Wednesday, October 20, 2010

 

BC Rail: To all those who stood up

.
By Peter Ewart

Opinion250 - Prince George, BC
October 20, 2010


There is a time when individuals and groups are called upon to stand up for a higher principle.


And so it was over seven years ago, when the provincial Liberal government, puffed up with arrogance and drunk with power, reversed its election promise and announced that it would sell off the provincially-owned railway BC Rail to a private bidder.

The establishment of BC Rail was a crucial step in the development of the Interior and of the province as a whole. The railway knitted together communities from Vancouver in the Southwest all the way North to Fort Nelson near the Yukon border, and played a major role in the advancement of the forest industry and other industries in the Interior. With the establishment of the railway and some other key developments, it can be said that modern British Columbia - the province as we know it - came into being.

Not surprisingly, when the sale (or "990 year lease" as it turned out) was announced, people were outraged all over the province. But nowhere was the opposition and anger stronger than in Prince George, one of the main cities along the BC Rail line.

It was a time for people to stand up for a publicly-owned asset of great value to the province. And it was a time to stand up against a government that was cynically breaking a key promise.

Railway workers and their unions were in the forefront of the opposition. They worked hard, organizing rallies, circulating petitions, and participating in committees. Don Thorne, railway worker and local spokesperson, impressed everyone with his sincerity and courage, and there were many other rail workers like him. It takes guts to speak out when the government is against you and your company is about to be taken over by a giant U.S. monopoly with a reputation for anti-labour practices. But to their credit, the workers did speak out, not only for themselves, but also for all the people of the province.

The Active Voice Coalition, a broad-based community organization which I and many others were involved with forming, played an important role in the struggle, coming together with railway workers, the Prince George & District Labour Council, and others in the city to form the Committee to Save BC Rail. From outside the region, the Committee received timely support from Jim Sinclair and Glen McInnis of the BC Federation of Labour.

Alice Ross played a significant role in all of this, as did, in one way or another, Ann Krauseneck, Wiho Papenbrock, Dawn Hemingway, Ed Mazur, Erle Martz, George Davison, Jan Mastromatteo, Melinda Worfolk, Julie Carew, Lorna Waghorn-Kidd, Bob Martin, Hilary Crowley, Doug Tedford, Lara Beckett, Ken Benham, Justa Monk, Christina McLennan, Kathy Jessome, Leann Dawson, Nives Pastro, Norm and Val Wright, Dave and Ann Halikowski, Bev Collins, Sandy Stephens, Brian Skakun, Herb Conat, Wayne Mills, Chuck Fraser ... there are too many names to mention them all. Together, we organized the largest rally in the province against the sale of the railway, as well as numerous public meetings, pickets, petitions, and resolutions.

But it wasn't only workers and community activists who stood up. A broad range of people in the community, including local business people and broadcasters, did so also. Some at great personal and career expense.

Ben Meisner, the current editor of Opinion250, was host of one of the top-ranked radio talk shows in the province. Ben refused to stop asking questions about the increasingly controversial, and suspicious, sale of the railway. He was ostracized by various local "leaders" who ganged up as cheerleaders and shills for the Liberal government. But he didn’t complain – he just stood his ground and refused to capitulate.

Ron East, a well-known and respected broadcaster, had been co-chair of local Liberal MLA Pat Bell’s election team. He had worked on the Liberal campaign with the understanding that, if elected, the new government would not sell the railway under any circumstances. When the news came of the sale, Ron broke with the government, local MLAs and Liberal Party functionaries, many of whom he had known for years, and opposed the sale on principle. 

And then there was Paul Nettleton, local Liberal MLA, who actually split with the Liberal government over the privatization of BC Hydro, but who also came forward to oppose the sale of BC Rail. Paul, of course, was expelled from the Liberal Caucus, and eventually moved away from the region.

All three men became members of the Committee to Save BC Rail, speaking at meetings in Prince George, Quesnel and Williams Lake, with Ron East serving as spokesperson for the Committee.

There were many outside the region who also stuck their necks out in significant ways. One of those, of course, is Mary Mackie, also known as "BC Mary", who tirelessly worked over the years to catalogue all the news stories and analysis about the sale of the railway on her online blog, "The Legislature Raids".

As a Vancouver-based columnist, Bill Tieleman wrote extensively on the scandal, to the point that his offices were even broken into under mysterious circumstances that appeared to be related to his coverage of the scandal.

Writer and activist Robin Matthews was the journalist who, by far, attended the most sessions of the BC Rail trial. For his fearless writing, he was threatened with expulsion from the Supreme Court chambers.

And the two opposition NDP MLAs Joy McPhail and Jenny Kwan stood up and hammered away at the government on the issue day after day in the provincial Legislature. Former Premier Bill Vander Zalm travelled up to the rally in Prince George and spoke out as well.

And the list goes on and on ...

The trial of the BC Rail defendants has ended as sordidly as it begun. Some are saying that the scandal is now over. And they may be right.

