Can of worms half-opened

Today, Associate Chief Justice Patrick Dohm released edited search warrants alleging former ministerial assistants David Basi and Bob Virk traded confidential information about plans to privatize the Roberts Bank spur line for promises of federal government jobs. Those promises were allegedly made by Grit operative Erik Bornman who, at the time, was working as a lobbyist for OmniTRAX Inc., an American rail company bidding on the line. In a scrum, Finance Minister Gary Collins responded to this most recent development. The following is a rush transcript of that scrum.

Media We learned today your name is in the documents. And you were named, as was Minister Clark, in the information to obtain. Did you know that information - that your name was in the documents that obtained the search warrants?

Minister Collins Well, I've read through all the documents. And the only place that I can see where my name appears is where it says who I am. So that's sort of public knowledge. And I suppose they needed that to identify who David worked for.

Media But we didn't know you were named in these documents. Did you know?

Minister Collins No I didn't know that. And, as far as I can see, it just says who I am and what I do.

Media Were you aware that Mr. Basi was angling for a federal government job while he was working for you?

Minister Collins Yeah. I was aware that he was interested in perhaps looking at the federal side of the political spectrum. So it doesn't come as any surprise to me that he might have been interested in that.

Media And what about the allegations he may have been polishing up his resume beyond...?

Minister Collins I don't know that. You'd have to ask him I guess. I just don't know that.

Media Does he have a severance package now?

Minister Collins Yeah. That was announced a while ago. I can't remember what it was. But we can find that for you.

Media Are you satisified with the background checks that were made prior to hiring Mr. Basi?

Minister Collins I didn't...we didn't hire David Basi because of his resume. We hired him because he had worked in the civil service here in British Columbia for over 10 years. We had known him as intern in the legislative internship program which he participated in 1992, I think it was. So we knew David's work and his time in government and that's why he was hired. It wasn't based on a CV or anything like that.

Media How did you know he was after a federal job? Did he tell you that?

Minister Collins Yeah. I knew that that was something he was thinking about. And I would have been sad to see him go. But there was obviously an opportunity there for him. And I knew he was looking.

Media How is this going to affect your government? They're saying now charges won't be laid until, perhaps, as late as December.

Minister Collins It's one of those things. I mean, I've said from beginning this isn't a great thing to have out there for anybody. It's not good for the province. We would prefer that it to be resolved as soon as possible. We would prefer that all the information could be out as soon as possible. We've said that. We still feel that way. But, you know, the courts have to do their thing. And the investigators have to do their thing. And we'll let it run its course.

Media Is it frustrating for you?

Minister Collins Yeah. It's very frustrating. This isn't a good thing for anyone. So the sooner its resolved, the better for everyone.

Media Has the government been damaged by it?

Minister Collins Well it's up to you guys to speculate on that. It's not a good thing obviously. It's not something that you look forward to happening. But it's there. And there are some allegations. And they want to run their course and do their investigation. And, at the end of the day, we'll see where it ends up.

Media You've read all the information. How concerned were you when you read that?

Minister Collins Well it's obviously disturbing. I think it confirms to some extent some of the rumours that everyone's been hearing over the past little while. And it's obviously of concern. But the investigators do their job. The people do their job. And, at the end of the day, we'll see where it ends up.

Media These are some very serious allegations that have been made against Messrs. Basi and Virk. Have you taken any measures to take a look at other files David Basi was involved with to...?

Minister Collins I've never had any sense that any of this was problematic. As I've said before, David's job, primarily, was managing house business and what we did in the legislature. He was not involved in the ministry of finance itself. With regard to the B.C. Rail file, one of the jobs he had as an assistant to me was to liase with other members of the legislature. And that was a big part of his job. So he would have been obviously involved with the B.C. Rail file to some extent because he would have been dealing with MLAs up and down the corridor.

Media Clearly though he was involved with other things - or at least inserted himself into other things to the point that there have been these allegations made. So have you done any checking on any files that he may have touched?

