Tuesday, December 28, 2010

BC Legislature Raid marks 7th Anniversary with call for Public Inquiry into unsatisfactory situation

Bill Tieleman outside BC Supreme Court - Lyle Stafford photo
Observers of the BC Legislature Raid case that led to corruption charges against former BC Liberal ministerial aides David Basi and Bob Virk expected to mark the 7th anniversary of the unprecedented police search of the BC Legislature on December 28, 2003 in a far different manner than today's non-event.

Instead of waiting for the resumption of the criminal trial in January 2011 and further cross examination of some of BC's most well-known politicians and political operators, we are left with a sudden guilty plea bargain by Basi and Virk for passing confidential government information on the $1 billion sale of BC Rail on to lobbyists for one bidder.

Basi and Virk spend the Christmas holidays under house arrest, having done a deal that saw them avoid both jail time and also paying off the $6 million legal fees their defence lawyers accrued over the past 7 years.

Former Finance Minister Gary Collins was spared his role as the next witness in the trial.

BC Liberal leadership candidate Christy Clark escaped a trial that would have doubtless brought up disturbing questions on her own role as deputy premier during the BC Rail sale - and questions about the role of her then-lobbyist brother Bruce Clark, found by police to have other confidential BC Rail documents in his possession that were received from Basi and Virk.

Then-lobbyist Erik Bornmann, who bribed Basi and Virk with money and benefits but was not charged when he became a Crown witnesses, carrieson with a new career.

But the public is denied the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

I've written tens of thousands of words on the Basi-Virk case since the day it began.

But there is no question that much of this sordid situation remains a dark mystery.

Only a full independent public inquiry can establish what really happened - and how such events can be avoided in the future.

That's why I've called for a public inquiry and created a Facebook page for all who agree to join in that demand.

Go to Basi-Virk Public Inquiry on Facebook and sign up - particularly at this time of the BC Liberal leadership contest it's important that British Columbians demand honesty and accountability from those who would lead the province.

Thanks for you kind comments on my work in the past and for supporting this new effort.


Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas to all!

Van Dusen Gardens - Bill Tieleman photo

Wishing everyone a very happy, safe and Merry Christmas and holiday season!


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Basi-Virk questions may derail Christy Clark's BC Liberal leadership train ride

Try as Christy Clark might to wave it on, her BC Rail scandal train has not left the station

Bill Tieleman's 24 hours/The Tyee column

Tuesday December 21, 2010

By Bill Tieleman

"The government has decided they're not going to call a public inquiry into it. As far as I'm concerned, it's case closed."

- Christy Clark, Dec. 13, on the B.C. Legislature Raid case
Not so fast Christy -- the BC Rail corruption trial scandal train has not yet left the station, no matter how much you want to see it get out of town.

The surprise guilty pleas of David Basi and Bob Virk in October and the BC Liberal government's quick decision to not only authorize paying their former ministerial aides' $6 million legal bills but also to reject calls for a public inquiry is simply outrageous.

That's why I've created a new Facebook page -- Basi-Virk Public Inquiry -- to give British Columbians who want to know what really happened in the $1-billion privatization of BC Rail a chance to express their opinions.

Go to www.Facebook.com and search Basi-Virk Public Inquiry to find the page and join up -- with enough support it will be hard for Clark and other BC Liberal leadership candidates Kevin Falcon, George Abbott, Mike de Jong and Moira Stilwell to become premier while ignoring voters demanding answers.

But Clark has the most reasons to desperately want to avoid an independent inquiry that would ask embarrassing questions about the role she and her top leadership campaign team backers played in the BC Rail privatization in 2003, when Clark was deputy premier.

Question still chugging along

There's the fact Christy Clark admits that Patrick Kinsella -- the BC Liberal insider paid $297,000 by BC Rail for "business advice" over four years despite some senior executives there not knowing what he did -- is working on her campaign.

Progressive Group owner Kinsella is currently a B.C. registered lobbyist for liquor business and other interests. He co-chaired -- with Christy -- the 2001 BC Liberal election campaign. Has she discussed what he did for BC Rail for $297,000 from 2001 to 2005 while she sat in cabinet?

What would Kinsella's role be if Clark were premier?

Bruce Clark, Christy's brother, had his home office searched by police the same day as their unprecedented raid on the B.C. Legislature on Dec. 28, 2003.

A "statement of facts" agreed to by both Special Prosecutor Bill Berardino and defence lawyers says police found confidential government information on a second BC Rail privatization of its Roberts Bank spur line in Clark's home and that it came from Basi and Virk.

The line was estimated to be worth about $70 million.

Clark was a lobbyist for the Washington Marine Group at the time and the Roberts Bank bidding was cancelled after police informed then-transportation minister Kevin Falcon that the process was tainted.

We now know that key Crown witness Erik Bornmann alleged in an April 2004 interview with police that he was paying Basi bribes shortly after the BC Liberals took office in 2001 and long before the sale of BC Rail, according to more search warrant "information to obtain" records released by the courts in response to an application by the Globe and Mail, CTV, CBC and Global TV.

The Bornmann interview cited in the police ITO also alleges that he, Bruce Clark and David Basi had "casual discussions" prior to the BC Liberal election win about setting up a lobbying firm.

Bruce Clark has been a long-time federal Liberal Party fundraiser, chairing their "Laurier Club" high-end donor program as recently as 2009. He was also involved in both the successful Paul Martin and Stephane Dion leadership campaigns and has been an executive member of the federal Liberal Party in B.C.

