Ken Dobell would not have been the first public servant to reach the point at which it became in his financial interest to resign. For some, the moment comes with the realization that they've maxed out their years of pensionable service, which effectively means a pay cut if they stay on. For others - including very senior and powerful bureaucrats - the prospect of collecting a handsome pension while earning a second income outside government is irresistible.
Nor would Gordon Campbell be the first First Minister to help a friend ease out of government. Think of Brian Mulroney, who allowed his former chief of staff, Fred Doucet, to schedule appointments even after he left the Prime Minister's Office. As Karlheinz Schreiber recently testified, this created the perception in Ottawa that Mr. Doucet was the go-to lobbyist if you wanted to get things done.
In fairness, Ken Dobell is no Fred Doucet. Still, there are gobs of money to be made from these kinds of perceptions, and Mr. Dobell has no doubt been reaping the rewards since leaving Mr. Campbell's office. Or, to be more precise, since not leaving.
I can't think of any post-retirement arrangement as bizarre as the one he struck with his former boss, Mr. Campbell. Even in Ottawa, otherwise known as Fat City, double-dipping - collecting a pension while serving as a federal appointee - has been banned for more than a decade. Which explains why we've seen a rush of federal public servants and even cabinet ministers to our universities, where they can collect their pensions in addition to the fruits of academe.
After the nasty controversy about Mr. Dobell's lobbying activities, I doubt we'll ever again see a premier's right-hand man retain the role of special adviser, and a desk in the most powerful office in the province, after resigning as deputy minister. Nor, do I think that we'll again see a former deputy minister's protégé and successor ratify such a bizarre arrangement, as Jessica McDonald was kind enough to do for Mr. Dobell.
The good news for him is that, after pleading guilty to violating the B.C. Lobbyist Registration Act, he was given an absolute discharge by provincial judge Joseph Galati. And, as punishment for not registering as a lobbyist within the required 10-day time period, Mr. Dobell simply had to write an essay confessing his sins and warn others not to repeat them.
Full disclosure through registration is the public's only protection when very senior people like Ken Dobell and Fred Doucet become lobbyists, and it could have been much worse for the man who once headed B.C.'s public service.
As special prosecutor Terrence Robertson noted, there was sufficient evidence to have charged Mr. Dobell with influence peddling.
Some British Columbians may be dissatisfied that he did not have the book thrown at him, but I doubt that a majority would have wanted to see Mr. Dobell punished more severely given his record of service.
The good news is that our political system has worked as it should. In light of Premier Campbell's serious lack of judgment, I'm of course referring to Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition. More specifically, we are indebted to one MLA, Maurine Karagianis, for blowing the whistle on this affair.
The NDP member for Esquimalt seized on the issue after the 2005 election, and she has not let go since. Thanks to Ms. Karagianis, a special prosecutor was appointed by the Criminal Justice Branch to deal with the allegations against Mr. Dobell. Once again, British Columbia's system of justice proved to be the cleanest in Canada, which explains why MPs in Ottawa are finally beginning to examine our way of dealing with issues such as the Mulroney-Schreiber affair.
Now NDP leader Carole James has proposed amendments to the B.C. Lobbyist Registration Act and it would be very surprising if the Campbell government did not take action before the next election. Keep that in mind if you're considering voting for a third party in 2009. Because, in our parliamentary system, a strong opposition is essential to keep an arrogant government on the straight and narrow.