An earlier piece by Lew Edwardson recalled one example of public sector corruption. Such occurrences are so common that most pay scant attention. In British Columbia, we have government quietly granting subsidies worth billions of dollars to fossil fuel producers, more billions gifted by BC Hydro’s secret contracts for private power priced at multiples of market value, public land assets privatized at a fraction of fair market value, farmlands destroyed and innocent lives disrupted to reward political supporters.
Expecting similar courtesy when they leave office, the NDP refuses to examine corrupt acts of predecessors. Actions NDP criticized heavily in Opposition are not now worthy of examination. Comfortable with the status quo, senior members of the Press Gallery mute criticism of government and take no initiatives. Friendly relationships and easy access take priority. The expression “I’m all right Jack” applies.
In 2006, The Tyee reported on mysteries of the BC Rail privatization:
It involves allegations of influence peddling in a $1 billion privatization deal, wiretapping that accidentally included Premier Gordon Campbell, intentional police surveillance of the finance minister, allegations of police misleading a Supreme Court justice and much, much more.
At the time, RCMP leadership was keen to negotiate a new 20-year service agreement with BC Liberals, so bold police investigations of government associates were not expedient. Questions about the BC Rail case were many.
- Despite contrary promises, Premier Gordon Campbell determined his government would deliver a profitable public enterprise — and its valuable land bank — into private hands of wealthy supporters. BC Liberal colleagues approved or condoned privatization, no matter how unconscionable the terms.
- With almost no public notice, large segments of BC Rail’s valuable land holdings were distributed to buyers with minimal oversight.
- People associated with BC Liberals who lacked moral integrity saw opportunities for personal enrichment. A prominent BC Liberal insider was accused of accepting payments from buyer CNR while accepting payments worth hundreds of thousands of dollars for consulting with seller BC Rail. Directors were silent.
We see the rewards, taken in the form of padded contracts, consultancies, extravagant salaries and supplementary pensions, directors’ and meeting fees, unquestioned expense payments, sports event tickets, travel junkets, severance payments, etc. The always understood quid pro quo is silence, loyalty and kickbacks to the party.
What better example than the BC Rail insiders, executives and directors scooping millions while conducting less business than a neighbourhood Canadian Tire manager…A crime family depends on its enablers
Perhaps the single most troubling issue was the complicity of a Supreme Court judge who allowed a plea agreement facilitated by financial benefits funded by taxpayers worth millions of dollars to defendants. As I wrote in 2011:
There is a prima facie case that BC Liberals provided Basi and Virk with a sweetheart deal in exchange for guilty pleas that allowed the trial to be ended. The prosecution had hoped to keep government documents out of the hands of defence lawyers but prosecutors lost that issue through rulings from the bench. Many documents were said to be destroyed but, through electronic recovery, these became part of the evidence. With those documents, Basi and Virk might not have proved themselves innocent of wrongdoing but the people directing their actions would have been exposed as well. That is why the Liberals wanted to stop the trial and explains why the defendants were willing to accept a conviction that involved only symbolic punishment.The outrageous special deal for Basi and Virk
Years after police raided the BC Legislature and carried away relevant documents, the NDP Opposition released 100 questions about the $1-billion railroad sale, arguing the public deserved answers. After forming government, the NDP realized that full public disclosure is a dangerous sword capable of injuring their own people.
Venezuelan journalist and scholar Moisés Naím has written often about corruption. In an article published by The Atlantic in 2017, Naím offered a prescription for protecting the public. He said that electing decent politicians is not sufficient:
What countries really need, though, are smart laws that reduce the incentives and opportunities for corruption. They also need strong institutions that enforce those laws and deprive corrupt officials, and their private-sector accomplices, of impunity in their efforts to get rich at the public’s expense..
Almost a decade after work began on the most expensive infrastructure project in the province’s history, BC’s Auditor General reported that BC Hydro “has not established a fraud risk management program for the Site C project.”
It is not as if there were no warning signs, as journalist Sarah Cox of The Narwhal revealed some time ago:
BC Hydro gave $10.9 million in Site C dam direct award contracts to a B.C. numbered company whose officers and directors were top executives of Petrowest, the Alberta company that went bankrupt and was dismissed from Site C’s main civil works consortium, The Narwhal has learned.
The largest of the contracts, for $10.1 million, was awarded to the numbered company in late July 2017 — just two weeks before Petrowest was dismissed from the consortium for insolvency, according to documents obtained through a Freedom of Information request...
In 2017, I believed John Horgan was taking the Premier’s chair to make politics and government much different than British Columbia had experienced in recent years. What we got instead was a continuation of Campbell/Clark policies covered by a smoother veneer. Presumptive Premier David Eby promises more of the same.
At the TRACE Prize for Investigative Reporting award ceremony last month, former prosecutor and National Observer columnist Sandy Garossino led a conversation with ICIJ’s Spencer Woodman, Bellingcat’s Aric Toler, and 2022 Prize winners Hans Peterson Hammer of Göteborgs-Posten and Lilia Saúl Rodriguez of the OCCRP. They discuss the evolution, impact and future of cross-border collaborative investigative journalism.Bribe, Swindle, or Steal — Collaborative Investigative Journalism without Borders