Bruce Clark has also been a lobbyist fighting smoking bans in bars in the past and more recently a vice-president of independent power producer Green Island Energy, which was trying to develop a bio-energy project in Gold River in partnership with U.S. energy giant Covanta.

So, is Bruce Clark involved in sister Christy's campaign? Has she discussed with Bruce why the then-deputy premier's brother had confidential government documents related to BC Rail in his possession, or why police searched his house, or why he was not charged with any offences?

What role would Bruce Clark play if Christy became premier?

The Campbell connection

Interestingly, Patrick Kinsella, Bruce Clark and Erik Bornmann all came together in a business venture called Canada Payphone in the late 1990s, along with major Gordon Campbell backer Peter Brown's Canaccord Capital.

Clark was president, Bornmann communications director and Kinsella a board of directors' member.

Christy Clark's ex-husband, Mark Marissen, was the brains behind Stephane Dion's successful leadership campaign and Paul Martin's top lieutenant in B.C. when he pushed Jean Chretien out of the prime minister's office.

Marissen and Clark were visited by RCMP at their then home in 2003, where Marissen cooperated fully regarding questions about Basi and Virk.

Is Marissen, a former federal lobbyist and current federal Liberal Party organizer, also involved in Clark's drive to become premier?

And of course Clark's campaign manager Mike McDonald was alleged by the Basi-Virk defence in pre-trial court hearings to have worked with Basi to coordinate political dirty tricks like having paid callers stack radio talk shows to promote the BC Liberals.

Those allegations are of course unproven and McDonald has never commented on them.

McDonald's wife Jessica was Gordon Campbell's senior deputy minister till 2009.

Dodging and weaving?

Questions about Bruce Clark, Kinsella and Marissen were sent to the Christy Clark campaign team. At press time there was no response.

But don't expect Christy Clark to be forthcoming, as she is well ahead of her BC Liberal Party competitors in the race to become her party's leader and the province's new premier. Talking about Basi-Virk as the 7th anniversary of the B.C. Legislature Raid approaches is not in her interest.

Just listen to what the on-leave radio host said to CKNW colleague Bill Good when questioned on Dec. 13:

Bill Good: "A lot of people think you have baggage when it comes to BC Rail. Your ex-husband Mark Marissen, your brother, have ties to BC Rail, it was alleged that you shared information with lobbyist Erik Bornmann. How do you deal with that?"

Christy Clark: "Well, I mean, you know, those were allegations that were completely and totally false. I don't think I need to deal with that. I was never involved in it."

"There was one allegation thrown around in court -- it was never mentioned again. I was never called to court from either side. I mean, I just don't have any involvement with that so you know I think we are going to move forward, the government has decided they're not going to call a public inquiry into it. As far as I'm concerned Bill, it's case closed," an uncomfortable Clark concluded.

But it's not case closed when it comes to someone who wants to be premier of the province.

Join Basi-Virk Public Inquiry on Facebook -- demand that Christy Clark and other leadership candidates answer tough and important questions.

And Merry Christmas to all my blog/24 hours/Tyee readers -- thanks for your comments and support all year!

But keep watching this blog for updates over the holiday season. 


Monday, December 20, 2010

Recall campaign against BC Liberal cabinet minister Ida Chong gains 4,151 signatures in just 2 weeks

The Recall campaign against BC Liberal cabinet minister Ida Chong has obtained 4,151 confirmed signatures in just two weeks.

Fight HST launched the campaign Tuesday December 7 in Chong's Oak Bay-Gordon Head riding in Victoria.

Local Recall proponent Michael Hayes tells the Victoria Times-Colonist newspaper tonight that the campaign is on track to meet its target to remove Chong from office and force a byelection.
"We've got eight weeks for the campaign, and 2,000 signatures a week gives us 16,000 signatures and we only need 15,368," Hayes said.

Chong's anti-recall campaign manager Lynne Henderson says the MLA will launch a new set of ads.

Chong is being supported by additional advertising from the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association - ICBA - which has led Fight HST to call for a consumer boycott of ICBA members.

“It is unbelievable that the members of the ICBA would see fit to attack the citizens of BC by funding a massive advertising campaign to stop Recall and to try to save the HST,” said Fight HST leader and former BC Premier Bill Vander Zalm.

“Especially when many of their contractors, roofers, new home builders, renovators and trades people who sell directly to the public have been hurt by the HST and our efforts are actually helping them.”

“You’d think they would be cheering us on, but instead they are spending mega dollars to attack the democratic process with misleading ads and deliberate smears designed to scare people,” Vander Zalm said.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Brutal polling results show why Gordon Campbell & Carole James both faced revolt and forced resignations

- Stephen Dyrgas photos

Cold, hard polling numbers showing neither Carole James nor Gordon Campbell could win the next election underlie a dramatic two months of political turmoil in BC

Polling veteran at Angus Reid Public Opinion says low approval rating doomed BC's opposition leader. And maybe three premiers to come.

Bill Tieleman's 24 hours/The Tyee column

Tuesday December 14, 2010

By Bill Tieleman

"Each man is afraid of his neighbour's disapproval -- a thing which, to the general run of the human race, is more dreaded than wolves and death."

- Mark Twain

Beneath the raw emotions in the resignation of both the BC Liberal and New Democrat Party leaders lie cold, hard facts -- neither Gordon Campbell nor Carole James could win the next election.

Forget titillating stories about the spitting mad premier or the opposition caucus coup.

And disregard pundits who say the NDP blew a guaranteed election win -- that was never the case.

Instead, examine the reality that forced both out by listening to veteran public opinion researcher Mario Canseco, who analyses the polling, not the politicians.

