Wednesday, April 29, 2009


The BC Rail Case: 2001-2005, a time of reckless power


I've always thought that people, left to themselves, see the truth of things. I think people saw through Gordon Campbell very quickly after he was elected premier of British Columbia in 2001. The outrage spills out of the archives.

"Vindictive even in Victory," commented one citizen in The Tyee, "[they] refuse opposition party status to the surviving twin sisters of the post NDP apocalypse ... even though they represented over 35% of the 2001 popular vote." A majority government of 77 to 2 wasn't enough for him.

Campbell shocked the entire province when he closed schools, hospitals, courthouses, jails, forestry offices, highway offices. He cancelled bus passes for the elderly, cancelled the Talking Books for the Blind program, reduced legal aid. He removed the freeze on university fees. And much more. It was as if he hated every person who wasn't wealthy enough to hold him in check. To those who were wealthy, he gave a 28% income tax cut.

People understood that. A Robbins Research poll published on April 15, 2003 reflected the public shock:

Question #3

Are you satisfied with the performance of Gordon Campbell and the BC Liberals to date?

Yes 24 %
No 76 %

Campbell, after 4 years in Opposition, was feeling the extraordinary power of a 77 to 2 majority government. Who could stop him now? I've always thought of his first term 2001-2005 as a Wild West chapter of B.C. history ... when BC Rail was lost ... when BC Hydro was undermined ... when organized crime was soaring ... when the province was being taken apart, bit by bit.

The hidden worry should have been that Gordo's cohorts also found that he could change the news ... change the information base upon which people develop their opinions, their decisions. I've heard it said but cannot prove that it was Accenture which introduced the possibilities of what the government-funded Public Affairs Bureau could do ... and somehow Accenture took hold of BC Hydro in a death grip.

And who was in charge of one powerful thread of these early Public Affairs assignments? Dave Basi. A defence lawyer said in pre-trial hearings: Dave Basi was in charge of administering "media monitoring contracts".

The contracts were "a highly political effort" to sway public opinion through radio talk shows and other media. So said another lawyer representing Bobby Virk, former ministerial assistant to then transportation minister Judith Reid.

Michael Bolton, the veteran lawyer who is defending David Basi, quietly set off multiple sticks of political dynamite by reading into the record a wiretapped cell phone conversation between Basi and Collins on October 31, 2003.

The call took place less than a month before the BC Rail sale to CN Rail was announced and as opponents to the planned deal were mobilizing against the B.C. Liberal government.

The call allegedly captures the type of media manipulation that has already been headlined previously in this case but this time Gary Collins is directly involved.

The following is a transcript taken from Bolton's statement in court and is slightly abbreviated:

Collins: Hello.

Dave Basi: Hi boss. Judith Reid was on Ben Meisner [at the time, a Prince George radio talk show host] -- she handled herself real well. There was only one call and it was ours.

Collins: Good.

Basi: Bill Vander Zalm will be on [radio] with Barb Sharp -- mayor of North Vancouver. [former B.C. premier Vander Zalm and Sharp both opposed BC Rail privatization]

Collins: Uh-huh.

Basi: I wanted to have the mayor of Squamish, who's a good friend of ours, rip Barb Sharp a new asshole. Is that okay?

Collins: Absolutely.

Basi: I called Jerry Lampert of the [BC] Business Council and said: 'Jerry, we need your help.' The Prince George Citizen might take an op-ed but they don't want only positive pieces.

Collins: Well, you could do that....I want you to keep this completely to yourself because there's only two of us who know about this."

At the time of the phony call to the radio station, in which Dave Basi and Gary Collins were planning to "rip a new a**hole" in a B.C. Mayor who defended BC Rail, Basi was in charge of administering "media monitoring contracts" that were paid for by the B.C. Liberal party, McCullough said. Yes, allegedly being paid to work for Gordo's party while being paid to work for Gordo's government.

I believe that in a time of reckless power, reckless decisions were taken. And a hostile population was not smoothing the path of Gordo's swiftly changing visions. The Public Affairs Bureau expanded in an effort to sway public opinion . If PAB could help British Columbians to learn to love losing BC Rail ... what else could they do? Could they help Gordo win another election?


On Thursday, lawyers acting on behalf of teachers sent a letter asking the Premier to apologize and retract his defamatory comments of May 12th. In his comments, Campbell falsely claimed that teachers are "planning to throw our schools into chaos..." in a "duplicitous plan" to strike "only weeks before provincial exams."

The letter (download as a pdf here) corrected the false claims, and requested a retraction and apology from the Premier by 4:30pm Friday, May 13th. The Premier has failed to retract his comments by the deadline, and the BCTF will commence a lawsuit on behalf of BC teachers. BCTF President Jinny Sims said she wants to assure parents that there is absolutely no plan for any disruption in the school year. Disturbingly, the BC Liberals are playing 'politics of fear' with students and parents in the last week of the election.

B.C.'s government-funded Public Affairs Bureau became larger than any newsroom in Canada. Their influence spread more widely.

Miro Cernitag described this in Vancouver Sun, when he had e.mailed, asking a simple question: "Then I noticed something curious underneath that official's e-mail back to me. He'd forgotten to delete the "tracking history" of where my original question had been dispatched. It showed I'd been vetted by the premier's office, one of his senior aides, a deputy minister and then handed back to the mighty Public Affairs Bureau."

