Some federal Liberal Party activists are wondering if and why new interim leader Michael Ignatieff is giving back power to key players who backed Paul Martin in the internally bitter and divisive leadership battle with Jean Chretien to become Prime Minister.
And they are asking questions, quietly and privately, about why controversial Liberal Bruce Clark is chairing the high dollar donor Laurier Club in BC, among other roles in fundraising for the party.
The Laurier Club is made up of Liberal Party members who give $1100 per year in a single donation or through monthly installments.
And according to federal Liberal sources, the Laurier Club's paid administrator is Forrest Parlee, a senior associate at the Burrard Group, the communications and strategy firm run by Mark Marissen, Martin's former BC lieutenant and then National Campaign Manager in former federal Liberal leader Stephane Dion's surprise successful 2006 leadership campaign and National Campaign Co-Chair for the devastating October 2008 federal election.
Clark will presumably be front and centre on Tuesday February 10, when - as reported by my 24 hours colleague Sean Holman of Public Eye Online - federal Liberal Party presidential candidate Alfred Apps visits Vancouver for an exclusive breakfast with members of the Laurier Club at the law offices of Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP, as well as a grip and grin at the Labatt Beer Institute on Monday February 9.
Apps, a Toronto partner of the firm, is running against Ontario party president Mike Crawley for the position. Crawley is also CEO of a private Ontario-based wind power firm, AIM Power Generation.
Bruce Clark has an interesting past, including a
major connection with the BC Legislature Raid and the corruption charges trial of three former BC Liberal provincial government aides - David Basi, Bob Virk and Aneal Basi, a role as the major Paul Martin fundraiser in BC when the former Finance Minister moved up to Prime Minister, as well as serving on the executive of the federal Liberal party's B.C. wing, a stint lobbying against anti-smoking regulations and a job as CEO of money-losing Canada Payphone Corporation.
In the BC Legislature Raid case, Clark is alleged by police in Information To Obtain search warrant applications to have received government documents from Basi pertaining to a second BC Rail privatization, the proposed sale of BC Rail's Roberts Bank spur line for up to $100 million.
According to a police search warrant ITO sworn by RCMP Corporal Andrew Cowan, the residence of Bruce Clark -- then a federal B.C. Liberal executive -- was searched because:
"I believe that CLARK received documents pertaining to a Request for Proposal and presentations regarding Roberts Bank. I believe that CLARK has had meeting with BASI. I believe the items sought will be found at..." then giving Bruce Clark's Vancouver home address, the ITO concludes.
It should be stressed that the ITO contains unproven allegations that have never been tested in court.
B.C. Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon cancelled that sale in March 2004 after being told by the RCMP that the process had been compromised by the leak of confidential information to a bidder.
Clark's home was searched by police in December 2003, along with the BC Legislature, the home of David Basi, and the home of Erik Bornmann - the provincial lobbyist for OmniTRAX - the losing BC Rail bidder - who is now the Crown's key witness against Basi, Virk and Aneal Basi. The offices of Bornmann's now-defunct firm, Pilothouse Public Affairs, were also searched by police.
Bornmann's partners at Pilothouse were Brian Kieran, the former Province political columnist turned lobbyist - another key Crown witness, and Jamie Elmhirst - a past federal Liberal Party of Canada BC branch president and former aide to BC Liberal Premier Gordon Campbell and former BC Liberal cabinet minister turned federal Liberal MP Joyce Murray.
And Clark's sister is former BC Liberal Deputy Premier and Education Minister Christy Clark, while his brother-in-law is Mark Marissen.
David Basi was a key Paul Martin organizer in BC, blamed personally by former Chretien federal cabinet minister Herb Dhaliwal for organizing the takeover of his then Vancouver South riding association in one of the nasty battles of the war between the party's titans.
It should, of course, be pointed out that neither Bruce Clark nor anyone else mentioned here save Basi, Virk and Basi face any charges in regard to the BC Legislature Raid case, though it is highly likely Clark will be a witness in the trial.