The Angus Reid Public Opinion vice-president makes it clear that in James' case, her very low personal approval rating of 25 per cent when the NDP was polling at 47 per cent was a strong sign of a disaster ahead.

That's also why with the incredibly unpopular Campbell gone – his approval rating dipped to just nine per cent -- James was trouble-bound.

Parties now neck and neck

In a new Angus Reid
poll released Thursday, the NDP and BC Liberals are now tied at 36 per cent each as they seek new leaders.

Canseco says his warning also applies to three Canadian provincial premiers whose personal approval ratings show they aren't connecting to voters, while their opposition leaders are.

"You look at other leaders in the country -- Danielle Smith is way ahead of Premier Ed Stelmach in Alberta, Tim Hudak over Premier Dalton McGuinty in Ontario and Hugh McFadyen ahead of Premier Greg Selinger in Manitoba," Canseco said in an interview with 24 Hours, suggesting all three premiers could be defeated.

"The leader needs to be as close to the voting intention as possible. If you exceed it, fantastic," he said.

That's why Canseco says the 22 per cent gap between Carole James' personal approval and the NDP's standing was bound to create grief.

"If you are 22 per cent behind, it's a very soft vote. There's no emotional connection with voters. It was incredibly weak for her to stay," Canseco said. "It's all about the emotional connection."

Warning signs months ago

In fact, Canseco even predicted the internal party trouble that lay ahead for James back in September, before she unilaterally expelled MLA Bob Simpson from her caucus and before caucus chair Norm Macdonald and whip Katrine Conroy quit in protest over lack of process.

And long before veteran MLA Jenny Kwan blasted James' leadership style in a Dec. 1 public statement.

Here's what Canseco
told The Globe and Mail newspaper's Ian Bailey on Sept. 23:

"Almost half of B.C. decided voters are willing to support [the NDP], but considerably fewer see Carole James as a leader they approve of. If this gap remains, the BC Liberals stand to recover some of their lost support, particularly if Campbell steps down," Canseco said then.

Canseco says four provincial opposition leaders were in deep trouble when Angus Reid Public Opinion conducted a 7,000 respondent national poll last month.

Worst off was the Saskatchewan NDP's
Dwaine Lingenfelter, with an astonishing 57 per cent disapproval rating, followed closely by New Brunswick Liberal leader Shawn Graham -- who has announced his resignation already -- at 55 per cent.

But not far behind at 49 per cent each in the disliked sweepstakes were pro-sovereignty Parti Quebecois opposition leader Pauline Marois -- and B.C's Carole James.

Compare that to Alberta
Wildrose Alliance Party leader Danielle Smith, who was disapproved by just 21 per cent or Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak, with only 23 per cent disapproving of his performance, and Manitoba Conservative Hugh McFadyen at 31 per cent.

Polling shows that Smith, Hudak and McFadyen all have real shots at becoming premier in their provinces' next elections, with opposition parties polling ahead of the current government parties.

But here in British Columbia things were very different.

A missed moment

I asked Canseco if he had ever seen both a premier and opposition leader in the same province as unpopular as Gordon Campbell and Carole James were.

"No. That's the interesting part of it Almost 60 per cent of people last time [we polled] said they don't like either option," he said.

The explanation for Campbell's sudden fall from grace is simple -- the surprise introduction of the unpopular Harmonized Sales Tax just weeks after the 2009 provincial election when the BC Liberals denied any HST intentions.

But interestingly, Canseco says the 2009 election was an enormously squandered opportunity for James to potentially win by addressing voters' concerns about the economy -- the overwhelming number one issue at that time -- and how she would handle it if chosen premier.

"This was a moment when she had to say, 'Don’t fear an NDP government -- this is what we'll do,'" he said. "I think she missed out on a big, big chance."

Just how big?

Well, Canseco points out that prior to the 2009 election the NDP was only narrowly ahead of the BC Liberals in opinion polling for a brief time -- in the late summer to fall of 2008, shortly after the unpopular
carbon tax was introduced.

And what was James personal approval rating in Aug. 2008? Just
25 per cent, as it was in early Nov. 2010.

Politics is a tough game -- and the numbers prove it


Monday, December 13, 2010

BASI-VIRK again! Media application being heard to unseal parts of search warrants in BC Legislature Raid case today

David Basi and lawyer Michael Bolton outside BC Supreme Court

- Bill Tieleman photo

UPDATE 1:45 p.m. Tuesday

The Vancouver Sun's Neal Hall now also has a story on the search warrant "information to obtain" documents released by the BC Supreme Court yesterday.

UPDATE 10 p.m. Monday

Court documents allege David Basi began taking bribes from lobbyist Erik Bornmann shortly after 2001 BC Liberal election win, according to Bornmann statement to police

Stunning news tonight from BC Supreme Court - the Province newspaper's Keith Fraser reports that David Basi, the former ministerial aide convicted of political corruption, began taking bribes from lobbyist Erik Bornmann shortly after the BC Liberal election win in 2001 - and long before the 2003 privatization of BC Rail.

Basi and co-assused ex-ministerial aide Bob Virk pled guilty in a surprise plea bargain in October to breach of trust and fraud charges for passing on confidential government information on the sale of BC Rail to Bornmann and Brian Kieran - lobbyists for OmniTRAX, the losing bidder in the $1 billion sale won by CN Rail.

Fraser writes that a statement to police by Bornmann says he, Basi and Bruce Clark - brother of BC Liberal leadership candidate Christy Clark - began discussing setting up a lobbying business shortly after the election win in 2001.

