Scandalgate

Columnist Rob Brown looks at how the suffix for scandal has played out in B.C.

Nixon sent his plumbers to the Watergate Hotel. In the aftermath, “gate” became a suffix for scandal. When a kickback scheme involving the Nanaimo Commonwealth Holding Society and its creator, Dave Stupich, was uncovered by the RCMP two decades after the fact, the provincial press – apparently unconcerned about the ethical implications of calling the affair a scandal before the allegations were proved – dubbed it “Bingogate,” then proceeded to use up a vat of ink trying to link the debacle to the current New Democrat government and Mike Harcourt.

Harcourt did the honourable thing and expeditiously appointed Ted Hughes QC to head up an independent inquiry into the matter. Much to the chagrin of the provincial media, the inquiry found that the province’s 30th premier and his fellow New Democrats had no connection with the scandal and to a rapidly failing 77 year-old Stupich.

Then came “Casinogate”, when the intrepid provincial news media turned a backyard conversation between Glenn Clark and his East Van neighbour into a putative scandal where the NDP premier supposedly intervened and secured a casino licence for the North Burnaby Inn.

Far more titillating than Bingogate, Casinogate had the RCMP flying to the US to obtain a search warrant from a vacationing judge, then returning to invade the premier’s home to discover reporters and TV cameras already there to record the event. It was the first time in the history of this country when the home of a political leader was invaded. As former National NDP leader, Dave Broadbent, pointed out in an op ed piece reprinted in the Vancouver Sun at the time, how the cops came to be rooting through the Clark home was the real scandal and should have been the subject of an independent public inquiry.

Much later, after much damage had been done to Clark’s reputation, the issue reached the BC supreme court where Justice Elizabeth Bennett ruled that Clark had done nothing illegal.

While the Monty Pythonesque shenanigans of Casinogate were unfolding, a group of  voters maintained the NDP had obtained their votes fraudulently. Claiming they wouldn’t have voted for the New Democrat candidates if they had known the surplus the government forecast would actually turn out to be a deficit, the disgruntled voters called themselves “Help BC” and sought to overturn the election results in three Prince George ridings.

Once again the big dailies in Vancouver and private TV stations prejudged the flimsy case and christened it the “Fudge-it Budget.” The issue had long disappeared from the front pages when British Columbia Supreme Court Judge Mary Humphries ruled that there was no evidence that the finance minister Elizabeth Cull and Glenn Clark lied about anything, and threw the nuisance suit out.

Ironically BC’s most successful businessman, Jimmy Pattison, didn’t hold the vlew that Clark couldn’t handle money, was dishonest, and a poor leader. He hired the former premier almost as soon as the latter left office, and Clark now heads up the Jim Pattison Group.

It wasn’t until Gordon Campbell and his neo-conservative Liberals mined the media magic that created the faux New Democrat scandals and used the proceeds to assume the reigns of government that we had a real bona-fide scandal, and the biggest ever – the $1 billion privatization of BC Rail.

For the first time in history, the cops raided the government offices. Prominent politicians, like Glen’s namesake, Christy, and Gary Farrell-Collins, fled government for the private sector.

David Basi and Bob Virk, the ministerial aides to then finance minister Gary Collins and then transportation minister Judith Reid, defended themselves against charges of breach of trust and fraud for six years then made a surprise guilty plea bargain when their trial had heard just two of a likely 40 witnesses.

The scandal is still shrouded in mystery and you and I await a full and honest accounting in the form of a public inquiry. The NDP, had they been elected, would have given us one. Christy Clark, in what sure looks like a tacit admission of complicity in the whole Rail Tale, won’t. But, this isn’t the saddest thing about the surprise result of the last election. The saddest thing is we are now saddled with a premier who lacks the economic vision, and leadership skills of Glen Clark.

While the Saudis, and Chinese, and the investors for the giant pension funds, understand the downstream effects of climate change and the consequent dramatic increase in the value of agriculture and water and are investing heavily in it, and when the Californian breadbasket is under threat after three years of unprecedented drought, our benighted leader is all in for mining, fracking, and LNG, the carbon intensive kinds of enterprises that have brought us to this dangerous place. Which brings us back to Dave Stupich.

Bingogate notwithstanding, Stupich was an able and effective politician among whose considerable achievements was a central role in the creation of the Agriculture Land Reserve in this province almost 60 years ago.

Just when the farm land in the Peace is about to be more valuable than ever, Christy and pals are proposing to drown it thereby making the largest withdrawal from the ALR since its inception. 

If she worked for the Pattison Group and demonstrated economic ineptitude like this, I’d wager Glen would fire her.