Thursday, November 30, 2006

Paul Martin's BC Boys Back Stephane Dion in Liberal Leadership Battle

Key BC Liberals helped Paul Martin overthrow Jean Chrétien and take control of the party.

Now many have joined another team.

By Bill Tieleman

Published: November 30, 2006

"Once you hear the details of victory, it is hard to distinguish it from a defeat."
-- Jean-Paul Sartre

Canada's bloodless coup -- the one that saw a Liberal prime minister who won majorities in three successive elections deposed by his chief rival -- took place thanks to some tough organizing, thuggish behaviour and a ruthless rejection of compromise.

By the time Paul Martin had become prime minister, evicting Jean Chrétien from 24 Sussex Drive, the field of battle had been littered with the political bodies of those who stood in his way.

British Columbia was a key province in the Martinites' war for control and his lieutenants here were bloody-minded in the extreme.

Now that the Martin regime has collapsed and a new Liberal leader is about to be chosen, where are those lieutenants now? Which leadership candidates are they now giving whispered advice and organizational muscle? And are there any echoes of the Martin effort to dethrone Chrétien?

That campaign was extraordinarily nasty. Listen to Warren Kinsella, the former Chrétien aide and political commentator, who almost quit the Liberal Party over one B.C. incident in 2002:

"It was the night that Mr. Martin's British Columbia apparatchiks took over the riding association of former cabinet minister Herb Dhaliwal, knowing (a) Mr. Dhaliwal was out of the country, and (b) his wife was dying of cancer."

"I've witnessed a lot of political thuggery, but I had never before seen anything as disgusting as that. It was only a friend in Ottawa who talked me out of quitting the Liberal party, on that night."

So far, the dirty tricks and malevolent manoeuvres haven't sunk quite that low. But the public drubbing of Mason Loh, the B.C. chair for former Ontario NDP premier Bob Rae's campaign, by the forces of Michael Ignatieff, the Liberal front-runner, certainly set the tone.

Loh, a prominent Vancouver lawyer and Queen's counsel, was forced to resign after allegations were made by the Ignatieff campaign regarding the legitimacy of new members signed up by the Rae troops.

But in the end, it was Ignatieff's gaffe, not Loh's. As the Canadian Press reported Nov. 6: "Michael Ignatieff's front-running Liberal leadership campaign was dinged $1,000 yesterday for making unsubstantiated accusations of fraud against chief rival Bob Rae."

Interestingly, given the complaints about Count Iggy's tactics, not one of the key B.C. Martinites is working with his campaign.

Here's where the major Liberal players have landed on the new leadership game board:

Mark Marissen

He was Martin's top lieutenant here and half of what was once B.C.'s top power couple. His wife, Christy Clark, is a former deputy premier to the B.C. Liberals' Gordon Campbell.

Marissen is now the organizational brains behind Stephane Dion, who came fourth in the first round of delegate selection, but could be the eventual winner of a multi-ballot battle royale on Saturday, Dec. 2.

As Dion's National Campaign Director, Marissen is trying to regain past glory and show that he is no one-trick Martin pony.

Alex Tsakumis is no friend of Marissen or Clark -- whom he strongly opposed in her run for the Vancouver Non-Partisan Association nomination for mayor against Sam Sullivan in 2005.

In fact, he claimed in an April memo to NPA members that: "Mr. Marissen's ego can't handle how they blew it against Sam, so here they are with an effort to lay the groundwork to take over this board by 2007. All to save a spot for Christy in 2008. They destroyed the federal Liberal party and now they want to destroy the NPA. Should we let them?"

But Tsakumis has apparently mellowed out. He more recently says that Marissen is "arguably the best organizer in the country, across all parties."

Marissen has been part of some controversial Dion moves, including the inexplicable decision to welcome nationalist cult hero David Orchard into his campaign.

Orchard, a rabid anti-free-trader, is a former Progressive Conservative. He ran for their leadership in 2003 and cut a written deal with now-Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay that promised MacKay would never merge the Tories with the Canadian Alliance. Faster than you could say "Belinda Stronach," MacKay double-crossed Orchard.

But is having a loose cannon like Orchard working for you smart politics?

We'll find out shortly.

Erik Bornman

Now the most controversial player in the game, Bornman is scheduled to testify early next year as the Crown's key witness against former friends David Basi and Bob Virk, the fired ministerial aides he is alleged by police to have bribed in exchange for confidential government information on the $1 billion B.C. Rail privatization.

Bornman, an amateur photographer, B.C. lobbyist and former Paul Martin aide, became known as "Spiderman" for his late 1990s break-in to B.C. party headquarters, where a federal membership list allegedly resided.

After completing a law degree at the University of B.C., Bornman headed to Toronto where he was articling with McCarthy Tetrault, the prestigious law firm that gave $118,000 to Paul Martin's leadership campaign.

But media reports caused him to withdraw and he recently postponed a hearing by the Law Society of Upper Canada into his "good character" after a complaint was lodged against him in relation to the Basi and Virk case.

Bornman has not surfaced at any of the leadership campaigns, but his communications consultant and ex-Liberal staffer brother Roy Bornmann (Erik has spelled his name with alternatively one or two "n"s while Roy uses both) is a stalwart of the Ken Dryden campaign.

David Basi

Basi's hands are full trying to make a living while fighting charges of fraud, breach of trust and influence peddling related to the Dec. 28, 2003 police search of the B.C. legislature. Basi was also charged in April with additional counts of breach of trust over allegations of his involvement in efforts to remove land near Sooke from the Agricultural Land Reserve.