Bruce Clark's home was the subject of a police search warrant at the same time as the police raid on the BC Legislature on December 28, 2003 and according to a mutually agreed statement of facts from the Special Prosecutor and defence lawyers, confidential documents related to the planned sale of the BC Rail Roberts Bank sub-port spur line were found in Clark's house.

At that time Bruce Clark was a lobbyist for Washington Marine Group, one of the anticipated bidders for the BC Rail spur line - worth up to $70 million.

That privatization was cancelled after RCMP informed the office of then -Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon - now another BC Liberal leadership candidate - that the sale had been ``tainted`` by the leak of information.

Fraser also reports that the court documents show a forensic investigation by an accountant found that Basi had $870,000 in unexplained income between the years 2000 and 2004.

Basi`s lawyers argued otherwise, saying that accountant finally determined that $112,000 came from unknown sources, with the remainder attributed to Basi`s mother and wife.

Unfortunately I was unable to be present in court today for the application by several media outlets to unseal parts of search warrants previously undisclosed.

I strongly recommend readers check out Keith Fraser`s story in the Province online or in Tuesday`s newspaper.

In apparently unrelated news, Christy Clark`s campaign manager Ken Boessenkool has quit - according to an exclusive email obtained by Public Eye Online`s Sean Holman.

Boessenkool will be replaced by Mike McDonald, a former BC Liberal caucus communications director whose name surfaced in the Basi-Virk pre-trial hearings connected to alleged political dirty tricks undertaken by Basi. McDonald`s wife Jessica McDonald was Premier Gordon Campbell`s senior deputy minister until October 2009.

Christy Clark has rejected the idea of a public inquiry into the Basi-Virk case, most recently on CKNW`s Bill Good Show this morning.


It could be a very interesting day in BC Supreme Court as several media outlets make arguments before Justice Anne MacKenzie to gain access to search warrant information in the BC Legislature Raid case never released to the public.

I am unable to attend at this point but will update readers as soon as possible.

One person in particular may be very, very concerned - BC Liberal leadership candidate Christy Clark.

As pointed out here previously, Clark has a great many connections to the sale of BC Rail when she was deputy premier and was the subject of defence allegations made in the pre-trial hearings of now-convicted former ministerial aides David Basi and Bob Virk.

And with former BC Rail consultant and BC Liberal backroom operative Patrick Kinsella actively working on Christy Clark's campaign, count him as another interested spectator.

Also of interest - the BC Liberal Party's longtime Executive Director Kelly Reichert has resigned his position.
Reichert's name came up repeatedly in pre-trial hearings where allegations of dirty political tricks were raised by defence lawyers for Basi and Virk.

Reichert is also brother-in-law to RCMP Superintendent Kevin de Bruyckere - who was a lead investigator in the Basi-Virk case despite his relationship, which was disclosed to his superiors.

Chad Pederson, the BC Liberals' communications director, has taken over the job - and in the middle of a leadership campaign.

Which raises the question of timing - why did Reichert leave now?

For background information on all the various BC Leglislature Raid players see my exhaustive A-Z of Basi-Virk that was published in 2008.

More later

UPDATE - 12:20 p.m. - but nothing to tell you so far as journalists in attendance at court sort through what is reportable.



Friday, December 10, 2010

TIED - BC NDP and BC Liberals even at 36% each as both party leaders exit

Like this baseball game, the BC Liberals and NDP are all tied up in the 8th inning.

- Scott Ableman photo

BC Liberals, BC NDP in dead heat tie at 36% each, Angus Reid Public Opinion poll shows after both parties shed leaders

It's a whole new ball game in BC, with the departure of Premier Gordon Campbell and opposition leader Carole James jolting a new Angus Reid Public Opinion poll and two leadership elections to take place in the new year.

Needless to say, polls can often be interpreted widely to attempt to maximize or minimize their findings.

What's clear is that the next four months will be crucial to deciding which party will form the next BC government in an election I firmly believe will be held in 2011.

But did the BC NDP "blow" a 20 point lead by getting rid of James, as Vancouver Sun columnist suggested Thursday night while hosting Voice Of BC on Shaw Cable?

Is Global TV Victoria bureau chief Keith Baldrey right that: "If the NDP loses the next vote, the party can look back at the minority-led coup that took out its first female leader as it searches for the reason for the loss."

No and no.

There's lots of reasons why that isn't the case - but rather than hear my views, listen to this argument made in September 2010 - before Carole James unilaterally expelled MLA Bob Simpson, before both caucus chair Norm Macdonald and caucus whip Katrine Conroy quit their posts in protest over how that was handled and before veteran MLA Jenny Kwan went public over why Carole James' failures made a one member-one vote leadership convention essential:

“Almost half of B.C. decided voters are willing to support [the NDP], but considerably fewer see Carole James as a leader they approve of. If this gap remains, the B.C. Liberals stand to recover some of their lost support, particularly if Campbell steps down.”

The man who made that statement has no stake in the results - he is Mario Canseco, a vice-president of Angus Reid Public Opinion.

And was he ever right.

"In short, Mario Canseco says that, given Liberal troubles, the leader of the B.C. New Democrats should be doing better on the personal popularity front," The Globe and Mail's Ian Bailey wrote on September 23. "Ms. James, he says, is failing to truly exploit the opportunities of Liberal weakness and hammer home a message to deal with public concerns about the NDP’s ability to, for example, manage the economy."

At that point the BC NDP were at 48% in the polls but James' personal approval was just 30%. James' ratings slipped to 25% by early November in another Angus Reid poll with the NDP at 47%.

