remain unanswered.
Why wasn’t Bornman charged with bribery or tax fraud, since he told police he paid less in taxes because he made the bribes look like a legitimate business expense?
Who decided the people who took the bribes were a more important target than those who paid them?
And how much effort was spent ensuring these practices weren’t more common?
The search warrants include the claim Basi had bank deposits that showed unexplained income of $870,000 between 2000 and 2004. Defence lawyers say the Crown’s expert showed the real unexplained amount was $112,000.
But that’s much more than bribes paid by Bornman and capital region developers paying for Basi’s influence getting land out of the agricultural land reserve. Who else paid and benefited?
The warrants also reveal that Brian Kieran, a principal in Pilothouse, paid Basi $3,000 in cash. Basi and Bob Virk, political aide to then transport minister Judith Reid, took a free trip to an NFL game in Denver, thanks to Omnitrax, a bidder for B.C Rail. They paid for their airplane tickets to make it look legit, the warrants say, and Kieran came through with cash so no one would know about the freebie. He billed the client.
It’s all sordid and corrupt. At least some people paid money and got special treatment and favours from government. It mattered who you could pay and who you knew.
The important question is whether these are aberrations, or symptoms of an unhealthy relationship between people who float back and forth between lobbying, campaigns and political jobs in government.
And British Columbians really can’t know, based on the information that is currently available.
They know, for example, that a police search found Bruce Clark, a federal Liberal activist, lobbyist and Christy Clark’s brother, had B.C. Rail sale documents “improperly disclosed” by Basi and Virk. Clark was working for the Washington Marine Group, which was interested in buying the B.C. Rail line to the Roberts Bank superport.
But how did he get the information, and what did he do with it? Those facts have never been revealed.
The Liberals would like people to forget about the scandal. To do that, without more answers, would be to say that British Columbians are comfortable with the threat of a government corruption.

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