Interestingly, many of the group of federal Liberal Party activists who strongly backed Paul Martin in his successful efforts to force Jean Chretien out of the Prime Minister's office and later backed Stephane Dion's leadership bid after Martin resigned are now said to be moving into position of influence during Ignatieff's early days as interim leader.Will Ignatieff put his own stamp on the BC Liberal Party of Canada organization? Or will the activists who have controlled the party since the early 2000s continue to run the show?
Interestingly, the Liberal Party's BC branch website still features photos of now-resigned leader Stephane Dion and promotes the discredited "Green Shift" carbon tax that helped sewer the Liberal campaign. It's a mistake the federal party website doesn't make.
Ignatieff's decision will have long-term repercussions either way, but count on the federal Conservative Party to target controversial Liberal Party connections in the next election if they are in positions of power.
For example, in January 2007 senior Tory John Reynolds slammed the federal Liberal Party for the "embarrassing" failure to remove its B.C. branch president Jamie Elmhirst after he was subpoenaed to testify in the breach of trust case against former provincial government aides David Basi and Bob Virk. Elmhirst was under subpoena to testify in the trial for three months before he resigned as president.
If the federal Conservatives are looking for a target of opportunity, Bruce Clark certainly provides lots to work with.
At last report, Clark is currently Vice-President of Green Island Energy Corporation, a firm that planned to convert garbage into energy in Gold River on Vancouver Island and sell it to BC Hydro. Originally pop singer Jewel was involved but she is no longer an investor.
Green Island Energy announced last year it was partnering with Covanta Energy, a major US firm involved in energy from waste projects. Interestingly, Public Eye Online reports that former BC Liberal Party President Andrew Wilkinson - also a former Deputy Minister to Premier Gordon Campbell - has registered as a lobbyist for Covanta in BC. And who was once a Vice-President at Covanta? None other than BC Ferries CEO David Hahn.Clark's role as a lobbyist for the Lower Mainland Hospitality Industry Group drew fire from anti-tobacco groups, including AirSpace, because it vigorously fought a proposed Vancouver bylaw restricting smoking in the workplace in 1995.
The Lower Mainland Hospitality Industry Group, according to anti-smoking groups and the Vancouver Richmond Health Board, was funded by the tobacco industry.
The earlier Canada Payphone role also brought some interesting connections together around Bruce Clark.
As I wrote in a column for the Georgia Straight in 2004:
"Clark was CEO of a money-losing telecommunications company called Canada Payphone Corporation between late 1998 and late 2000, earning up to $115,000 a year.
Patrick Kinsella, the influential cochair of the 2001 B.C. Liberal election campaign along with Christy Clark, was a director of Canada Payphone from 1995 to 2001, as well as buying a private placement and having share options, according to Stockwatch.
The Progressive Group, Kinsella's consulting firm, also bought a private placement in Canada Payphone in 1996 and received shares for debt in 1999. Kinsella and his firm have given more than $50,000 to the B.C. Liberals since 1996.
Bornman was Canada Payphone's communications director in 2000 and 2001.
The Earnscliffe Strategy Group, a powerful Ottawa-based public- and government-relations and research firm, became "consultants" to Canada Payphone in 1995.
Earnscliffe was a "virtual parallel finance department" when Paul Martin was minister, according to the Globe and Mail, with the firm winning $1.6 million in communications contracts from the finance department from September 1993 until July 2002.
Earnscliffe partners David Herle and Scott Reid were both senior Martin political advisers who held enormous influence with the prime minister.
Canaccord Capital, whose CEO, Peter Brown, is a major supporter of Gordon Campbell, helped Canada Payphone with a brokered private placement of two million units, with shares valued at $1.40 each. Those shares are currently worth just nine cents apiece. Canada Payphone losses for financial year 2003 were $1.8 million while those reported for financial year 2002 were $5 million.
Canaccord donated more than $191,000 to the B.C. Liberal Party between 1996 and 2002.
Darcy Rezac, executive director of the Vancouver Board of Trade and B.C. Liberal political supporter, was another investor in Canada Payphone.
The Neighbourhood Pub Owners' Association of BC chose Canada Payphone as its official payphone supplier in December 1998. The executive director of the association was then Brenda Locke, now Liberal MLA for Surrey-Green Timbers."
Ignatieff faces some difficult choices in BC - but that's what being leader of a federal party and wanting to prove you can be prime minister is all about.