And then another poll came forward from the Mustel Group on November 19 with different numbers and methodology but similarly disturbing results.

With Campbell having resigned November 3,
the BC Liberals jumped to 37% popular support while the BC NDP was at 42% - the exact same level as in the May 2009 election.

The Green Party was at 10%, the BC Conservatives at 9% and "Other" at 3%.

Since Mustel's previous September 2010 poll - and despite the HST, Basi-Virk and other BC Liberal blunders, James' personal approval rating had dropped 9% to 33% from from 42%.

Equally damaging - Gordon Campbell's approval rating was only a point behind James at 32%

And now we see in the new Angus Reid poll that with Gordon Campbell gone, a large number of BC Liberal voters who had reluctantly and unenthusiatically parked their with the NDP temporarily are going home.

More on this in the days ahead but one thing is clear - the NDP cannot win an election based simply on condemning the BC Liberals and watching the government fall - they need some real ideas that appeal to voters.


Thursday, December 09, 2010

NDP leader Carole James latest casualty in BC's political hurricane season - Bill Tieleman in Toronto Star

BC NDP leader Carole James announces her resignation Monday in Victoria

I was asked to explain BC politics to the Toronto Star newspaper's audience in less than 800 words! Here's what I wrote for them.

The Toronto Star

Thursday December 9, 2010

NDP leader the latest casualty in B.C.

By Bill Tieleman

"I am one of those who believe that political hatreds attest the vitality of a State.”

— Amor De Cosmos, British Columbia’s second premier, 1872-74

VANCOUVER — Even in a province known for its political blood sport reputation, British Columbia has been rocked by events over the past six weeks.

New Democratic Party Leader Carole James became the latest casualty on Monday when she announced her resignation and blamed “bullies” in her own caucus for pushing her from office.

But others see James more as the author of her own misfortunes, courting the same fate that befell outgoing B.C. Liberal Premier Gordon Campbell just over a month ago.

That means British Columbia will witness not one but two separate major party leadership campaigns over the next few months, with both replacing longtime leaders who lost the faith of many of their own Members of the Legislative Assembly in the short 18 months since B.C.’s election on May 12, 2009.

Adding to this political hurricane season is the sight of two MLAs being unceremoniously thrown out of their former caucuses — one Liberal, one New Democrat — bringing the count of independent MLAs in the B.C. Legislature to an unprecedented four.

But the word “unprecedented” has worn out here through the fall.
James’ bitter resignation Monday was perhaps even more dramatic than Campbell’s sudden departure announcement on Nov. 3.

Campbell’s polling numbers were gruesome — his personal approval level was just 12 per cent in November, according to an Angus Reid public opinion poll, while his party plunged to only 26 per cent after winning 46 per cent of the vote just 18 months earlier.

Campbell’s fate may be a last warning sign to Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, now trailing Tim Hudak’s Conservatives by nine points.

The introduction of a harmonized sales tax by both premiers boosted their opposition, though the B.C. Liberal government’s surprise decision to announce its own HST just weeks after an election where the idea was openly denied proved to be a political suicide note for Campbell.

But James’ fortunes did not soar, despite the Liberals’ gift miscalculation on the new tax.

The successful Fight HST campaign under B.C’s unique direct democracy legislation was led not by James but instead by charismatic former right-wing premier Bill Vander Zalm.

His broad-based citizens’ coalition of 6,500 registered canvassers collected 705,000 signatures in 90 days to force a province-wide vote on the HST. And under extreme pressure, Campbell said that vote would be binding, despite no legislative requirement to do so.

While Vander Zalm celebrated, James languished in the shadows.

And in October when faced with mild public criticism from one of her own MLAs, James overreacted by personally expelling Bob Simpson from the caucus. That prompted the resignation of her caucus chair and later the caucus whip in protest.

By November, polling showed James’ own personal approval at only 25 per cent, despite her party being favoured by 47 per cent of voters — leaving a massive 22 per cent credibility gap.

Worse for James, that 25 per cent support fell below former U.S. president George W. Bush’s 28 per cent approval level at his term’s end and just above ex-president Richard Nixon’s 23 per cent during Watergate.

After seven years of leading the NDP, James had failed to connect with voters in British Columbia. While widely regarded as a decent person, she was also viewed as a bit of a mystery. She attacked Campbell rigorously but had no defining policies of her own.

Campbell’s disintegrating support led to his own caucus revolt and then the surprise news on Nov. 3 that after nine years in power and three majority election wins, he was resigning.

For James, hopes she could still fashion a win against the unpopular Campbell despite her own low personal popularity quickly faded with his announcement.

Fear that the new B.C. Liberal premier would call a snap election after being chosen Feb. 26 of next year led to the final blow — a devastating critique of James released by her most veteran MLA, Jenny Kwan, and supported by 12 other caucus members.

Despite nominating James for leader in 2003, Kwan now said: “At a time when the B.C. Liberal party and the premier’s personal approval rating have fallen to all-time lows, the NDP under her leadership has not been able to capitalize on the B.C. Liberals’ downfall.”

And five days later James’ career as leader had ended as suddenly as Campbell’s, both victims of their own parties’ lack of confidence.

Now the parties will face off with new leaders in a likely 2011 election that will continue B.C.’s spectator sport tradition of political bloodletting.

It’s a cautionary tale for Ontario politicians to make sure they maintain the support of their own caucuses — at all costs.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

How to heal a party - will BC NDP take a lesson from Australia or let bitterness - and BC Liberals - reign?

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard & Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd
- kabl 1992 photo

Will the BC New Democratic Party take a lesson from Australia's Labour Party and find a way to heal the wounds left after leader Carole James resigned?

