George Abbott pries open Pandora's railway trunk

Up until a few days ago, I thought the Liberals’ planned regionally balanced, preferential leadership ballot might give former education minister George Abbott a good shot at the top job even though he has never been considered a front runner. I felt that Abbott in the role of premier was an outcome that many BCers could live with. I have known George for many years to be a politician governed by commonsense.
This week, however, poor George threw commonsense out the window and made a strong bid to become just another desperate Liberal also-ran.
My first clue that Abbott was losing it came when he launched a new campaign banner dominated by a blazing Olympics-style torch and the slogan “The People are Coming.” One political strategist I talked with nailed it: The only reason you rebrand like this in the middle of a campaign is because the people are NOT coming.

Next Abbott took complete leave of his political senses announcing that as premier he would find a retired judge to launch a third-party review of the decision by government to cover $6 million in legal fees incurred by Dave Basi and Bob Virk after they plead guilty in the BC Rail trial.

(For the record: In matters related to the BC Rail scandal and trial I know of what I speak. Most folks know by now that I was to be a witness for the Crown at trial. Over the past seven years I, and the rest of my Victoria-based team, assisted the authorities willingly and fully in their investigations. Eventually we learned that our Vancouver-based partner Eric Bornmann had paid Basi more than $23,000 in bribes through a third party. For more background go to my archives on this site and read my October 22nd posting.)

Because the trial ended abruptly there has been an outcry, particularly from the NDP, for a full public enquiry into the $1 billion sale of BC Rail to CN. Most political observers believe the charges against Basi and Virk masked a far greater concern about whether the sale process was tainted. Having been at the epicentre of the process I have no hesitation in saying that the sale of BC Rail represented a colossal failure of public policy implementation.
Until now all Liberal leadership candidates have rejected calls for a full probe. I understand their position. Even though I did not get a chance to tell my story in a privileged courtroom environment, I have not joined the public enquiry chorus. It would take place up to 10 years after the fact and cost taxpayers upwards of $6-$8 million. And at the end of the day, the person who can really shed light on this affair is outgoing premier Gordon Campbell and I am confident he will throw himself under a speeding freight before relinquishing the privilege of cabinet secrecy.
Now, Abbott seriously believes there is merit in a review of a tiny procedural slice of this case? He’s an idiot.
No retired judge is going to be so constrained. Certainly there would be an obligation to follow the evidence deep into Pandora’s railway trunk. That journey starts with Basi and Virk suddenly pleading guilty – contingent upon the government paying their legal bills – six years after the charges were laid and after years of pre-trial wrangling and just moments before former finance minister Gary Collins was due to testify.
What Abbott hopes to gain is a mystery to me. He’s fighting a party leadership contest, not a general election. And, if this was a general election, this lame undertaking wouldn’t fool anyone. But, it would fuel the righteous indignation of the NDP.
At the end of the day he has surely pissed off every Liberal who wants to put the BC Rail scandal to bed and he has needlessly introduced a poisonous issue with significant potential to derail a leadership campaign that had been managing to stay on track.

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