BASI-VIRK: Premier Campbell top aide denies BC Liberal insider Patrick Kinsella worked for both CN Rail and BC Rail in $1 billion sale
By Bill Tieleman, 24 hours columnist
Premier Gordon Campbell’s chief of staff strongly denied defence allegations Thursday that B.C. Liberal Party insider Patrick Kinsella was working for both sides at the time of the $1 billion sale of B.C. Rail to CN Rail.
Martyn Brown denied repeated allegations from a lawyer representing one of three former government aides facing corruption charges related to the sale, that Kinsella was “working both ends” in the $1 billion deal.
Brown responded that Kinsella was not only not a lobbyist but was “one of the most community-minded, giving, considerate people that I know who cares very deeply about the future of the government in British Columbia - not just in British Columbia but Canada, who has an active role in politics and supporting government of his political persuasion.”
But Michael Bolton, representing David Basi, alleged that Brown did nothing to determine if NDP opposition charges in the B.C. Legislature about Kinsella – co-chair of the B.C. Liberal 2005 election campaign – were accurate.
“I'm going to suggest to you that it did not suit your purpose or the premier’s purpose to find anything out about that because that’s just what you wanted – you wanted him to be working both ends because the plan was to sell B.C. Rail to CN Rail,” Bolton charged.
Brown rejected the allegation.
“You can suggest that – that’s effectively suggesting I’m being dishonest and I suppose it’s your right to suggest that from your position but the answer is the same – I gave you an honest answer,” Brown replied.
“I don’t recall any awareness of Mr. Kinsella’s role with B.C. Rail at that time. I don’t recall even the issue of him working for CN Rail, let alone B.C. Rail,” Brown said. “I don’t recall being quote ‘lobbied’ by Mr. Kinsella on anything.”
Kinsella was paid $297,000 by BC Rail between 2001 and 2005.
The tense exchange came on the ninth day of testimony from Brown, who was originally expected to be a witness for just two days.
The trial breaks until Tuesday June 22.
In earlier testimony Thursday morning Brown agreed with Bolton's suggestion that the privatization of BC Rail had become a political problem for the government in November 2003 because two bidders - Canadian Pacific and Burlington Northern Sante Fe railway companies - had dropped out, saying the process was unfair.
"I would agree that if even one of the bidders says they have a problem with the bidding process, then that's a public perception problem," Brown responded.
Bolton then returned to the defence theme - its allegations that CN Rail was always the favoured bidder - that "the fix was in" - but that OmniTRAX, another bidding rail company, stayed in the process to make it seem competitive in exchange for getting a promised "consolation prize" of the Roberts Bank spur line.
Bolton: "Do you recall me talking about a 'stalking horse' - a bidder who's staying in the process, knowing they won't win, to help the seller drive up the price?"
Brown: "You said that, yes. I said...that was preposterous."
Bolton: "But not if they were goint to do other business with the BC government?"
Brown: "You'd have to ask them that."
Bolton then raised a dinner meeting between Gary Collins, then-Finance Minister, and two OmniTRAX executives - CEO Pat Broe and VP Dwight Johnson - at the Villa del Lupo restaurant in Vancouver after BC Rail had been announced as sold to CN Rail and before bids closed on the Roberts Bank spur line, worth up to an estimated $70 million.
Bolton noted to Brown that the RCMP had launched extensive surveillance of the meeting.
Bolton: "Was it appropriate for the Minister of Finance to meet with a bidder at that time?"
Brown: " I had and have great confidence in the integrity of Mr. Collins."
Bolton: "I'm going to suggest to you that it was unusual for Mr. Collins to meet Pat Broe and Dwight Johnson between the two bids - between BC Rail and the Roberts Bank subdivision."
Brown: "I don't have any view on why Mr. Collins would meet with them. You would have to ask him."
Bolton: "Did you, Mr. Campbell, Mr. Collins and Deputy Minister [Ken] Dobell meet in December 2003 to discuss the bid?"
Brown replied that they may have met - they had lots of meetings in December because it was "budget crunch time."
Bolton: "I'm going to sugget to you that Mr. Collins told that meeting he was going to meet OmniTRAX executives."
Brown: "If he did I have no recall of that whatsoever."