Or will key activists and MLAs let their bitterness - and the BC Liberals - reign?

That's the question two days after James' sudden resignation in the face of a loss of confidence in her leadership by nearly 40% of her caucus.

Five days after the NDP's longest-serving MLA - Jenny Kwan - released a devastating critique of James' leadership failings, it was over.

James quit with considerable anger and bitterness over the situation, refusing to acknowledge any responsibility for losing the support of the woman who nominated her for leader in 2003 and other NDP MLAs from all over the province and blaming "bullies" for pushing her out.

That was perhaps understandable but still regrettable, because it has encouraged more infighting and threats of vengeance against Kwan and other dissident MLAs - the so-called Baker's Dozen.

Two prominent New Democrats have said the party will almost certainly lose the next election - former Finance Minister Paul Ramsey and former MLA David Schreck.

And two other senior NDP activists actually have called for Kwan to resign from the NDP Caucus - former James' Chief of Staff Ian Reid and ex-BC NDP Treasurer and Vice-President David Black.

Reid wrote on his blog yesterday that: "Renewing trust requires mutual action. In other words the 13 who instigated all this can’t get off scott-free. But there is one way that might lead to renewal. And the one who holds the power to start the process is the one who is calling most loudly for renewal."

"Jenny Kwan. She started this. She has the ability to come to party’s aid and end it. Kwan must resign."

"It’s the only chance to put this behind us. Otherwise real renewal is dead in the water."

Black wrote on his Facebook page: "Approximately 1/2 hour ago I called into Bill Good and called for the resignation of Jenny Kwan so that this caucus can reunite, the party can start to rebuild, and we can get on with the job of fighting the next election."

"Without her resignation, none of that critical work can begin."

I know both Ian and David - they are both angry with me for regular criticism of Carole James' failings in the past and for my support for Jenny Kwan and other MLAs who wanted a one member-one vote leadership convention to let NDP members democratically resolve the issue.

Carole James has personally blamed me for helping force her out.

So what I have to say may be easily dismissed.

But I still say to Ian and David - your attacks on Jenny Kwan are simply, overwhelmingly wrong.

Worse, they can only aggravate a difficult situation that requires healing, not hurting.

Former Australian Labour Prime Minister Kevin Rudd could no doubt relate to James' fate - after all, he was pushed out of office in June of this year by cabinet minister Julia Gillard in a far more shocking and public fall from grace.

And yet, today Rudd is Foreign Minister, appointed by the new Prime Minister - Gillard - and together both won a narrow election in August.

How did they do it?

How did they not only overcome Rudd's shock and anger at not only Gillard but his colleagues who backed her to win one one of the most amazing elections in Australian history?

Much has been written about it but the most significant factor is that Rudd was obviously able to accept the unfortunate end of his leadership, endorse Gillard during the election and move on.

Here in Canada, former Prime Minister Joe Clark did the same after being pushed out of leadership in 1983 by Brian Mulroney, who went on to win two federal elections and appoint Clark to a senior cabinet position.

Those who want revenge against their fellow NDP members and former friends and colleagues will find little solace, even if they are successful.

Kwan will not resign - nor should she or anyone else in the Baker's Dozen.

Kwan's loss would be enormous - the party's longest-serving MLA; one of two MLAs along with Joy MacPhail, who survived the disastrous 2001 election and faced a horde of 77 BC Liberal MLAs for four years in an admirable and spirited opposition; the NDP's only Chinese-Canadian MLA, who does extensive outreach work on behalf of the whole caucus and who is widely respected in that community; a young mother of two children who has sacrificed much of her personal and family life to promote the NDP's fortunes; and someone who has stood up for what she believes in despite the cost because Kwan feels the NDP needed change to survive and win.

Now is the time for healing in the BC NDP. It has happened before and it can happen now.

There have been serious splits before - over the fall of Glen Clark as premier and of Mike Harcourt before him.

The NDP is short of money and members. It is short tempered.

And yet the party is still full of enormous potential - if it comes together once again, as it has in the past.

The people of British Columbia who want and desperately need a social democratic government in the next election are the only ones who will truly suffer if the NDP fails to unite again.

And that is what's at stake - the future of this province.

* * * *

For more on the Kevin Rudd story and its parallels with BC please check out Will McMartin's excellent and well documented article just posted Thursday in The Tyee.


Monday, December 06, 2010

NDP leader Carole James resignation was inevitable after 2009 election defeat

Carole James at news conference in Victoria on Monday

She Had to Go

Bill Tieleman's 24 hours/The Tyee column

Tuesday December 7, 2010

By Bill Tieleman

"There is no instance of a nation benefiting from prolonged warfare."

- Sun Tzu, military strategist, 544-496 BC

Carole James resigned yesterday but the cause wasn't the recent New Democrat MLA caucus revolt -- it was her defeat in the May 12, 2009 provincial election.

The B.C. NDP leader's second consecutive
loss to B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell was fatal to her political future. But she refused to acknowledge that fact until Monday, more than 18 months later.

Unfortunately, James decided not to consult with her caucus or the party before announcing just weeks after her defeat that she would be leader going into the 2013 election.

That set in motion a series of events leading to crisis after crisis until James could no simply longer continue.

Like Gabriel Garcia Marquez' novel Chronicle of a Death Foretold, James' political fate was fixed in advance of the final chapter.

But other post-election events masked that reality.

News the provincial budget deficit was six times larger than Campbell pledged and the surprise imposition of the hated Harmonized Sales Tax just weeks after the vote helped drive the BC Liberals into a disastrous lack of public support.

