Insiders doubt the premier can survive scandal

I don't want loyalty. I want loyalty. I want him to kiss my ass in Macy's window at high noon and tell me it smells like roses. I want his pecker in my pocket.

-- Lyndon Baines Johnson,
discussing a prospective assistant,

from The Best and The Brightest, David Halberstam, 1972

Two former B.C. Liberal MLAs believe Premier Gordon Campbell's poor leadership in handling the ongoing drugs and money-laundering scandal that included a police search of the legislature may cost him his job.

They also say key federal Liberals named in the probe were likely involved in unseating several incumbent provincial B.C. Liberal MLAs in bitter nominating battles over the past few years.

And a senior federal Liberal party insider agrees, saying Young Liberal "soldiers" connected to Mark Marissen, Prime Minister Paul Martin's top B.C. organizer, have been used both to take over federal ridings and to support provincial B.C. Liberals connected to Campbell and Finance Minister Gary Collins.

It's an amazing story that continues to spin out of control, threatening both the success of federal Liberals in a likely spring election and Campbell's leadership.

"Campbell will be lucky to survive. The Howe Street crowd will look at Campbell and see what sort of a liability he is," former B.C. Liberal MLA Allan Warnke told the Georgia Straight in an interview. "He was sort of given a last chance after the Maui [drunk-driving] episode."

Warnke's views were echoed by Jeremy Dalton, B.C. Liberal MLA for West Vancouverí‚ ­Capilano from 1991 to 2001.

"I feel that Mr. Campbell's leadership has to be brought into question, and not just because he gets into trouble every time he goes to Hawaii. I don't see any strong leadership," Dalton said in an interview. "I think there's got to be a lot of people grumbling about the whole situation and how it's being handled. There's a Liberal caucus meeting this Thursday [January 15], and some of those people want to get reelected, and their chances are going down every day."

Political columnist Norman Spector agrees with Warnke and Dalton that Campbell may not survive as leader of the B.C. Liberals. "Post-raid, I'd say the odds are 60-40 he'll not lead his party into the next election," Spector said in an e-mail to the Straight.

And Marissen may not survive as federal campaign chair for B.C. The senior federal Liberal insider said in an interview with the Straight that Martin is now under a lot of pressure in Ottawa to get rid of Marissen--husband of deputy premier Christy Clark and brother-in-law to Bruce Clark, the executive member for finances for the B.C. wing of the federal Liberals--but had been advised to do so long ago.

"We warned Paul Martin about his 'soldiers' out here," said the insider. "He was told that this was going to divide the party, that Mark Marissen was doing a 'take no prisoners' approach, that he would crush you or drive you out of the party."

The insider source, who insisted on not being named for fear of the "wrath of Marissen", said that David Basi, the ministerial aide to Collins who was fired after his home and legislative office were searched by police on December 28, was "involved tons" in the hostile Paul Martin takeover of former federal cabinet minister Herb Dhaliwal's riding.

The source laughed when asked about Collins's claim that he did not know what Basi was up to in the federal party. "Gary's used these soldiers for years--the Young Liberals--and to help Gordon Campbell. Gary helped Sonja Sanguinetti get elected as [B.C. Liberal] president with the soldiers."

Those same Young Liberals are very connected to one of the most powerful senior Liberals in B.C.: federal Environment Minister David Anderson. Most of the federal Liberal operatives whose offices and homes were searched or visited by police have worked for Anderson, including Marissen, Erik Bornman, and Jamie Elmhirst, one of Bornman's colleagues at Pilothouse Public Affairs Group.

(Elmhirst is reported to be leaving Pilothouse, which was searched December 28, to take a government position running the western desk for new federal Fisheries Minister Geoff Regan. In response to a query, Bornman left a voice-mail message at the Straight saying that Elmhirst still works for Pilothouse.)

"When you start adding up a list of who David Anderson has had in his office and his constituency office, it is this crowd to a point that you can say David Anderson is the godfather to the Young Liberals, and Mark Marissen and Christy Clark," said Warnke, who was B.C. Liberal MLA for Richmond-Steveston from 1991 to 1996. "And they're both very close to Paul Martin."

Ironically, the federal Liberal insider says the Young Liberals are now turning on Anderson, as they are on Vancouver-Kingsway MP Sophia Leung, who are both supposedly seen as deadwood by the Martin team.

Warnke adds that the federal party has been warned of coming trouble for years. "The entire executive, which was a Martin executive for years, not only knew of the problems with the Young Liberals, they did nothing about them. They turned a blind eye," he said.

Warnke said the Young Liberals became involved in several provincial Liberal ridings to unseat incumbent MLAs, including himself, former Chilliwack MLA Bob Chisholm, and former Surrey-Cloverdale MLA Ken Jones. "Marissen was really involved, I think, in organizing these 'coups' in 1995 and 1996," he said. Dalton said he also believes Marissen and others were involved.

In an e-mail to the Straight, though, Marissen said he had "no involvement in any of those nominations whatsoever, either federally or provincially".

The growing Liberal lexicon in this case includes drugs, money-laundering, organized crime, grow-ops, search warrants, soldiers, and coups. What words will be added when the search warrants are finally unsealed?

CLARIFICATION Former federal Young Liberal president Jim MacLaren was not jailed on charges relating to $30,000 that went missing from that organization's coffers but for other fraud-related offences. We regret any confusion this may have caused.