Appeared in North Shore News – October 29, 2010
Gordon Campbell offered realignment this week. Better you should go to Canadian Tire, Carter Chevrolet etc. They know about realignment.
With the wheels falling off his government, tires flat and the gas gauge showing empty, the premier faces the prospect that British Columbians will trade in his sputtering 2001 Model T Liberal machine for a new, glittering (only paint-deep?) NDP 2013.
Oh, enough of the silly metaphor. Campbell did a praiseworthy job in his first two terms. His third term has hit bumps like the ruts in Lighthouse Park — driven into it lately? — so hard that the steering is shot and the driver judged lousy enough to lose his licence. (Damn that automobile metaphor, get it outa here!)
Blunder has hit the B.C. ship of state in wave after wave. (No, this is not the start of a nautical metaphor.) Can’t have an afternoon nap, for fear of missing one that’s overtaken by the next one.
You wonder: How much can the punching bag that is the B.C. public take without rising up in anger? Where’s Thomas Jefferson when we really need him?
Jefferson, a notable of the American Revolution, famously wrote: “God forbid we should ever be 20 years without such a rebellion. . . . What country can preserve its liberties, if its rulers are not warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. . . . The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.”
Maybe Jefferson was just having a bad-wig day when he wrote that.
Politicians are shrewdly aware that roughly half the citizens no longer bother to shoot even the soft bullet of the ballot box, especially in municipal elections, where 25 per cent turnouts aren’t unusual.
Thus B.C. politics, as the media love to say, is reduced to entertainment, a “blood sport,” the blood being Hollywood ketchup as opposed to the real stuff shed by those in the past seeking liberty, dignity of the individual, freedom from arbitrary measures, and such quaint stuff.
Back to the case of Dave Basi and Bob Virk: These ministerial aides, after five years of denial, abruptly pleaded guilty to breach of trust and accepting benefits (corruption, in street terms) in the province’s sale of B.C. Rail to CN Rail, and were sentenced to two years less a day of house arrest — a curfew hardly sterner than tough parents might impose on a naughty teenager. Everyone OK with that? Anyone? How about anyone other than those engaged in the legal industry, some masked men in the government, and maybe Basi, Virk and kin?
That case began with an unprecedented raid on the B.C. legislature almost seven years ago and turtled through the courts for five years, ending with a plea bargain — once associated in starchy Canadian minds with, horrors, the U.S. court system — which stuck taxpayers with $18 million in legal costs, including the pair’s $6-million bill, in return for their guilty pleas and the prisonless punishment. Two deputy ministers handled forgiveness of the legal bills. The special prosecutor negotiated the plea bargain. The court acquiesced.
One of the lawyers involved in this exercise explained at decorous length the progress of the case through the courts. To listen to it attentively was to admire the delicate filigree work, the stained-glass windows, the baroque music (Vivaldi comes to mind) of our vaunted legal system. What I didn’t hear was a single word of the libretto of justice.
The guilty pleas, quite coincidentally, absolved former ministers and others from testifying, which would have been an inconvenience at least, and maybe even an embarrassment at higher levels of the government. (Among those also spared as Crown witness was Brian Kieran, a journalist-turned-lobbyist whom I very much liked — though he once had the temerity to slag my goodly self in his Province column — who ruefully told CBC radio that he “kicks himself every day” for his tangential role in the affair.)
Gary Mason in the Globe and Mail noted that the B.C. Rail trial ended “with a couple of guilty pleas, and with it went any chance of finding out what was really going on behind the scenes of this $1-billion deal.”
This paper’s learned readership doesn’t need reminding that there are two standards that judges must meet in their rulings. In criminal trials, the required test is “beyond a reasonable doubt.” But in civil courts the test is the much lower “balance of probabilities” — closer to what the great unwashed would call plain sense and a basic grasp of human mendacity, selective memory and the plausible manner that hides a scoundrel.
On the balance of probabilities, it is my view that the official narrative of the Basi/Virk case is humbug — Blind Justice touching one stone, unaware that it is part of the Sphinx. And as silent as the Sphinx, as Mason implied, about what really went on.
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The New Democrats — that’s another movie, for another day. Enough for now to jeer at the not uncommon stupidity of the intelligent, the anti-Carole James claque inspired by MLA Bob Simpson, whose revolt was comically timed to lift the opposition knee from the throat of a premier strangling on a nine-per-cent approval rating.
Simpson’s long record of short attention span and political restlessness perhaps has been surpassed only by that of Chris Delaney, who is a world-class surpasser in such matters.
James’s steady competence and absence of rhetorical cant — perhaps foxier than meets the eye, if the indispensable middle is to be successfully wooed, after which the plan is for the NDP heavies to move in — naturally enrage the NDP’s enragée wing.
A better leader? Vaughn Palmer, Keith Baldrey and Bill Good recently strolled down memory lane on CKNW, remarkably recalling some totally obscure NDP leadership aspirants of yesteryear. Good delightfully threw in, with maximum dryness: “Those are all people who have gone on to do great things.”
Palmer had more serious recollections of the NDP’s hard-core leftists. Like good ol’ Corky Evans — the “Corky” alone lent assurance that this was a popular man of the people — who actually mourned the bad side of the fall of the Berlin Wall. (Foul-mouthed Harry Rankin similarly went untouched for his 40 years as a loyal apologist for the Soviet Union’s dictatorship.)
With Gordon Campbell gasping for political oxygen and knocked this week by cabinet minister Bill Bennett, Simpson and other ill-timed snipers at their leader might ponder the oft-quoted maxim — no, not of Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Castro or the other socialist greats, but of Napoleon Bonaparte: “Never interrupt the enemy when he is making a mistake.”
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Russell Williams having wedged his monsterhood into Canada’s Unholy Trinity of Clifford Olson, Paul Bernardo and Robert Pickton, only one thing needs to be added to this horror picture. How do you think his fellow prisoners will treat a former air force colonel who cavorted around in women’s panties and bras?
© Trevor Lautens, 2010
Update: For some interesting comments about this article, please visit BC Mary’s blog, found here.