What's the Public Affairs Bureau? Well, PAB is essentially an in-house information spin machine, housed in the legislature's basement.

It has a $28-million budget. It has 223 full-time news spinners. And it has high-tech systems that allow them to monitor all media in the province and transcribe it in almost real time. If a political thought is broadcast or printed in this province, chances are PAB has found it and combed it for any political import.

Here's some perspective. There isn't a newsroom in Canada with 223 full-time reporters covering a province. And no newsroom anywhere covers a legislature with the same intensity as PAB.

With all that going for him, Gordo was re-elected in 2005 ... but only by the skin of his teeth. People understood.

Only one journalist so far has tackled the fascinating study of Gordon Campbell. Only one. That 2005 analysis begins this way:

The media establishment in British Columbia is infamous for its vicious aim when it comes to public figures caught in the headlights of scandals. Or rather, it used to be. In the past, politics in BC was universally regarded as a blood sport, and that blood - usually that of whomever the sitting Premier of the day was - was largely spilled down the blades of grinning media hacks. But during the last four years, despite a thick odour of scandal wafting over the province, Gordon Campbell and the Liberals have miraculously escaped the slightest nick ...

To be continued ...


Excellent BC Mary. Sometimes we all need a reminder of how bad things have become in our BC.

Time to flood the basement of the legislature and send all those PAB rats fleeing...

Just to note that among the things axed in the early years of the Campbell regime was the budget of BC Archives; there was an article, I can't remember by whom, Stephen Hume maybe, bemoaning the loss of storage space for archival materials, many of which would be destroyed as they could not be preserved; old, original land titles, old diaries, who knows what else; in some storehouse near Bay & Government I seem to remember.....

So while the government would spend no money on preserving legal records of the past, they spent lots of money, and gave prime office space of how much square footage to a newly-created body intent on fabricating the present and thereby controlling the future.

I am reminded of the First Qin Emperor, he of the terra cotta army, who ordered destroyed all records of previous ages and history rewritten with himself as its centre......apparently this story must have given BC Liberal operatives some heady ideas.....

Every Liberal delegate at this weekend's convention should be confronted by Mary's blog somehow. Maybe we could get Robin Matthews to streak the podium while Iggy's making a speech, yelling "the Emperor has no clothes?".

Many thanks for the encouragement ...

Skookum, special thanks for a reminder on such an important B.C. loss.

I hope somebody is working on that particular Campbell outrage.

As for your new, improved stage direction for Ignatieff's speech, I have passed your suggestion along to Robin ... thanks for the laughter. Sure needed some of that.

Here's a very simple question....

How many park rangers could we rehire if we got rid of half of even just half of the PAB?.
Thanks for a great column. I too have been harping on blogs and comments sections about the use of public funds to manipulate political thought. During the last election campaign I found myself becoming beaten down, unable to respond to the flood of pro-liberal and anti-ndp comments. It seemed to me that the province had gone blind and insane, leaving no hope for the future.

It was liberating to find out about the use and size of the Public Affairs Bureau because it gave me hope that what I was reading was NOT representative of the BC populace. The Liberals spin media, create lop-sided polling data that has been manipulated, and use every tactic to undermine all but their party. It reminds me of a much more devious and illegal "Dirty Tricks Affair". If you remember, that scandal was the SOCREDS/LIBERALS use of party members to write letters to the editor of the Province newspaper, using fake names and identities. After that scandal broke, it became a regulation for newspapers to confirm the identity of a writer before publishing the comment.

My how things have changed, yet not. The main difference this time is not just the fine art of lying being used, but the use of OUR money to do it with!
Gazetteer said...
Here's a very simple question....

How many park rangers could we rehire if we got rid of half of even just half of the PAB?.
But Gazetteer, how would I know what I'm supposed to think?Mary, I've been wanting to comment on this post, but all I can really say is that it is smoking. You are operating at the level of snark, honesty and dot connection of Robin M with this post!

I guess I could add, that I am familiar with the rest of the article that starts with the last paragraph of your post. The fact that it still hasn't had to be taken down or its author attacked with a SLAPP suit says volumes about its credibility to this observer.

I must confess at lunch today I almost had to puke watching Ding Dong DeJong accuse Carole James of hypocrisy over the Roughy (sp?) investigation of apparently unsubstantiated allegations about what is essentially a "personal" matter that apparently even involves minors by way of a custody dispute. The fact that Gordo's Praetorian Guard couldn't find a way to lay charges, makes them seem like pretty typical stuff that often flies around during divorce and custody battles, and not worthy or appropriate to even mention.

That isn't even in the same ball park as the Minister of Street-Racing being the top law enforcement official in the province at the same time he is a scofflaw (scoffing at a law that endangers life, I might add) of a fairly high order, just like his boss the drinking and driving Premier CEO! But if one believes Baldreydash (good one Ross), it is all Carole's fault for thinking ministers of the crown endangering human life should be held accountable.
Heckuva comment koot--

Regarding the false equivalency tag....I ask, again as I did with the morality police pile-on of Raymond Lam....

"Is this REALLY a road that Mr. Gordon Campbell wants to go down?".
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