There were mixed feelings all around Tuesday as a long-awaited special prosecutor’s report about the three-year-old “quick wins” scandal landed.
It didn’t arrive with the impact the NDP Opposition was hoping to achieve when then-leader Adrian Dix wrote to the RCMP with information that rekindled interest in the scandal. They were counting on seeing high-profile B.C. Liberals doing courthouse perp walks in front of TV cameras.
It didn’t happen. The culmination of all that investigation — subject to any further developments — is the inclusion of a criminal breach-of-trust charge against a former government staff member who is already facing Election Act charges.
It’s not the smoking meteor crater on the government side that the NDP has been hoping for over the past few years.
B.C. Liberals are making the standard expressions of regret about the additional charge. But they’re quite relieved it didn’t go any further.
The NDP is hiding its disappointment there aren’t bigger names on the docket. But they’re making the best of it by dwelling on the attrition rate the Liberal government is dealing with when it comes to party and government staff running into difficulties with the law. People connected to the B.C. Liberal Party are building up a noticeable charge sheet. It’s clear that the Opposition is going to use it as a theme to raise doubts about the government’s ethics.
For a long time, most of what the NDP had to work with on that front flowed from the B.C. Rail scandal, where two former aides who were charged eventually changed their pleas to guilty after the government agreed to cover their $6-million legal bill. But that scandal ran through two elections and the Liberals won both of them. As far as using corruption as a political campaign tool is concerned, it didn’t work.
Subsequently, two aides to former cabinet minister Kash Heed got busted for Elections Act violations and were fined heavily. Then the quick-win scandal erupted, where an assortment of government and party staff concocted a plan to blend government and party goals together to reach ethnic communities.
It was exposed before it really took hold, and it prompted a deputy minister’s internal review that rapped the behaviour of several people involved. Dix filed a further complaint with police after losing the 2013 election, saying the Liberals were “cheating.”
In 2014, former government communications advisor Brian Bonney and party worker Mark Robertson were charged with Election Act violations, as was a numbered company. The counts relate to a campaign worker’s salary not being reported properly. The company was fined $5,000 Tuesday and charges against the individuals were dropped.
More recently, another former minister’s aide was charged with making false statements to wilfully mislead the information and privacy commissioner’s investigation into the deletion of emails.
As well, party executive director Laura Miller is facing charges in Ontario arising from her political career there, but has been confirmed in her B.C. post until they are resolved.
Now Bonney faces a breach-of-trust charge.
The full story of what is alleged is in the affidavit Dix filed to the RCMP, but NDP Leader John Horgan said it can’t be released while the case is underway.
He said the new charge raises questions about the extent of the internal investigation conducted by several deputy ministers after the scandal broke. It was described as “exhaustive” at the time, and it concluded there were serious breaches of the standards of conduct.
But Horgan said there was “no contemplation of criminal activity until today.”
Deputy Premier Rich Coleman said he was disappointed with the charge, but people have to be held responsible for their own actions. “It’s not like somebody directed somebody to do something to break a law,” he said.
Just So You Know: The court proceedings might constrain some of the political arguments. But there’s one kicker in special prosecutor David Butcher’s statement Monday to keep in mind. Once the proceedings are over, if he decides it’s in the public interest that further information should be made public, “including information about other charges that may have been considered during the course of the RCMP investigation and not approved, the special prosecutor will issue a clear statement in consultation with the Criminal Justice Branch.”