I caught a couple of hours of the BC Rail Trial yesterday before my nod-off chemo drug kicked in. It’s a fascinating look into the inside dealings of the Campbell government and Wednesday was true to form. Here’s a bit of a long post about the goings on. To make sense there’s some backstory and I apologize about the length.
Martyn Brown was back on the stand answering questions about shady dealings between Paul Taylor – former Deputy Minister of Finance in the BC Rail Days – and the partners of Pilothouse, Omnitrax’s lobbyist in the BC Rail deal.
Brown, as you may know is the Rip Van Winkle of BC politics and can’t remember much about what’s happened in BC since 2001. His default answer to everything Basi/Virk is “I don’t recall.”
But he does remember the marvelous work of Deputy to the Premier Jessica MacDonald in getting to the bottom of the Paul Taylor incident.
Taylor, in the summer of 2003, went fishing with Brian Kieran but got caught himself when Kieran and his two partners Eric Bornman and Jamie Elmhirst discussed the information Taylor shared with Pilothouse in a three way email exchange – read out in court Wednesday.
According to Kieran’s e-mail, Taylor promised to score Pilothouse some business with the BC Automobile Dealers Association (Taylor was the past executive director), discussed a bit of BCADA’s business with Rich Coleman and offered advice on pricing government relations work with the BCADA.
Brown testified Wednesday that MacDonald got on this shady business as soon as it came to light seeking to ascertain, through an independent investigation with KPMG forensic, “how much if any of the email was correct?”.
And then, according to Brown, MacDonald asked KPMG to investigate and answer this question: “what was the nature of the relationship in this instance and was there anything that would be inappropriate for the deputy minister of finance”.
Except that’s not true. MacDonald did no such thing. Here’s what MacDonald asked KPMG to investigate after the issue was first raised by the Leader of the Opposition.
“The terms of reference for this investigation focused on the following issues:
“Whether Taylor’s dealings with the British Columbia Automobile Dealers Association (BCADA) and its members were compliant with the standards of conduct in accordance with Taylor’s role as deputy minister; and,
“Whether Taylor attempted to influence the government on behalf of the BCADA or its members during his tenure as deputy minister in a manner that was inconsistent with his position.
Except the real issue wasn’t about the Automobile Dealers. It was about Pilothouse and Taylor’s relationship and promises to them. After all Pilothouse was in the middle of the BC Rail process, lobbying for their client Omnitrax. But there was nothing in the investigation about Pilothouse. Nothing about offering lobbyists a benefit while they were engaged in the BC Rail bidding process – a bidding process Taylor was partly responsible for. Nothing about the real issues at play that day out on Kieran’s fish boat.
KPMG on instructions from the Deputy Minister to the Premier left Pilothouse alone. They didn’t question Kieran, Bornman or Elmhirst. They didn’t ask Taylor about the fundamental issues. And they produced a report that was intentionally based on side issues.
In the Legislature, Carole James and NDP critics repeatedly asked then Finance Minister Carole Taylor and the Premier to release the terms of reference for the investigation. They refused.
It was the right question. When the terms of reference were finally released 6 months after the fact it became clear that the investigation was a whitewash. MacDonald didn’t even begin to try and find out if Paul Taylor was acting inappropriately.
It got worse for Brown on the stand.
Brown was asked about an extensive email in which Taylor provided information about an internal scrap between Brown and Deputy to the Premier Ken Dobell over outsourcing.
Brown flushed as he read through the document.
Here’s a bit of the play:
Bolton: Would it be appropriate for the Deputy Minister of Finance to discuss your internal dialogue between you and Mr. Dobell on an important issue like this?
Brown: He’s allowed to discuss with individuals what he’s allowed to discuss, he’s not precluded about talking about anything anybody has said.
Bolton: What you’re saying is that it is appropriate for the Deputy Minister of Finance to meet with a lobbyist and have discussions about what the government is thinking about outsourcing operations?
Brown: I have enormous confidence in Paul Taylor. He’s allowed to discuss with individuals what he’s allowed to discuss, he’s not precluded about talking about anything anybody has said.
This is the kind of gobbledygook you say when you’re sunk. After another day on the stand about the only thing Brown made clear is that he, Jessica MacDonald and Paul Taylor are on the same ethical ground as the rest of this government.