A political slush fund that became the centrepiece of B.C.'s long-running Bingogate scandal was used repeatedly by the NDP and himself during his time in politics, former premier Dave Barrett told a provincial inquiry yesterday.
At one point, Mr. Barrett said he arranged for a massive cash deposit of $12,500 in $50 bills to be handed over directly to the fund, known as the Nanaimo Commonwealth Holding Society. The money was part of a $20,000 gift from an anonymous donor to Mr. Barrett after his loss in the 1983 provincial election.
The revelation had eerie echoes of a lasting image from the political scandal that engulfed another former B.C. premier, Bill Vander Zalm in 1990. During real-estate negotiations that were eventually found to have been a conflict of interest, Mr. Vander Zalm walked away from a hotel room meeting at 3 a.m. with an unmarked brown envelope stuffed with $20,000 in American $100 bills.
In his testimony, Mr. Barrett said that he couldn't recall whether he or his executive assistant Harvey Beech delivered the money to Nanaimo.
Inquiry counsel Lyndsay Smith then questioned him on the size of a stack of 250 $50 bills.
"It was a substantial size, but it wasn't huge," Mr. Barrett replied.
The Nanaimo Commonwealth Society was run for decades by its founder and treasurer, Dave Stupich, a fixture in NDP politics who is currently serving a sentence of two years less a day through electronic monitoring after pleading guilty to charges of fraud and running an illegal lottery.
The NCHS was established as a fundraising mechanism to advance the cause of democratic socialism. But numerous investigations showed that it was also used by Mr. Stupich as a slush fund to assist prominent party members, including himself, and to finance a myriad of NDP activities.
According to Mr. Barrett's testimony yesterday, the fund was used, among other things, to:
kickstart his campaign for the federal NDP leadership in 1989 with a $50,000 advance. (The money was eventually repaid.)
compensate him for nearly $8,000 worth of "expense money" in 1976 while he was party leader without a seat in the legislature. "I was without a job for 6½ months. I needed the help and I was given the help."
advance former MLA Bob Williams $80,000 in return for giving up his East Vancouver seat to Mr. Barrett.
hide corporate donations to the NDP at a time when such donations were against party policy. "The policy was broken. It was a way of keeping one's skirts clean." It was further disclosed that the fund was used to assist campaigns by Mr. Stupich and Bill King, two of the six candidates to replace Mr. Barrett as leader in 1984.
Concerning the $20,000 gift, Mr. Barrett said he gave $7,500 to his office secretary Joyce Thomas to pay off some bills and the rest to Nanaimo Commonwealth.
The identity of the donor was not disclosed.
Asked why he gave the cash directly to NCHS rather than to the NDP, the 69-year-old former premier said: "I didn't want the money for my personal use. It was my choice to give it to Nanaimo Commonwealth.
"I trusted Mr. Stupich and I knew it would be used for NDP purposes."
Near the end of Mr. Barrett's testimony, Ms. Smith asked whether he felt the NCHS was "a hidden slush fund for senior members of the NDP."
"It was not hidden," Mr. Barrett responded. "I was aware of it. We all knew [NCHS]was established for democratic socialist purposes."
He said he never questioned Mr. Stupich closely about the society's affairs. "I had no reason to suspect any illegal actions by anyone. I had complete faith in Mr. Stupich."
The Bingogate scandal, which started out with allegations of improper use of charity bingo funds by the NCHS, was a political disaster for the NDP. Eventually, it prompted the resignation of former premier Mike Harcourt, even though he was not implicated in the matter.
Mr. Barrett called the controversy a "very tragic experience", but insisted that other political parties of the time did much the same thing.
The commission of inquiry into Bingogate, headed by Vancouver lawyer Murray Smith, was set up more than three years ago by then premier Glen Clark.