Minister Collins No, no. He wasn't really involved in any files. This one was a big one because it had to do with a lot of the MLAs up and down the line. And I wanted to make sure he kept me informed of the issues that arose from that.

Media Was there any breakdown here? Whether it's hiring, checking, policy - anything like that?

Minister Collins Well, I mean we had known David for over a decade. He had worked in the public service in British Columbia. He was a civil servant...

Media Perhaps that's a disadvantage maybe in not doing a thorough enough check?

Minister Collins Well what's to check? I mean the fact is we knew him. We'd known him since he was a legislative intern here. He was an employee in the civil service for ten years under the previous government. We knew his background and the jobs he'd done in government. And that was why he was hired. I don't know what more you can do when you've known someone for that long. And we still don't know where this is going to end up. I mean there's some allegations made...

Media Have you spoken to him since the raid?

Minister Collins No I have not.

Media Are you concerned that this is dragging on and no charges have been laid?

Minister Collins I think I've already answered that.

Media What about Roberts Bank? This is when government cancelled the deal and wouldn't confirm whether it was connected to this. And now it appears it is clearly connected to this investigation.

Minister Collins Well I can't remember what the minister said at the time. But I think he was clear...I mean, you'd have to check.

Media He basically said there was a tip from the RCMP. But he wouldn't confirm it was connected to this.

Minister Collins Yeah. I don't know that. I'd have to check.

Media So what about this, in terms of the cost to the taxpayers about this whole mess? How much did you lose?

Minister Collins Well, I don't know what the Roberts Bank process involved. So you'd have to check with the minister of transportation.

Media Can you tell us who Lyall Knott is and do you have any idea why he might be named in these documents?

Minister Collins No I don't. Lyall is a lawyer in Vancouver. I know him. I know almost everybody on that list. There's a number that I don't recognize the names. But the rest of them I do. And there's lots of links there. I don't know why they'd all be involved.

Media He's a friend of yours. He's a Liberal fundraiser...

Minister Collins Yeah. Lyall is a lawyer in Vancouver. He's been in politics as a federal Conservative for decades. He's been active with us for a number of years. I know him quite well. So, I don't know. It's hard for me to read through the documents and determine why the names are there. And all I can see with myself - with my own name - is that it identified who I was and what my job was.

Media What about Bruce Clark? Are you satisified there's nothing more than government needs to be looking into when the (warrants) refer to documents being passed to...

Minister Collins Government is not doing an investigation. That's not our role. The investigators are doing their investigation. So we're not out there looking into any allegations that might be contained in there. There are people who do that. That's their job. They're doing that now. And when they're finished doing their job we'll all now about it.

Media Don't you think government has responsibility to take a look into these things to make sure processes that are currently in place...?

Minister Collins But we did many things. The B.C. Rail file - we assigned one of our most senior and respected civil servants to lead that: Chris Trumpy. You all know who he is and his reputation is held in the highest regard by everyone. He was the one working on that. From the ministry of finance's point of view, I choose David Morhart, who headed up our treasury department, and who is, again, an oustanding individual and professional civil servant to represent the ministry of finance. We also - and I asked early on in the process - that a fairness advisor be appointed and it was. So we've gone to great lengths to ensure sure this was handled properly. We have some allegations that were made. They may run their course. But I think we did many things to make sure this process was handled professionally...

Media Sorry. How long will taxpayers continue to pay Bob Virk?

Minister Collins You'd have to ask, I guess, Martyn (Brown) on that.

Media What about his status now?

Minister Collins As far as I know, the status is exactly the same and nothing has changed.

Media I'm a little unclear about something. The fact an investigation is underway: how does that prevent government from taking a look into its own internal proceedures?

