Thursday, June 15, 2006

 

Thank God for the police raids on the Legislature ... Thank God.

What would drive the Leader of the British Columbia Opposition to say "Thank God for the police raids on the Legislature ... Thank God."


Hansard for 26 April 2004 will be re-visited here, day by day, to reconsider some vital questions put by Joy MacPhail, Leader of the Opposition, and the replies given by Kevin Falcon, then the newly appointed Minister of Transportation, when the raids were only 4 months behind them. Dave Basi had been fired. Bob Virk was on leave of absence with full pay.



 What role did Bob Virk play in the minister's office?

            Hon. K. Falcon: The question was what role Bob Virk played in the minister's office. The member knows well that I've never worked with Bob Virk. Obviously, I wasn't minister at the time that Bob Virk worked in the office. Obviously, it's impossible for me to describe what role he played, but I would presume that he played the role of a normal ministerial assistant — which, the member would be fully aware of, involves liaising with ministry staff, etc.

            J. MacPhail: That's why we have public officials advising the minister — so that there's actual continuity of answers. I'm sure the minister knows that a cabinet shuffle is not a reason to not answer questions. Ministerial continuity is a premise of our British parliamentary system regardless of who holds the office.

           I know that Mr. Virk was the ministerial assistant advising me on the B.C. Rail sale legislation. I knew he was involved in those discussions before it was tabled in the Legislature. He had access to confidential information around the legislation. What involvement did he have, other than that, in the B.C. Rail deal? Did he meet with the steering committee? Did he attend meetings of the steering committee that directed the sale of B.C. Rail?

            Hon. K. Falcon: I have to go back to what I said before, and that is that I wasn't minister at the time that Mr. Virk was involved. I can't possibly even begin to discuss what his level of involvement is, because I can't possibly do that in any knowledgable way that would add any value to this.

           I remind the member that we are referring to the vote for '04-05, and the member is referring to the previous fiscal. Unless there is a question associated with the financial implications, I can't add anything for the member.

            J. MacPhail: This deal is being booked in '04-05. The sale and the proceeds of this B.C. Rail deal are being booked in '04-05. I always love it when the government tries to say: "Oh my God, you're a fiscal out of order." Wrong. I want to know whether this deal is going to survive or not, and these questions all relate to the survival of this deal. We've got a police investigation into this sale. We've got part of the deal stopped because of a police investigation.

           Mr. Chair, these questions are completely in order. If the minister is afraid to answer them, that's a different issue. It is completely unacceptable for this minister to say: "Oh, I wasn't there, so I don't have to answer these questions." It's completely unacceptable, because the minister is being advised by the very people who sat on the steering committee.

           Did Mr. Virk attend steering committee meetings regarding the sale of B.C. Rail?

            Hon. K. Falcon: I can confirm that Mr. Virk, according to the advice I'm given, attended some of those meetings.

            J. MacPhail: That's what our leaks told us too, so I'm glad our sources are exactly accurate. Bob Virk attended the steering committee meetings where the terms of the B.C. Rail sale were discussed. That's what the Minister of Finance said. That's the body that discussed the sale of the B.C. Rail deal. That's what the former Minister of Transportation said in the Legislature when she was ramming legislation through: "Don't worry. The steering committee handled all of these arrangements."

           Mr. Bob Virk attended those steering committee hearings, so he had access to inside information. Mr. Virk also saw the legislation before it was tabled in the Legislature, so he had access to confidential information, both financial and legislative. Did Mr. Virk have access to Treasury Board information through the minister's office regarding the sale of B.C. Rail?

            Hon. K. Falcon: Again, I'm left in the position of certainly not being prepared to speculate on what information Mr. Virk may or may not have had access to, because I actually don't know. What I can say is that within my office, typically, the ministerial assistant has access to whatever information is at least passing through them to the minister, to myself, relating to cabinet information and Treasury Board information. That certainly wouldn't be uncommon.

            J. MacPhail: I'm forced to compliment the minister, again, for his courage. In this case, it's speculative courage, but nevertheless, it's courage.

           It is completely unacceptable for the corporate information to disappear with the change of a ministerial political staffer. It is completely unacceptable, so the minister should be able to answer the question. Now he's answering it in a way that actually implicates him, to say that one would have to reach the conclusion that Bob Virk did have access to confidential Treasury Board information.

           Being a smart person, I should just sit down and accept that, but I also know the minister knows the answer to that question or can get the answer to that question, because it is simply unacceptable for him to not outright confirm that Mr. Bob Virk had access to confidential Treasury Board information.

           Mr. Chair, the reason why this is important is because there's some question about when this deal was actually approved and whether it was approved by cabinet, but we do have everybody admitting that Treasury Board, at least, dealt with this. We can only assume that Mr. Virk, given the practices of ministers' offices, had access not only to confidential legislative information and not only attended steering committee meetings but had access to Treasury Board information regarding the sale of the B.C. Rail deal.

