Premier Gordon Campbell's chief of staff said Tuesday he could think of no good reason why Patrick Kinsella was hired as a well-paid consultant by BC Rail just four months after Mr. Kinsella co-chaired the Liberals' successful election campaign in 2001.
Martyn Brown, testifying at the political corruption trial of former ministerial aides David Basi and Bob Virk, said he did not learn of Mr. Kinsella's BC Rail hiring until the spring of 2004.
"I expressed surprise … why would they hire him?" Mr. Brown told defence lawyer Michael Bolton.
Nor was the decision good optics, coming so soon after the election, Mr. Brown said.
If he had known about it at the time of Mr. Kinsella's hiring, he would have asked questions, the Premier's top political operative said.
"I would have asked 'why?' because I don't know what value he would bring [to BC Rail … and]the optics are not good. … Unless there was a reason that was publicly explainable, certainly it wouldn't be good optics."
Early in 2003, the government moved to privatize BC Rail, breaking a pre-election promise that the Crown Corporation would remain in public hands.
Documents released before the current trial began have disclosed that Mr. Kinsella, co-chair of the 2001 Liberal election campaign with former MLA Christy Clark, was paid $6,000-$7,000 a month by BC Rail for consulting work.
The relationship lasted from Oct. 30, 2001, until 2005.
Mr. Brown declined to speculate on BC Rail's motivation for retaining Mr. Kinsella's services. "I can't speculate because I can't think of any good reason."
He was asked - hypothetically - by Mr. Bolton, whether poor optics could arise from a perception that Mr. Kinsella's hiring would lead people to believe Premier Campbell had a secret plan to privatize the railway all along, despite his election promise.
"That might be one hypothetical reason, yes," Mr. Brown replied.
Earlier, Mr. Brown agreed that he had lavished significant praise on Mr. Basi in the past for his success in whipping up public support for the government by organizing Liberals to call in to radio hot line shows.
He didn't deny a reference by Mr. Bolton to an appearance by Mr. Campbell on the Rafe Mair show not long after the Premier was arrested for drunk driving in Hawaii. Mr. Basi made sure there was a flood of calls backing the Premier, and Mr. Mair went from "competitive and angry to being very warm to the Premier," Mr. Bolton suggested.
"That may well have happened," replied Mr. Brown. "That's what happens on hot-line shows. People who call in and register their views can change the tenor of the discussion. They balance it out … and the Premier was grateful for that."
He said Mr. Basi, who served as a ministerial aide to Finance Minister Gary Collins, was also good at persuading "stakeholders" to speak out publicly in support of government policies.