Minister Collins Well I gave you an example of the list of things we did with respect to the B.C. Rail transaction to ensure it was a project that it was handled with the best talent we had. We also brought in outside people. We had people from merchant banks who were involved - people that do these types of acquisitions and mergers professionally. There were a whole team of lawyers and accountants that were involved. So we found the best people we had. And so we've gone to great lengths to make sure that happens. You've got an allegation here that information was passed to one of the parties. And that's a serious allegation. And the investgiation will run its course.

Media Well, clearly though something went wrong...

Minister Collins No. We don't know that...

Media Well something might have gone wrong. So what is there to stop government from taking a look into what might have gone wrong and revising its proceedures?

Minister Collins Because there's an investgiation ongoing. And the investigation is done by professionals whose profession is to investigate. And they should do that. It should not be us to do that...

Media I know. And I'm really sorry to harp on this. But I don't understand what would legally prevent you from...

Minister Collins What would you have us do?

Media Well take a look at your internal proceedures...

Minister Collins But I've identified for you a whole series of internal proceedures...

Media But that was before the raid...

Minister Collins Let me finish. Short of having someone pair employees up in teams, it's pretty hard to stop somebody if they want to do something deliberately. And we don't know whether that happened or not. We don't know what the allegation is. But, as I said, we had the best people in government and the best people outside government handle this file.

Media Now that the allegations are not media allegations but, in fact, police allegations, what kind of confidence can British Columbians have that their government doesn't have this running rampant through government - these kind of alleged crooked dealings?

Minister Collins Well that's a pretty harsh question, to be honest. The fact is you have an allegation that's been made. Right from the beginning, the investigators made it very clear that no elected official was subject to any investigation at all. That continues to be the case. You have one instance, allegedly, where one individual allegedly passed information to somebody who shouldn't have had it. That's not a good thing. But there's never been any sense that that has gone beyond this one case. And I think any comment beyond that is pretty harsh speculation.

Media But isn't that what elections...when you talk about how people are going to look at your government in the next election...?

Minister Collins Well if you've got a question like that, I think you have to have some basis to make that question and to make an allegation that something above and beyond what we've seen has gone on. And I've not heard from anybody that that's been an issue in any other case anywhere in government in the last three and a half years we've been in office.

Media So you don't think there's any perception that could wash off on elected officials? That's my question.

Minister Collins Well, people will perceive what they want. And there isn't anything I can do about that.

5 Comments

Morhart did such a great job on the file for the MOF that he was moved over to Health Services!

Wow!

More full length scrum transcripts please....there's so much there. One of my favorites this time around was this nugget:

"...we knew David's work and his time in government and that's why he was hired. It wasn't based on a CV or anything like that"

Now that's what I call a sound business practice, not to mention fantabulous due diligence.

My favorite comment is from Collins who now claims that maybe Basi did have access to the BC Rail file because it was so important. Eight months ago he touted a different story. I guess that his staff has had enough time to polish the Ministers briefing notes.

If Basi and Virk were involved in wrongdoing one has to wonder how many other deals they impacted. It seems to me that selling competitive bid information would probably be a pretty lucrative business. I can see why one might want to "graduate" to the Federal arena where the deals are much larger.

My mommy always said that "there was no such thing as a little thief."

Excellent questioning of the insane test pilot. My favourite one:

"Now that the allegations are not media allegations but, in fact, police allegations, what kind of confidence can British Columbians have that their government doesn't have this running rampant through government - these kind of alleged crooked dealings?"

And Collins was incorrect when he said "You have one instance, allegedly, where one individual allegedly passed information to somebody who shouldn't have had it."

How quickly Collins forgets John Van Dongen tipping off the fish farms about an upcoming inspection. Or the Walls affair, or the fact that they let Stolt Seafood and other fish farmers off the hook on millions in environmental fines levied against them. At least Collins doesn't tow the Campbell line about not selling BC Rail, when he refers to bringing in people with experience in mergers and acquisitions.

Huey Long wasn't this corrupt. On the corporate donors list for the Fiberals, and like the PNE, you get to pick your prize.

Another fine example of this open and transparent government. Bye Bye in '05

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