           On March 2, Chris Trumpy advises the Minister of Transportation of the RCMP's conversation with him, Mr. Trumpy, that would eventually lead to the cancellation of the Roberts Bank spur line sale. Yet when the Minister of Transportation was questioned on March 3 in the media scrum to which he just referred, when he was asked about whether the Roberts Bank deal may be tainted, the Minister of Transportation said, emphatically, no. Why?

            Hon. K. Falcon: The member should know that when you're in the position of minister…. What I received from Mr. Trumpy through a very brief…. When I say very brief, I mean an unscheduled meeting that lasted certainly not more than a few minutes. Mr. Trumpy advised me that he received a visit from the RCMP and indicated he may have information that would suggest there could be a problem associated with it, and he would be getting back to me to talk about that.

           That is the full and total extent of what I knew at that point on March 2. That certainly, I want to underscore to the member, is not information that, as a responsible minister, I am going to do anything on until I get some facts and some more information from Mr. Trumpy about what this information has to do with or what the facts are regarding it.

            J. MacPhail: I don't care whether the meeting lasted 15 seconds. It's the basis upon which this minister said the decision-making process started to roll about cancelling the Roberts Bank spur line sale. The minister didn't just say, "I'm not prepared to comment," when asked whether the Roberts Bank deal may be tainted. He said, emphatically, no, and he was emphatically misleading at that point because he already had advice that it may be tainted. He already had that advice. He had it on March 2, and on March 3 he deliberately misled the media.

           March 1, the RCMP visit Chris Trumpy. March 2, Chris Trumpy visits the minister. March 3, the minister is asked a question about the Roberts Bank deal and whether it's tainted. He says no. No wonder people don't believe this government. No wonder they're suspicious that they're not being told the truth. They have every right to be suspicious. I think that the media…. I will say this. I think the minister deliberately misled the media on March 3 in that scrum — deliberately misled them.

           On March 3, I was also in estimates with the Minister of Finance. It was during those estimates that the Minister of Finance said he met with Pat Broe, who's the head of the company that holds Omnitrax, which is bidding on the Roberts Bank spur line sale. It was on March 3 that the Minister of Finance said he met with Pat Broe twice: once before the B.C. Rail deal, the $1 billion sale; and once after that sale.

           The Minister of Finance admitted that he met with Pat Broe, the CEO of Broe Companies, of which Omnitrax is a subsidiary, on two separate occasions. Can this minister tell me if he was aware of those meetings?

            Hon. K. Falcon: The answer is no.

            J. MacPhail: When did the minister become aware that the Minister of Finance was meeting with Pat Broe, the head of Omnitrax, while the bidding process for the Roberts Bank spur line was going on? When did he become aware of that?

            Hon. K. Falcon: The fact is, I'm not even sure when I became aware. I think I recall reading something in the media about the member's questioning of the Minister of Finance in estimates or something. I have some brief recollection that I read something in the media, but that would be it.

            J. MacPhail: I just want to clarify. It is this Minister of Transportation who is responsible for the sale of B.C. Rail — am I correct? — including the spur line to Roberts Bank.

            Hon. K. Falcon: The member knows very well that that's correct.

            J. MacPhail: Okay, and he was the minister on March 3.

           When the Minister of Finance was asked questions about these private meetings with Pat Broe by a Vancouver Sun reporter, the Minister of Finance admitted that he discussed the Roberts Bank spur line sale with Pat Broe. He said, "Oh, it was inconsequential," but he did admit to discussing it. That's his interpretation. It was inconsequential — a private dinner between the Minister of Finance and one of the bidders on the Roberts Bank spur line sale while the bidding process was going on. The Minister of Finance admits that it was discussed at their private dinner.

           Did the Minister of Finance ever tell this Minister of Transportation about the nature of those discussions? Did he ever declare that discussion in what's supposed to be an open and transparent bidding process, of which Omnitrax was one of the bidders?

            Hon. K. Falcon: No.

            J. MacPhail: Well, I guess for reasons other than the RCMP investigation, it's darn good that this deal was cancelled, when you've got those kinds of private meetings going on about an ongoing bid. Thank God for the police raids on the Legislature is all I guess we can say here. Thank God.


______________________________________________________________
HANSARD 26 APRIL 04 - 3 May 04 (scroll way, way down)
to Page 10469 - Estimates Debate in Douglas Fir Room
www.legis.gov.bc.ca/HANSARD/37th5th/h40426p.htm
Special thanks to Lynn who remembered this, and reminded me.
______________________________________________________________

Comments:
MacPhail should be applauded for the relentless nature of her questioning. She highlights how important the "details" become in determining the truth, especially in regard to those "private meetings" in a so-called open and tranparent bidding process.
 
Thanks Mary.

Please keep digging it out for us.

We're going to need this stuff once the trial (finally?) begins.

.
 
Several people have told me that they've tried to post comments and it didn't work.

I think the problem may have been that "moderate comments" was left enabled after some guy said he liked the blogspot, then tried to advertise his used cars ...

I really hope you'll try again (not you, YOU), as it's kinda creepy doing this without your input. Would never have started this blogspot without your input, come to think of it.

- BC Mary.
 
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