British Columbia

NDP promises to hold BC rail public inquiry if elected

A New Democrat MLA says if his party wins the May election, a public inquiry will be held into the government's $6-million payment to two former ministerial aides.

A New Democrat MLA says if his party wins the May election, a public inquiry will be held into the government's $6-million payment to two former ministerial aides.

Attorney general's critic Leonard Krog says he's disappointed a B.C. Supreme Court judge denied the auditor general's request for access to government documents related to Dave Basi and Bobby Virk's case.

"On the law, the judge may well be right. But from a public interest perspective, people clearly wanted the auditor general to succeed," he said.

"The $6 million that the Liberal government wrote off in legal fees upset British Columbians and it was salt in the wound of B.C. Rail. The decision now means that it will be harder for the auditor general to give the fulsome report that he had hoped to create as a result of his investigation into this."

Auditor General John Doyle was not available for comment, but Krog said the auditor general may be able to obtain other documents related to Basi and Virk's case, although the scope of his investigation will be limited.

The pair pleaded guilty to leaking secret documents about the 2003 privatization sale of BC Rail at their trial in 2010, when the government announced it paid their legal fees.

Doyle wanted government documents related to the payout but a judge refused, saying solicitor-client privilege is an important democratic principle.

Doyle told a hearing last September that as a public watchdog, he needed access to government information to determine whether public money was spent economically in connection to an indemnity policy for senior employees who are acquitted.

Under that policy the government has waived legal fees for 95 people since 1999, with the biggest payout going to Basi and Virk, although they pleaded guilty.

John van Dongen, who left the Liberals to join the Conservative party and now sits as an independent MLA, was granted intervener status at the hearing launched by Doyle.

Van Dongen said Doyle may still be able to provide some answers.

"He has the legal authority and the opportunity to still do a credible report around the issues that are of the greatest importance with this sudden and unexpected plea bargain and writeoff of $6 million in legal fees, contrary to government policy," he said.

Basi and Virk were each sentenced to two years less a day of house arrest and 150 hours of community service.

Money-laundering charges against a third person, Aneal Basi, a former government communications worker and Dave Basi's cousin, were dropped.

now