But Basi was previously one of Marissen's top soldiers in the Martin campaign while working as then-finance minister Gary Collins's ministerial assistant. In fact, Dhaliwal blamed Basi personally for the takeover of his riding association.

"I was quite concerned that people from Victoria were involved in meddling in my riding," Dhaliwal told Burnaby Now. "I was the senior minister for B.C. who was working closely with the premier, and they had their own political staff trying to undermine me. I find that incredible."

Basi's cousin Aneal Basi, charged with money laundering, is also a federal Liberal Party donor and supporter.

Neither Basi has been officially linked to any current leadership candidate, but David Basi did reportedly show up to vote at his Saanich-Gulf Islands federal delegate selection meeting in late September.

Bob Virk

While less high profile than Basi, Bob Virk was another Paul Martin campaign soldier in the takeover efforts, while working as then-transportation minister Judith Reid's MA.

Virk and Basi were both allegedly being promoted by Erik Bornman for lucrative political staff jobs in Ottawa in exchange for providing confidential government info on the B.C. Rail deal for Bornman's lobbying client OmniTRAX.

If you doubt that this case has dragged on, consider that since the legislative raids in 2003, Virk has become a father twice.

Jamie Elmhirst

Currently president of the Liberal Party of Canada in B.C., Elmhirst has what have to be uncomfortably close connections to the legislature raids.

The office of his former lobbying firm, Pilothouse Public Affairs, was searched by police. And his Pilothouse partner, former Vancouver Province columnist Brian Kieran, is another key Crown witness in the case against Basi and Virk. He'll take the stand along with fellow Pilothouse lobbyist Erik Bornman.

Elmhirst has joined forces with old pal Mark Marissen and endorsed Stephane Dion for leader.

Bruce Young

Young is one of those adaptable types able to transform from a lobbyist for fish farms, private health care clinics and other corporate interests one day to being a key staffer providing neutral advice to the prime minister the next.

Young, a Marissen rival in the Martin camp, was the prime minister's senior advisor for British Columbia before joining Earnscliffe Strategy Group, a favourite supplier to Martin as finance minister, in September 2004.

Young is now a key B.C. backer of Gerard Kennedy, sitting in third place after the initial Liberal membership vote, but generally viewed as not able to win.

Kennedy's other supporters in B.C. include Senator Larry Campbell, the popular former Vancouver mayor; Tex Enemark, a longtime provincial deputy minister in the Social Credit days and a federal Liberal stalwart; Prem Vinning, the short-lived advisor to premier Gordon Campbell, who was caught using a phoney name to call in to a talk radio show with the boss; and, Hill & Knowlton lobbyist Steve Vander Wal, a former aide to federal Environment Minister David Anderson, the "godfather" to many of the Martin troops.

Bruce Clark

Another of the people integrally linked to the legislature raid who is also still a Liberal Party of Canada in B.C. executive member. Clark is brother to Christy Clark, brother-in-law to Mark Marissen and a former top Paul Martin fundraiser.

Clark's home office was searched by police, who allege in unproven police search warrant "Information To Obtain" or ITO documents that documents related to the cancelled B.C. Rail Roberts Bank privatization deal that was worth $70 million were passed by Basi to Clark. Clark does not face any charges.

Not surprisingly, Bruce Clark is another enthusiastic supporter of Stephane Dion.

Bill Cunningham

The cherubic former pro-Martin president of the federal Liberals in B.C. and controversial parachute Liberal candidate in Burnaby-Douglas in 2004 and 2006 has joined pal Marissen in the Dion camp.

"I have a lot of time for Billy Cunningham," Paul Martin once said. Will Dion feel the same way?

So the final score going into the Liberal leadership convention shows that by a considerable margin, the Stephane Dion camp has attracted the most former Paul Martin supporters, while Michael Ignatieff has been shut out.

Whether that is a good or bad thing will be clear on Dec. 2.


Anonymous said...

Kinda reads like an RCMP most wanted list don't ya think?

Anonymous said...

That ticking sound you hear is the countdown to Elmhirst and Co. losing their grip on the federal party in bc and along with it their ability to manipulate things! Goodbye and goodriddance!!

Anonymous said...

Nice work Bill, however......

Mark Marissen and I might not be friends, but I certainly would not consider him an enemy, nor, for that matter the infinitely palatable Christy.

A couple of corrections:

1) My original email was sent to my then NPA Boardmates and not the the NPA at-large.

2) The analysis I provided regarding Mark's storied skills and the fact that I think he and his crew went unneccesarily hellbent for leather through the Grits, are mutually exclusive. Mark is certainly one of the best organizers in the country, no question. But the manner with which you use that power often becomes the signature on the work, rather than the work itself.

Otherwise, great article. Nice work my friend.


Bill Tieleman said...

Thanks for your kind comments and clarification Alex.

I should have been more clear - didn't mean to imply your email was sent widely.

I agree with your second point, which I think means use your power for good, not evil.

If anyone wants to see Alex and I duke it out over who will win the Liberal leadership, pick up Friday 's 24 hours newspaper - or check back here later on Friday when I reprint both pieces.

Budd Campbell said...

It's my understanding that powerful Ontario Liberals and their house reporters like Thomas Walkon are in complete agreement. The Sponsorship scandal is old news, and attempts to portray corruption and ethical problems as some kind of ongoing situation for Canada's mighty Liberal Party are just made up stories coming from jealous NDP and Tory chronic losers who are desperately trying to put together something they can pin on the Liberals.

And apparently Senator Da Vinci feels the same way. As do Bob Rae, Dave Haggard, Joe Volpe, Jimmy K, Ujjal Dosanjh, Chris Axworthy and ... you guessed it, Buzz Hargrove.