The abrupt end to a political corruption trial involving Dave Basi, Bob Virk and the leaking of confidential government information about the sale of BC Rail has left many questions unanswered.
Here are a few:
How did Mr. Basi and Mr. Virk get hired and placed in such sensitive government positions?
The two men, who both entered guilty pleas on Monday, were top ministerial aides who had access to confidential material, some of which they gave to a lobbying firm in return for benefits. They were hired by Premier Gordon Campbell's chief of staff, Martyn Brown, but it's not clear what efforts were made to screen them before placing them in their roles within the ministries of Finance and Transportation, or who recommended them.
Was CN Rail preselected to win the bidding for BC Rail?
Allegations were repeatedly made in court by the defence that "the fix was in" for CN Rail to win the 2003 bidding process, but the sudden end to the trial means the truth of that claim was not tested in court.
Why wasn't the BC Rail sale cancelled?
After police raided the legislative offices of Mr. Basi and Mr. Virk in December, 2003, it became clear the focus of the investigation was on the BC Rail deal. The government went ahead with the sale anyway (closing the $1-billion deal in July, 2004) saying there weren't grounds for concern because no elected officials were under investigation. But later the proposed sale of a BC Rail subdivision was cancelled when government officials learned the accused might have leaked confidential information about that deal. The contradiction - why one sale was considered tainted, but the other not - has never been fully explained by the government, nor was it explored in court.
Why did BC Rail executives continue to sit on the board after the railway was sold?
Board members continued to make tens of thousands of dollars in directors fees every year, long after the railway had been privatized, there was no rolling stock and barely 30 employees. Court heard chief executive officer Brian Kenning, for example, was paid $225,000 for sitting on the board for five years after BC Rail was sold. Court did not hear, however, why the government paid so much to a board that had so little to manage.
Why did former finance minister Gary Collins meet with the head of OmniTRAX Inc.?
Mr. Collins had a meeting with Pat Broe of OmniTRAX while the sale of a BC Rail port subdivision was still being negotiated. Allegations made in court by the defence, but never proven, were that Mr. Collins sought to keep OmniTRAX in the bidding process with the offer of a "consolation prize."
Was Pilothouse Public Affairs Group tapping anyone else besides Mr. Basi and Mr. Virk for confidential government information?
The two accused pleaded guilty to leaking information to the Victoria lobbying firm, but what was never addressed in court was whether Pilothouse had other sources in government. Pilothouse directors Erik Bornman, Brian Kieran and Jamie Elmhirst were extremely effective lobbyists who were known for having good government connections. A statement of facts filed in court states the accused were paid by Pilothouse for confidential government information. The issue of whether Pilothouse ever paid any other informants was not explored in the truncated court case.
What did Premier Campbell know and when did he know it?
Mr. Basi and Mr. Virk were not only top ministerial aides in Mr. Campbell's government, but they were also highly regarded operatives who were renowned for being able to rattle the NDP. Court heard that Mr. Basi organized phony callers to a radio talk show, where Liberals were praised and the NDP attacked. The defence alleged that Mike Morton, then the Premier's press secretary, was in frequent contact with Mr. Basi, and in one call said to him: "Thanks Dave, I will let the Premier know that your team is on the job."
What role did Patrick Kinsella play at BC Rail?
Mr. Kinsella had close ties to Mr. Campbell and was co-chair of the Liberal election campaigns in 2001 and 2005. He was on retainer to BC Rail between 2001 and 2005, for $6,000 a month. BC Rail has said Mr. Kinsella was hired to provide "strategic advice" to the railway on a government core review process that was under way. But that begs the question as to why the government-owned railway would need advice from Mr. Kinsella about a government process.