The sudden guilty plea bargain of former BC Liberal ministerial aides David Basi and Bob Virk and the government's agreement to fund their $6 million defence in the B.C. legislature raid case added more
nails to a weighty coffin.

But when Campbell was
forced to resign by his own caucus revolt, the reality that an election would likely be held in 2011 under a new BC Liberal premier jolted the NDP awake.

The planned yes/no review of James' leadership at the Nov. 2011 NDP convention was no longer soon enough to deal with lingering doubts that she could win a third election try.

Even when Angus Reid Public Opinion
showed the BC Liberals nose diving to 26 per cent support and Campbell's personal approval rating dropping to just 12 per cent, James' own numbers failed to rise, registering only 25 per cent while the NDP was at 47 per cent. 

That 22 per cent gap, despite being party leader for seven years, was an insurmountable obstacle to winning an election, when leadership is the key question for voters.

And then a Mustel Group
poll came out after Campbell's resignation showing the BC Liberals rising from the dead to 37 per cent, just five per cent behind the NDP's 42 per cent -- the same results the party obtained in the 2009 election.

Mustel's polling also found James' personal approval has dropped nine per cent since September to 33 per cent, putting her just a point above Campbell's own 32 per cent.

And with a new BC Liberal leader -- whether it be Kevin Falcon, George Abbott, Mike de Jong, Moira Stilwell or Christy Clark -- almost forced to call an early election rather than govern for two years without a mandate, James losing again appeared inevitable.

James is a decent person with many talents who has contributed much to public life as a party leader, MLA and before that, a long-time school trustee.

But now the NDP must end internal battles and find a leader who can reinvigorate the party with new ideas and a vision that connects with voters.


BREAKING NEWS: BC NDP leader Carole James has resigned

BC NDP leader Carole James has resigned.

At a news conference going on right now James has tendered her resignation pending appointment of an interim NDP leader.

More as it becomes available.

* * * * *

I am doing a lot of media and writing my column for 24 hours and The Tyee for Tuesday - my views will be here later today.

* * * *


Sunday, December 05, 2010

BREAKING NEWS: Premier Gordon Campbell to quit as Vancouver-Point Grey MLA after new BC Liberal leader chosen

Gordon Campbell plans to hit the highway out of politics completely

BC Premier Gordon Campbell says he will likely give up his seat as the MLA for Vancouver-Point Grey after a new BC Liberal leader is chosen by the party on February 26, 2011.

Campbell told the Globe and Mail newspaper's Rod Mickleburgh today that: "I think it’s very difficult to stay on in caucus, when you’ve been the leader for 17 years."

While Campbell was not completely definitive, it's clear he will not stick around after making statements like that.

His resignation would leave the new BC Liberal leader two options - call a by-election or leave the seat vacant until an early provincial election takes place. The by-election option would potentially give a non-MLA chosen premier and party leader the opportunity to gain a seat without calling a full election.

Can you spell "Christy Clark"?

Alternatively, the seat can be left open for up to 6 months after Campbell officially resigns, according to the BC Constitution Act.

Therefore the exact timing of Campbell's resignation is of critical importance to BC Liberal Party election planning.

Were Campbell to date his resignation effective March 1, 2011 - a few days after his successor is chosen - that would mean either a by-election or general election would have to be called by September 1, 2011.

Another factor is the sitting of the BC Legislature, which resumes on February 14, 2011.

Campbell will still be presiding as premier and should his successor not be an MLA - hello again Christy Clark - then the legislative session would have to continue with the new premier absent from all debates - and question period. This would be an unusual and unhealthy development for democracy, though the BC Liberals could appoint a deputy premier to answer questions in the House.

All in all, yet another unprecedented day in BC politics - the envy of North America for all political columnists, reporters and observers who can't believe how much there is here to write, broadcast and pontificate about!



Carole James and NDP MLA supporters on Thursday December 2

BC NDP Caucus showdown between Carole James and 13 dissenting MLAs suddenly cancelled shortly after 2 p.m.

The scheduled NDP MLA caucus meeting set for Sunday at 4 p.m. in Vancouver was called off with less than 2 hours notice, Public Eye Online's Sean Holman reports.

Caucus Chair Kathy Corrigan sent out a brief news release stating: "that meeting has been postponed to allow for "private discussions to ensure that the clear direction set by our leader and our party is followed: to unite and offer British Columbians a positive progressive alternative in the next election."

More here as it becomes known.


BC Liberal operatives urge support for NDP leader Carole James' website to stay on as leader

BC Liberals use Twitter to promote signing BC NDP website petition supporting Carole James remaining on as leader

Dirty tricks? Dirty pool? Dirty deeds?

It's hard to know how best to describe efforts on Twitter by known BC Liberal Party activists to encourage non-New Democrats to sign an official BC NDP online petition called BC New Democrats United that urges leader Carole James to continue as leader following veteran MLA Jenny Kwan's strong criticism earlier this week.

But that's what's happening in the past two days.

An article by the Georgia Straight's Stephen Hui posted online December 3 talks about the petition and includes a link to it.

That article has been reTweeted with the header: "Every BCLib in the province should sign" by a number of prominent BC Liberal supporters.

They include BC Liberal Party strategist, Meyers Norris Penny lobbyist and radio political commentator Alise Mills - on Twitter as "Graciestyle", Cossette/Optimum Communications PR Consultant and ex-Liberal PM Paul Martin aide David Brodie , "ChristyClarkFan" - the anonymous but enthusiastic supporter of the CKNW talk show host and putative leadership candidate, and others.

