May election may just turn on some (or all) of these names

Friday, March 20, 2009

Here are some names to remember in the next 53 days: Patrick Kinsella, Bob Virk, David Basi, Kevin Mahoney, Gordon Wilson, Paul Ramsay, Helmut Giesbrecht and Gordon Campbell.

There’s a good reason to watch for news on this crew — they could very well cause a provincial election result that would have been unthinkable a year ago.

First, some context. Just three days after Christmas in 2003 — far enough back it’s likely Campbell and company might have been hoping we all forgot about it — there was a police raid on the legislature in Victoria.

Remember those clips on the TV news? Big, burly cops carrying boxes and boxes of documents out of the seat of government.

Less than a week later, Basi, a ministerial assistant to then-finance minister Colin Hansen, was fired and Virk, ministerial assistant to then-transporation minister Judith Reid, was suspended with pay.

Eventually, we all learned the raid had to do with Campbell’s decision to sell BC Rail to Canadian National in November 2003 for $1 billion.

In 2004, Virk and Basi were charged with breach of trust and fraud for allegedly leaking confidential information to lobbyists for one of the bidders for the rail company, a suitor that was unsuccessful. A third provincial civil servant, Aneal Basi, was also eventually charged.

Five years of virtual silence followed. The justice system was apparently working its way through the evidence, while Campbell and crew were likely delighted to make it through another provincial election without having to explain anything about the controversy.

But not anymore.

The trial that began last year is starting to make headlines as documents are being made public — and that’s where my list of names at the start of this column come into play.

Let’s start with Patrick Kinsella.

Before this case, he and his firm, Progressive Group, were just a major player in the provincial Liberal party, a go-to guy for the past 30 years.

Among Kinsella’s resume accomplishments was working for the Bermuda-based Accenture “to promote and educate the B.C. government of the value of outsourcing a number of key government services.”

You remember Accenture, don’t you? It’s the company that, for $1.45 billion, now runs a big part of BC Hydro.

Kinsella was also the brains behind Bill Bennett’s 1983 election victory over Dave Barrett, eventually crowing to students at Simon Fraser University about how he had manipulated the public and media to get the win.

Now, he’s being asked to explain what he did, exactly, as an advisor to the senior management team at BC Rail during the privatization process that warranted a payment of $297,000 between 2002 and 2005, an amount of money even Kevin Mahoney, then a BC Rail vice-president, asked about in an e-mail to another executive.

The documents filed with the court reveal the answer to have been Kinsella was being paid because he was “a backroom Liberal.”

So far, no answers about what kind of actual work Kinsella did, if the job went through the tendering process — since BC Rail was at the time a Crown corporation — or why he was continuing to be paid long after the utility was sold to Canadian National.

And how do Gordon Wilson, Paul Ramsay and Helmut Giesbrecht figure into this scenario?

Think Watergate.

Think dirty tricks.

Within the thousands and thousands of pages the court is dealing with in the trial are e-mails allegedly sent by these three, each former NDP cabinet ministers, crowing about how the BC Rail sale will cause staggering job losses and how their party could use it to their advantage.

The only problem is all three deny ever sending those e-mails.

Which brings us to Gordon Campbell, the man who usually loves those photo-ops and chances to talk about how great his government is.

He’s understandably quiet right now, using the convenient dodge that he can’t answer any questions because the matter is before the courts.

It’s political face at its finest, kind of like watching an old Road Runner cartoon. You know that bird is going to go as fast he can to try and outrun the train.

And you know he just won’t do it.