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Former BC Premier Gordon Campbell speaks at a Board of Trade Luncheon in Vancouver February 10, 2012. (Jeff Vinnick For The Globe and Mail)
Former BC Premier Gordon Campbell speaks at a Board of Trade Luncheon in Vancouver February 10, 2012. (Jeff Vinnick For The Globe and Mail)

Reviewing lessons at the school for scandal’s B.C. campus Add to ...

Politicians, like everyone else, can always benefit from a lesson.

With the the nation’s attention focused squarely on the expenses saga of senators on Parliament Hill, The Globe and Mail looks back at some of the biggest scandals to ever hit B.C. politics – and their lessons for troubled politicians.

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The Top Hat affair

Social Credit MLA Bob McClelland found himself in a sticky situation in 1985 when it was revealed that he had procured business from an escort.

During a police investigation of Top Hat escort services, a credit-card slip bearing Mr. McClelland’s name turned up.

Mr. McClelland, who testified at the prostitution trial of Top Hat owner Arlie Blakely, said he had been drinking when he called the services requesting an escort. He claimed to have vague recollections of the evening and did not say what type of services he purchased.

Mr. McClelland resigned as minister of industry shortly after Bill Vander Zalm’s election as Social Credit leader in July 1986, and did not seek re-election.

Lesson: Do cash-only transactions.

The DUI

In 2003, Gordon Campbell, the premier of British Columbia, was arrested in Maui for impaired driving.

At an emotional news conference days later in Vancouver, he said he had drunk two martinis and a few glasses of wine at a friend’s house before he got behind the wheel. He failed a breath test when he was stopped by police and spent the night in jail.

The infamous mug shot of a grinning Mr. Campbell was distributed to the media, and for years after was used by his detractors.

But Mr. Campbell was able to overcome the controversy, and stayed on as premier for another eight years.

Lesson: Own up to your mistakes – you can be forgiven.

The railway saga

What began with police officers raiding the B.C. legislature in late 2003 became arguably the longest and most drawn-out political scandal in B.C. history.

Earlier in the year, the Liberal government under Gordon Campbell had sold BC Rail, which had been publicly owned for decades.

But an RCMP investigation had determined two ministerial aides had been leaking confidential cabinet information about the deal to a prospective buyer.

After maintaining their innocence for years, the two aides, Dave Basi and Bob Virk, eventually entered guilty pleas to breach-of-trust charges in 2010, ending what had become a marathon court case.

Mr. Campbell had promised he would not sell the Crown corporation when he first campaigned for premier, but selling it turned out to be one of the first big moves he made. The lengthy scandal didn’t make that decision look any better.

Lesson: Politicians are only as good as their staff.

Living in a fantasy

At the heart of Bill Vander Zalm’s exit from politics in the early 1990s was a biblical theme park.

The Social Credit premier began facing questions about the mixing of his public and personal affairs when Fantasy Gardens, a theme park and botanical garden Mr. Vander Zalm owned, was sold to Asia World Group for $15-million.

Mr. Vander Zalm had promised to divest himself of his interest in the company, but allegations surfaced he had, while premier, arranged for the purchaser of the theme park to have private meetings with Finance Ministry officials and to have lunch with lieutenant-governor David Lam.

After the park was sold, Mr. Vander Zalm said he had not been aware he still had majority control of the company when the transaction was made. Conflict-of-interest allegations led to Mr. Vander Zalm’s resignation in April, 1991.

Lesson: If you’re heading into politics, learn a bit about business, particularly your own.

Lovers in a dangerous time

In February, 1993, the rumour mill was in full motion.

B.C. Liberal leader Gordon Wilson was facing tough questions about his relationship with fellow Liberal MLA Judi Tyabji.

Earlier in the month, caucus colleagues fired Ms. Tyabji as Liberal House leader and forced Mr. Wilson to step down as opposition leader amid concerns the two were carrying on an affair.

While at first Mr. Wilson adamantly denied the affair, he eventually admitted to it. Mr. Wilson was reported as saying that he expected he would soon separate from his wife.

That, however, seemed to be news to Mrs. Wilson, as she told reporters neither of them had spoken to lawyers about a separation and that “Mr. Wilson’s clothing still hangs in their bedroom closet and she still considers herself to be married to him,” wrote The Globe and Mail at the time.

By the fall of 1993, Mr. Wilson had been replaced as Liberal leader by former Vancouver mayor Gordon Campbell.

Mr. Wilson and Ms. Tyabji were married the next spring.

Lesson: Don’t mix love and politics.

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