Bolton: "Well, he'd been advised by Charles River Associates [the BC government's fairness advisor on the sale] not to meet with bidders."
Brown: "You or Mr. [defence lawyer Kevin] McCullough told be that but I don't recall. I don't recall any discussion with Mr. Collins abouit any dinner meeting with OmniTRAX whatsoever."
Bolton: "The consolation prize was to be offered with thanks from the government for staying in the bidding."
Brown: "I would emphatically deny that - I cannot believe the government or Mr. Collins would be in a position to make a promise like that."
Bolton: "They would be told their Roberts Bank bid would be looked at with favour."
Brown: "The government would be grateful for all the bidders who stayed in the process. But in terms of offering a consolation prize - I would strongly say that didn't happen."
Brown added he wouldn't be surprised if Collins discussed the previous bidding process for BC Rail and thank them for their participation.
Brown: "They were a good bidder, they were an excellent corporate citizen it sounds like."
After an objection from Special Prosecutor Bill Berardino was resolved with the jury out of the courtroom, Bolton went on to the issue of BC government monitoring of the case in 2007.
Bolton told Brown that in April and May of 2007, BC government Public Affairs Bureau officer Stuart Chase was in the courtroom monitoring the case - a story I first broke at the time in 24 hours newspaper - and sending reports to Victoria.
Bolton: "Did you read those reports?"
Brown: "I don't specifically remember any of them - I could have seen one or more - they did go to the Premier's Office."
Bolton: "Did you meet with Mr. Colllins after receiving those reports?"
Brown: "I don't recall."
Brown added he did meet Collins at various public events."
Brown: "I absolutely would have talked to Gary Collins between 2007 and today on a number of informal occasions."
Bolton asked Brown if he discussed the Villa del Lupo meeting with OmniTRAX.
Brown: "I don't recall having any such discussions with him."
Bolton: "When did you learn about the Villa del Lupo meeting?"
Brown: "I don't recall."
Bolton also asked other questions about Patrick Kinsella's role.
Bolton: "I talked about the problematic issue of Mr. Kinsella working for BC Rail...I suggest to you that there's an obvious optics problem working with BC Rail and CN Rail at the same time."
Brown: "I believe that's true."
Bolton: "I've shown you some excerpts from Hansard this morning to indicate that the Leader of the Opposition [then Joy MacPhail] had raised those matters in the House in questioning the Premier."
Brown: "I don't believe that's a fair, accurate description of what we've just said. I believe she raised speculation that Mr. Kinsella was quote "a lobbyist" for CN. ...That's different from what you've said - her raising the fact that he worked ostensibly for both CN and BC Rail."
Bolton: "Mr. Kinsella was never an official registered lobbyist for CN or anybody else."
Brown: "That's my understanding."
Bolton: "He styles himself as a consultant rather than a lobbyist."
Brown: "I don't know how he styles himself and I'm not going to comment on his characterization. What I think I said earlier in my testimony is that I don't recall ever being quote 'lobbied' by Mr. Kinsella on anything - nothing I would consider lobbying."
Bolton asked why Brown didn't investigate the allegations MacPhail made in the Legislature.
Bolton: "Why did the premier's office not take steps to straighten out that optics problem at the time?"
Brown: "I don't know there was any optics problem - I didn't concede that there was an optics problem. Ms. MacPhail, leader of the opposition at the time and an avowed political opponent hurling about comments in the Legislature that even of themselves would necessarily pose a problem, so I don't accept your characterization."
Bolton returned to the issue again.
Bolton: "My question for you is this - as the Premier's primary political advisor, why on earth would you have not taken steps at this juncture - 13 days after the bid process began - to straighten out the issue of whether Kinsella was working for BC Rail or a consultant for BC Rail and also CN Rail at the same time - why didn't you take steps to straighten that out?
Brown: "Well, you've suggested that he, that as a result of this I would somehow know that Mr. Kinsella was consulting, working for BC Rail - I see nothing in that transcript from the debate would suggest that."
"So that's certainly not something that I was aware of, that I can recall being informed of, and the assertion from Ms. MacPhail that quote 'he's the lobbyist for CN' - I don't know what on earth she was talking about."
"And she used to make an awful lot of allegations and statements and the like - if we followed up on every one it could be a full time job."