Former B.C. Liberal cabinet minister John van Dongen, who quit the party to join the B.C. Conservatives on Monday, says there are still questions about possible behind-the-scenes involvement of now-Premier Christy Clark in the scandal-plagued sale of BC Rail.
Van Dongen stunned the provincial legislature when he stood to announce he was quitting the Liberals after representing the party for 17 years as MLA for Abbotsford South. He becomes the only Conservative member of the house.
His speech contained thinly veiled criticism of the job Clark has done as premier. But at a news conference later, with B.C. Conservative Leader John Cummins at his side, van Dongen attacked Clark directly about the BC Rail deal and said he has hired a lawyer at his own expense to investigate her.
"There’s questions about her involvement in the deal and I think those questions require more work," Van Dongen said. "That’s one of the things that I need to do.
"But if you read carefully [the] extended media interview transcripts during the leadership race, you will see inconsistencies that give rise to questions. And I will work with [a] Vancouver lawyer to pursue answers to those questions."
Clark became premier in March 2011 after a months-long leadership race.
Van Dongen told the legislature earlier that he had hoped for a renewal of the party, but for the past year, "that has not happened."
"Every week, constituents question government actions and issues that I am not able to defend."
Van Dongen also made reference in his legislature address to the BC Rail scandal that had dogged the Liberal government for years after two government aides were prosecuted for selling inside information on the sale of the former Crown corporation.
The two aides ultimately pleaded guilty, and it was revealed soon after their pleas that the B.C. government had paid their lawyer's bills.
"To this day, Mr. Speaker, there are still serious unanswered questions regarding the writing off of $6 million in legal fees in the BC Rail case contrary to government policy — questions I have been asking for a year and a half and questions the auditor general is seeking answers to through the courts."
Investigators cleared Clark
Clark was linked to the case because her former husband, Mark Marissen, a Liberal strategist, and her brother, Bruce Clark, a lobbyist and Liberal fundraiser, were associates of the accused. She also had contact with other lobbyists, including Erik Bornman, who bribed one of the aides to obtain government secrets about BC Rail.Investigators said they didn't uncover any evidence of wrongdoing by Marissen or Clark.
Van Dongen also criticized a more recent decision not to sell naming rights on BC Place Stadium after long negotiations between the government and communications giant Telus.
"Most recently, the unexplainable cancellation of a $35-million naming rights agreement with Telus is another example of failed leadership," he said.
First elected in 1995, van Dongen was appointed to the provincial cabinet in 2001 by then premier Gordon Campbell, serving as agriculture minister before becoming minister of state for intergovernmental relations and then solicitor general.
He resigned from cabinet in 2009 after it was revealed he had been issued two speeding tickets for travelling in excess of 41 km/h over the speed limit.
Van Dongen has since sat as a backbencher in the B.C. Liberal ranks.