Tuesday, May 09, 2006

 

Mr Basi, Mr Virk: you do have options!

by BC Mary


As Dave Basi and Bob Virk approach their trial date on 5 June 2006, do they dream impossible dreams of a "Not Guilty" verdict? Are they expecting to be protected by powerful politicians? Or ... are they living in fear of becoming scapegoats who must carry the full load of blame for others who profited from things that went wrong in government?

It can't be an easy time for Basi and Virk or their families. So what are their options?

Their primary option, of course, was the honourable one: no deals, no hanky panky, no problems. But they apparentlly became convinced that the road to political success was paved with fraud, influence peddling, breach of trust, accepting bribes, and money laundering. Why was that? Basic and Virk were not angels. But in my opinion, they were never acting alone. They must surely have accommodated themselves to the team, the structure. We need to know all about that. All they can possibly tell us. That trial is where we can hope that might happen.

So now, everything depends upon how politically valuable these former ministerial aides still are.

They entered the B.C. Legislature as part of the Gordon Campbell regime and from Day One, they knew every political detail worth knowing: everything about the Gordon Campbell government, every decision, every important discussion, every going-out and coming-in. Their on-the-spot knowledge extended far beyond their Ministries of Finance and Transportation, beyond the B.C. Legislature, into the electoral process, right up into the Prime Minister's office. Top-rank aides like these are walking encyclopedias. Or time bombs. But are they unique? No, they are not.

Basi and Virk are not the first to be arrested and charged with allegedly accepting bribes to help sell off British Columbia's public assets. Consider Robert E. Sommers, a popular B.C. Cabinet Minister (1952-1956) under Social Credit premier W.A.C. Bennett.

Of course, Sommers made no small error. As Minister of Lands & Forests, he accepted bribes for granting a perpetually renewable Timber Sale Licence for half of the largest temperate old growth rain forest on earth, to a major B.C. forestry company (MacMillan Bloedel). Again, in 1956, he granted logging rights to B.C. Forest Products for the other half of this prized region known as Clayoquot Sound.

These licences alone were extremely valuable. The forest companies made huge profits on the sale of shares issued after each licence was granted -- before even a single tree was harvested. Soon B.C. Forest Products sold out to Fletcher Challenge, who sold to International Forest Products (Interfor) ... while, during the 1970s, clearcutting tripled in Clayoquot Sound.

The big money being made by corporate friends meant that taxes and royalties flowed freely into Socred government coffers. It is difficult to believe that this sweet situation developed without the knowledge and participation of many others besides the Minister of Forests.

Like Basi and Virk, Sommers was no career criminal. He had been a popular school principal in Rossland before entering politics. As Forestry minister, he stood out as a jewel in the Socred line-up of used car salesmen and bulldozer operators. Sommers was merely ambitious -- for himself, for his government.

It was extremely embarrassing for W.A.C. Bennett's newfangled Socreds, so recently elected on a specific promise that religious men like himself would free British Columbia from corruption. His Minister of Forests became a very big smirch on Wacky's lily-white new angel wings. What was a premier to do?

There was no denying the crime, not after the irrefutable old "Bull o'the Woods," the Liberal Opposition M.L.A. Gordon Gibson Sr. became the first accuser of Sommers. That put the handwriting on the wall: the Minister of Forests would have to pay the full penalty to ensure Wacky's triumphal escape.

Premier W.A.C. Bennett was thought by many to have been a political genius. It really was a marvel, how a small-town hardware merchant and former Progressive Conservative back-bencher suddenly got so smart that he could tap-dance like a madman, and pull his inexperienced Socreds through such a disgraceful chapter of government. The fact is: he did drag them through intact, although disheveled and besmirched.

Sommers alone took the blame, grumbling pathetically for the rest of his life that he had received no thanks, no apology, no reward for his selfless dedication. All Sommers received was jail-time during which, in the final irony, his wife worked in a sawmill to support their family. Basi and Virk should deeply ponder these points.

At Clayoquot Sound, there developed a 13-year period of intense conflict: blockades, court battles, confrontations in the woods, as people tried to stop the clearcut degradation of the rare rain forest which is home to the white Spirit Bear.

In 1996, the First Nations found a successful compromise when they invited all stakeholders to discuss peace and to pursue the development of a U.N. Biosphere Reserve proposal.

October 1996 saw 133 countries support the U.N. designation. Cloyoquot Sound -- about the size of Prince Edward Island -- became a U.N. Biosphere Reserve.

Why didn't Robert Sommers do the sensible thing 40 years earlier, and tell all he knew about his co-conspirators? Did he think the god-fearing Premier Bennett would reward his loyalty? Bennet never did. Sommers became an embittered, lonely man.

Basi and Virk don't need to make the same mistake. They should know that their best bargaining chip is their knowledge of the corruption within the B.C. Legislature. Unlike Sommers, they can turn this to their own advantage -- and to B.C.'s advantage too. Where W.A.C. Bennett created public assets sending money into government coffers, British Columbia today stands increasingly bereft of its public assets and the resulting revenues and employment.

Surely British Columbia -- through their lawyers, the Special Prosecutor, and the B.C. Supreme Court -- could develop an honourable plea bargain which would give Basi and Virk a new start in life, and would give B.C. the fresh start it desperately needs as well.

These two men may not be angels; but the reality is, they hold information of great value to the public interest. Perhaps the people must give a little, to get this information. Without it, the people must do battle again, as they did over Cloyoquot Sound.

British Columbia needs to know who did what crimes, how, when, why. Most especially, B.C. needs to know if organized crime is involved in our legislature.

The Criminal Code of Canada makes it clear that there are 3 types of bribery offences: to offer a bribe, to pay a bribe, to accept a bribe.

Rumour has it that those who allegedly offered and paid the bribes haven't been arrested and charged, but are being given preferential treatment in return for their testimony for the prosecution.

Basi and Virk must consider this. If their former colleagues do testify against them in B.C. Supreme Court (once again sell their information for personal gain) ... isn't it only fair that Basi and Virk should reveal their secrets too? For some kind of benefit ... to themselves ... but primarily to the public interest?

Basi and Virk were not angels. They did wrong. But without a doubt, others participated in those nefarious schemes. The people of B.C. should focus on these two men who are the key observers ... the ones most able to help us understand the whole sordid story of how we lost B.C. Rail, and more. Much more. Perhaps we should prepare to help them ... to help us.

Mr Basi, Mr Virk: that's the option. If you decide to put things right for the people of British Columbia, that way lies honour.

Surely it can't be the final legacy of Bennett and Sommers: that there's no stopping political corruption in this province?

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