But the stench of corruption and betrayal by a government, and its cheerleaders and shills, will linger on through time. The Premier and his obedient MLAs, no matter how much they scrub, will never be able to remove the rotten odour from their legacy.  

What will also remain is the memory of those who, coming from different backgrounds and political points of view, stood up for a principle, some doing so at great personal loss, never wavering in their opposition to the sale of a public railway that was a jewel in the crown of the province.

I believe that some day that jewel will come back to the people of this province. It may take many years or even many decades. But times change. Big rail companies come and go. Lying and corrupt governments fall. 

But the people - and the principles they stand for – remain forever.

Peter Ewart is a columnist, writer and community activist based in Prince George, British Columbia. He can be reached at: peter.ewart@shaw.ca

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Comments:
Good morning Mary and all of your concerned readers,

I would like to thank you for all you have done with this very important blog. Without your work, dedication and passion we would barely know what has happened in that court room these past few years. The outcome of this trial has shocked many of us concerned that the truth comes out over the mess that has taken place these past 10 plus years(pre election 2001 1999 on and all the promises not to sell or give away our railroad)

My small pretrial experience in May 2007 was many years ago. What happened to me and the non disclosure by the RCMP and special prosecutor should never happen to any Canadian. I was to be cross examined a few days later until all those hidden notes mysteriously showed up overnight. My testimony stands. Believe me when I say this, the RCMP,liberal government, special prosecutor, sleazy lobbyists and many others did not want to hear from me then or now.

To have those second set of notes come from one of the lead investigators(no family relations to government types that I know of)on May 2 2007 was a shock to all. In those notes were a ton of very important tips and info that should have seen the light of day. Not hidden in some desk downtown.

I find it interesting that two of the accused and all the witness's get thier legal fees paid for however the lone pretrial witness has to pay his own legal fees. After I told my story, a few large law firms contacted me to represent me for free. All had close connections or did plenty of work for the RCMP or the government. Thanks, but no thanks. I will find my own lawyer and pay for myself at considerable cost and sleep well at night.

I was so looking forward to all those sketchy witness's telling the truth on the stand or maybe not remembering thier own names and I don't recalls. I am disgusted with almost all those involved in this sorry mess of a trial. It still astounds me that Judge Bennett was removed or ran away from this trial. Why not wait a year or so. I have my assumptions.

The connections,conflicts of interests and all those special deals, right down to that last one disgust me also. There have been many lives changed by this trial. I have a good feeling that down the road as my Mom likes to say "Divine justice will be done". She told me that a few times over the years when I was yapping about all the crooks involved in this trial. Do not read the paper this morning for you will be sickened with that last special deal.

Again Mary and all of your concerned readers. I thank you. You dug up a ton of very important info. Keep your heads held high and Mary, anytime you want to come over and have a wicked good home cooked dinner and a good bottle of red you are most welcome.

Kind Regards,
John Preissl
 
Good morning Mary and all of your concerned readers,

I would like to thank you for all you have done with this very important blog. Without your work, dedication and passion we would barely know what has happened in that court room these past few years. The outcome of this trial has shocked many of us concerned that the truth comes out over the mess that has taken place these past 10 plus years(pre election 2001 1999 on and all the promises not to sell or give away our railroad)

My small pretrial experience in May 2007 was many years ago. What happened to me and the non disclosure by the RCMP and special prosecutor should never happen to any Canadian. I was to be cross examined a few days later until all those hidden notes mysteriously showed up overnight. My testimony stands. Believe me when I say this, the RCMP,liberal government, special prosecutor, sleazy lobbyists and many others did not want to hear from me then or now.

To have those second set of notes come from one of the lead investigators(no family relations to government types that I know of)on May 2 2007 was a shock to all. In those notes were a ton of very important tips and info that should have seen the light of day. Not hidden in some desk downtown.

I find it interesting that two of the accused and all the witness's get thier legal fees paid for however the lone pretrial witness has to pay his own legal fees. After I told my story, a few large law firms contacted me to represent me for free. All had close connections or did plenty of work for the RCMP or the government. Thanks, but no thanks. I will find my own lawyer and pay for myself at considerable cost and sleep well at night.

I was so looking forward to all those sketchy witness's telling the truth on the stand or maybe not remembering thier own names and I don't recalls. I am disgusted with almost all those involved in this sorry mess of a trial. It still astounds me that Judge Bennett was removed or ran away from this trial. Why not wait a year or so. I have my assumptions.

The connections,conflicts of interests and all those special deals, right down to that last one disgust me also. There have been many lives changed by this trial. I have a good feeling that down the road as my Mom likes to say "Divine justice will be done". She told me that a few times over the years when I was yapping about all the crooks involved in this trial. Do not read the paper this morning for you will be sickened with that last special deal.

Again Mary and all of your concerned readers. I thank you. You dug up a ton of very important info. Keep your heads held high and Mary, anytime you want to come over and have a wicked good home cooked dinner and a good bottle of red you are most welcome.

Kind Regards,
John Preissl
 
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