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Van Dongen raises a good question about the BC Rail scandal legal deal

I might have considered MLA John van Dongen's questions on the $6-million payment of the legal fees of  Dave Basi and Bob Virk in the B.C. Rail scandal a fishing expedition.
But Attorney General Shirley Bond's failure to provide answers suggests he might be on to something.
Van Dongen, now a Conservative after leaving the Liberals, asked Bond a straightforward question.
The government's position is that the decision was made by deputy finance minister Graham Whitmarsh, who had the legal ability to release Basi and Virk from their commitment to cover the $6 million if they were found guilty.
But deputy ministers don't have unlimited power to spend taxpayers' dollars.
Van Dongen asked which section of the Financial Administration Act gives the deputy minister the power to make that decision without authorization from cabinet or elected officials.
And Bond couldn't come up with one, although the government surely must have prepared for every possible question on the B.C. Rail scandal.
Van Dongen noted "The act sets out very specific limits for the forgiveness and extinguishments of debts owing the provincial government." That's sensible. A manager shouldn't have the power to let people or companies abandon their debts to the province without checks and balances.
So where in the act is the the deputy minister given the power to forgive a $6 million promise to pay legal fees, he asked?
Bond couldn't, or wouldn't answer, except with an unsupported clam the authority is somewhere in the act.
Maybe she reflected a general government approach of refusing to provide specific answers to any questions.
Or maybe van Dongen has identified a serious legal problem in the B.C. Rail payment.
The ethical problem, of course, remains in any case.
Basi and Virk pleaded guilty to get $6 million to pay their legal fees (and light sentences). If they had not, they would have lost their homes and everything they had.
Without the inducement provided by the provincial government, the trial would have continued.
The appearance - at the least - is that the provincial government paid to persuade the defendants to plead guilty. And that is not how the justice system is supposed to work.

You can read the exchange between Bond and van Dongen here.


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