Wednesday, May 19, 2010
BC Rail Corruption Trial: yesterday, it seemed the province was on trial
National Post - May 19, 2010
Vancouver -- The British Columbia government concocted a conspiracy to devalue a provincially owned railway in order to justify its sale, jurors at a political corruption trial heard on Wednesday.
Defence lawyer Kevin McCullough also made the startling suggestion that "the fix was in" to sell B.C. Rail to Canadian National Rail Co. and to spurn other bidders. He made the remarks as he cross-examined Crown witness Martyn Brown, who is chief of staff to B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell.
The government "was trying to drive the company into the ground so that it could support a broken  election promise [not to dispose of B.C. Rail]," Mr. McCullough put to the witness.
"No," answered Mr. Brown. He characterized as "absurd" the suggestion a conspiracy was hatched to devalue B.C. Rail. "The government does not get elected to cost the taxpayers money by design," he explained to the jury.
Mr. McCullough represents one of two former ministerial assistants accused of fraud and breach of trust in relation to the $1-billion sale of B.C. Rail. The provincially owned asset was heavily indebted and sold off to CN in 2004, after a lengthy and controversial sale process that the Crown alleges was compromised by the actions of high-ranking government appointees on trial.
Their trial opened on Monday; witness testimony began on Tuesday. While all three defendants have their own counsel, Mr. McCullough has to date handled the bulk of defence duties. The Victoria-based lawyer has shown a tempestuous courtroom manner; he has clashed constantly with B.C. Supreme Court Justice Anne MacKenzie.
On Tuesday, the judge twice threatened to have him removed from court. Mr. McCullough was just slightly less combative yesterday.
He repeatedly put to Mr. Brown that B.C. Rail was a profitable company when the Campbell administration decided to unload it, for reasons outside the public interest. He suggested cronyism played a role. Mr. McCullough read in court yesterday from an unspecified document describing CN chairman David McLean as a driving force behind the B.C. Liberal party's 1996 election campaign, and as chief fundraiser for Gordon Campbell, who was then still opposition leader.
CN donated $269,000 to the B.C. Liberal party from 1999 to 2009, Mr. McCullough put to the witness, Mr. Brown.
He continued, saying "Mr. Virk's evidence will be the fix was in to deliver [B.C. Rail] assets to CN Rail from Day One."
He referred to a "failure strategy" he said his client will describe when called as a defence witness.
The scheme was designed to make B.C. Rail unviable and thus ready for divestment, said Mr. McCullough. Mr. Brown was in a position to know all of that, he posited. After all, the witness has been the premier's chief of staff and chief advisor since June 2001, when the Liberals took power.
Mr. Brown denied any knowledge of CN's donations to the Liberal party, and nothing of the so-called failure strategy.
He said that while B.C. Rail may have posted a profit in 2001, it was in poor financial condition. It paid in excess of $30-million a year in debt-service fees and it had a $600-million debt load, he told the jury.
He also took issue with the defence characterization of the B.C. Rail divestiture. It was not a sale, Mr. Brown testified. Rather, the government leased the company's operations and publicly owned tracks and rights of way to CN Rail for an initial term of 60 years.
The only assets that were sold were B.C. Rail's rolling stock, he added. He agreed, however, that in the public's mind, B.C. Rail had effectively been sold.
The question the defence is floating at trial is why. Mr. McCullough has suggested in court that the sale process was indeed compromised. Not by the defendants, but by the Campbell government. The tables were turned; yesterday, it seemed the province was on trial.
Furthermore, Martyn Brown today talked about how 'senior' Basi and Virk were in the provincial civil service hierarchy....this is just plain nonsense as a quick look at their pay scale will attest.
These guys were not senior staffers - they were very junior, very inexperienced and VERY POLITICAL - the suggestion that they had the beans to undertake the kind of wet work that Brown suggests they were capable of doing on their own is absurd.
These guys were little more than gophers....spinning lies and making phony phone calls to talk shows for a living.
Obviously, Mr. Mathews is desperately needed by those in BC wanting to know the truth...because our professional journalists seem to have chosen a side on which to report. Perhaps we can call them the Berardino Fart Catchers? Or...The PAB Controlled Bots?
This tactic will probably be heard over and over again for every witness that the Crown brings in to testify, to defend the BC Liberals.
Forty four witnesses, with everyone of them toeing the line, protecting their jobs.
Just roll your mouse over top of the link and then look at the hard copy link, they're different.
That's why the hard copy links are included ...
so, if glitches occur, readers have a default option. OK?
and glitches do occur, even amongst "accredited" news stories
not to mention some serious internet issues for a while (intermittent) yesterday.
Thanks for the info. I love to imagine that -- with that one correction -- I will be purrrr-fect. Ha ha.
There is a lot more than "legal election donations" involved in the corrupt carnival that is the Campbell regime. Think of the giveaways of power contracts to P.O. box corporations with no real financing and think of the directorships awaiting the thugs of the Campbell government when they return to the private sector to harvest the fruits of their corruption.
They had a clip on the TeeVee the other night that showed how much ideology plays into the whole deal. There was a younger white-haired prevaricator during the 1996 campaign promising to sell off every crown corporation and public asset as soon as possible.
Of course he lost by being honest, so in 2001 he just said the opposite but once elected went on to do exactly what he was promising to do in 1996.
They call that LYING where I come from!