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British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell speaks at a news conference on Friday, April 30, 2010, in Regina, Sask.Troy Fleece/ The Canadian Press

The dramatic and unexpected end to B.C.'s long-running political corruption trial is a rare slice of good news for beleaguered Premier Gordon Campbell at a time when polls show his personal approval rating at a record low nine per cent.

Numerous high-profile witnesses with close connections to the Liberals, including former finance minister Gary Collins, had been scheduled to testify in the coming months, with the potential of more damaging political fallout to the government while it tries to head off a taxpayers' revolt over the HST.

Government opponents had been anticipating a string of embarrassing revelations given the aggressive cross-examination of the trial's only two witness so far.

With Monday's sudden guilty pleas by ex-Liberal political operatives Dave Basi and Bob Virk, the government is off the hook on this controversy - at least in the short term. The NDP was unable to hide its frustration on Monday.

"From a political perspective and from a curiosity perspective, I am enormously disappointed," said Leonard Krog, official NDP critic of the Attorney General's ministry. "As a citizen, as a taxpayer and as a politician, I wanted to find out what happened."

NDP House leader Mike Farnworth, who was in the courtroom for the end of the trial, noted the enormous amount of money and nearly seven years spent on the case. "Now it all ends, in essence, with a whimper and a plea bargain."

The scandal, connected to the controversial sale of BC Rail, has been hanging over the provincial Liberals since the RCMP's unprecedented raid on the legislature late in 2003.

But the Liberals have managed to sidestep much of the political mire through two elections by refusing to answer any questions about the case on the grounds that it was before the courts.

Veteran political analyst Norman Ruff wondered whether the trial's abrupt conclusion so close to Mr. Collins' testimony, expected this week, was a coincidence.

"He was Basi's boss, and defence lawyers might have made some headway on whether Mr. Basi and Mr. Virk were acting [in the sale of BC Rail]under any explicit or implicit orders [from the government] as has been suggested," said Mr. Ruff.

He added that the timing of the guilty pleas was "doubly good" for Mr. Campbell, since they also came before his province-wide television address next week. "It means there will be no surprises before then."

Mr. Krog agreed that, for the moment, the guilty pleas are "a good news story" for the Liberals.

But he insisted that the case will come back to haunt the Mr. Campbell and his government.

"In the long term, it still remains a nightmare for them....This was the disposition of one of our crown jewels [BC Rail] it broke a significant Liberal election promise, and it began with a raid on the Legislature," Mr. Krog said.

And now that Mr. Basi and Mr. Virk are no longer on trial, the government must respond to the numerous unanswered questions about the sale of BC Rail, he said.

"What was the Premier's involvement, what was the involvement of major Liberal insiders and friends, who gave Mr. Basi and Mr. Virk their orders?....These are all questions that go to the heart of Liberal integrity."

Mr. Ruff, the political analyst, said the trial was always about more than "these two guys who were on the make.

"The big question is: was there inappropriate or criminal interference in public policy, regarding the sell-off of BC Rail. That remains unanswered," he said.

Mr. Krog said the BC Rail corruption scandal will cause the Liberals' more grief in the future, despite already lasting longer than "the plagues of the Pharoah.

"It's the little train that could. We may be puffing uphill for a little while, going slowly, but then we get to the top and start picking up speed. This is not over."

Mr. Campbell was unavailable for comment yesterday.