In case the message isn't clear enough, one Twitter post expands on this, saying: "BTW, make sure to sign http://www.bcndp.ca/united and give **the enemy** some chaos :-). Thanks and go BCLibs go!"

Currently as of 2:35 p.m. the BC New Democrats United petition has 2,483 signatures but those names are not visible online, so it's not possible to determine how many if any are non-New Democrats united to cause trouble.

Meanwhile, Public Eye Online's Sean Holman has posted an editorial calling for Carole James to step down as leader, saying she is a decent person who should do the decent thing to "resolve this impasse while fully preserving the New Democrats' chances of winning the next election."

NOTE: My thanks to political observer Pete Quily for first letting me know about the effort on Twitter to encourage BC Liberals to sign BC New Democrats United!


Wednesday, December 01, 2010

BC NDP MLA Jenny Kwan calls for leader Carole James to resign, NDP to hold leadership convention over James' failures

Jenny Kwan

BC NDP MLA Jenny Kwan is calling on the party to hold a full leadership convention to replace current leader Carole James as soon as possible.

Kwan - the party's longest-serving MLA - issued a strong statement Wednesday that says James has eroded NDP democracy,failed to provide a progressive alternative vision for BC voters and is dividing the party by staying on as leader.

Kwan says James failed leadership is reflected in two election losses and poor personal approval ratings in public opinion polls.

Kwan also condemns the secret deal to pay NDP president Moe Sihota with funds provided by labour, saying the caucus was never informed by James about it.

Here is Jenny Kwan's full statement:

* * * * *

Jenny Kwan, the NDP MLA for Vancouver-Mount Pleasant, issued the following statement today (December 1, 2010):

Seven years ago, with pride and hope in my heart, I nominated Carole James to be the leader of the BC New Democratic Party at the 2003 convention.

Given the recent conflict within the NDP caucus, many people are wondering why I am part of a group that feels there should be a democratic change of leadership.

Because all NDP MLAs are bound by the principles of caucus confidentiality, it has been very difficult for us to tell our story.

But now I feel compelled to clarify why I believe the best way to achieve democratic renewal in the NDP is through a full, one-member one-vote Leadership Convention, which should be held as soon as possible.

Under Carole James' leadership, there has been a steady erosion of our democratic principles. Debate has been stifled, decision-making centralized, and individual MLAs marginalized.

Many are shocked at how some critical decisions are made or how caucus decisions have been later altered.

Equally dismaying is how MLAs then learn about these decisions through the media. This poor decision-making practice and a lack of genuine consultation within our Caucus is an ongoing source of frustration for many within the Caucus.

As well, for too long there has been a clear lack of direction under the leadership of Carole James.

Whenever a challenging policy decision arises, often the default position is to avoid taking a stand.

The delay in grappling with difficult but critical public policy choices often results in making the NDP irrelevant in the hearts and minds of British Columbians.

This is clearly reflected both in the results of the last provincial election and in public opinion polls.

While many British Columbians want to get rid of the BC Liberals, they feel that there is no positive alternative in the electoral horizon.

A political vacuum is being created in BC. As a result, we had a record low voter turnout in the 2009 election, with the NDP receiving fewer actual votes than in the 2005 election.

In addition, the polling tells a consistent story about Carole James' inability to capture the interest and support of British Columbians.

At a time when the BC Liberal Party and the Premier's personal approval rating have fallen to all time lows, the NDP under her leadership has not been able to capitalize on the BC Liberals' downfall.

But it's not just the polls that are telling a consistent story.

You hear it at the doorsteps and out in the community, from British Columbians who are desperate for change.

The NDP owes it to British Columbians to present a clear direction and a progressive alternative vision to the BC Liberals' terrible record, but after seven years Carole James has yet to present that vision.

But that is not all. Worse than making no decisions is the concern that we make bad decisions.

I have served as an NDP MLA for 14 years. In that period, I have seen bad decisions made and poor judgment exercised from all sides of the house.

The Liberals are living that nightmare right now with their Harmonized Sales Tax decision.

While we in the NDP have rightly called for open and transparent government, the financial deal made with our own party president Moe Sihota was not done in a transparent manner.

Back room deals should have no place in today's politics.

Yet Carole James knew about this deal and did not intervene. In fact, the NDP caucus was not even informed of this arrangement until recently.

This was shocking to many of us because engaging in such questionable practices is a recipe for disaster.

I feel very strongly that we must demonstrate the highest of ethical standards in order to earn the trust of the electorate.

The backroom deal struck for the President of the party has no place in today's NDP.

This has led me to the conclusion that if we are going to form the new government British Columbians want, then we need change and democratic renewal in our party that is based on sound practices.

And yes, that starts from the top.

I did not arrive at this decision lightly nor did the rest of my colleagues, who also feel that it is time for a change.

British Columbians want more than an opportunity to vote the Liberals out of office; they want the chance to choose a party with an inspiring vision and a clear alternative, progressive point of view.

If we are to demonstrate that we have learned our lessons from mistakes made in the 1990s, then we must not engage in practices that have caused so many British Columbians to lose faith in the NDP.

The time for renewal in our party is long overdue.

It is untenable that 40% of caucus members cannot publicly say they support the leader.

Carole James is dividing the party by staying on as leader.

The BC NDP needs to have a leadership race in order to revitalize itself and to unify the party.

We need an NDP that British Columbians can vote for with confidence.

We need an NDP with progressive policies and a decisive leader who can communicate these ideas to the public.

Now is the time for democratic change and party renewal - it is needed, it is exciting and it is overdue.