Liberals are up against a Walls

Once the toothpaste is out of the tube, it is awfully hard to get it back in.

-- H. R. Haldeman to John Dean, 1973

Former Children and Family Development Minister Gordon Hogg was sent a strong warning in April 2003 about the activities of a controversial society that had a $400,000 debt to government written off. This led to both Hogg's resignation and the firing of his deputy minister, Chris Haynes, on January 25, 2004.

And Finance Minister Gary Collins was personally told in April 2003 about serious problems in Hogg's ministry but did nothing to investigate.

Those warnings from a community activist came eight months before a government audit was triggered when independent investigative journalist Sean Holman asked questions about the dubious background of Children and Family Ministry consultant Doug Walls. Walls, a relative by marriage of Premier Gordon Campbell and a former B.C. Liberal riding association president, is linked to the unpaid $400,000 debt for computer services racked up by CareNet, a nonprofit society he worked for.

Walls resigned from his next job, as acting CEO of a multimillion-dollar ministry-funded agency, on January 17 this year after Holman's story that day in the Victoria Times-Colonist revealed that Walls's bankrupt car dealership was the subject of an RCMP investigation. The province appointed a special prosecutor because of Walls's B.C. Liberal ties.

This is an increasingly stinky story. And the smelliest part is having to listen to Hogg tell people that he had no idea what was going on until recently but was doing the honourable thing by resigning.

If Hogg really was that clueless, he should have been fired for stupidity. This is a story about radical changes being made to a vital ministry, led by a businessman with strong links to the premier and the B.C. Liberals whose company went broke.

Doug Walls's wife, Sharon, is a cousin of Nancy Campbell, the premier's wife. He is also the former president of the B.C. Liberal Prince Georgeí‚ ­Omineca riding association. It has been widely reported that Campbell leased a Ford Taurus from Walls's Prince George auto dealership and stayed at Walls's house. And Advanced Education Minister Shirley Bond recommended Walls for his job with Hogg's ministry.

In January 2003, Walls was hired as acting CEO of the Interim Authority for Community Living, an agency with a budget that is slated to be $500 million, despite the fact that in 1998 his Ford dealership, Fred Walls and Son, went broke.

The RCMP investigation involves alleged "cheque kiting", where cheques are deposited in different accounts without funds to cover them, gaining short-term credit.

Walls was paid through seven separate untendered ministry contracts, totalling more than $63,000, all of them for amounts below the $25,000 threshold that requires a tendering process.

Holman reported that Walls and some associates gained a June 2001 meeting in the premier's office with Campbell's deputy minister Ken Dobell to discuss their plans for a radical change in the Children and Family Ministry's operations. (Dobell publicly admitted last year that he deletes politically sensitive e-mails to avoid them being disclosed in freedom-of-information requests.)

For community activist Dawn Steele, the departure of Hogg, Walls, and Haynes is long overdue. She has been raising concerns about Walls and the community-living authority for some time.

On April 8, 2003, Steele e-mailed Gordon Hogg a number of questions, including:

"Can you explain what steps, if any, have been taken to address any possible or potential conflicts of interest in any of the above positions or roles, given Mr. Walls' other business, personal and/or professional interests?

"Can you explain why the letter in question from your Interim CL Authority Chair, David Driscoll, appears to have been drafted by someone in the CareNet Technology Society?

"Are you aware of any connections that either Mr. Driscoll or Mr. Walls might have to the CareNet Technology Society?

"Has the CareNet Technology Society had any relationship, including any contractual agreements, with your Ministry, either directly or indirectly via the Transition Steering Committee or any of the Interim Authorities, at any time in the past 18 months, and if so what were those relationships?"

Steele said she never got an answer. Nor was she satisfied after meeting her local MLA, Finance Minister Gary Collins.

"I raised broader concerns about conflict of interest with Collins," Steele said in an interview with the Georgia Straight.

Steele's questions weren't even the first that Hogg received. According to Holman's article, Alanna Hendren, executive director of the Developmental Disabilities Association, faxed and e-mailed Hogg's office with concerns about Walls in July 2002, also to no avail.

Steele says Walls was effectively proposing the privatization of community living for people with disabilities.

"Essentially, it is the equivalent of throwing out public education or privatizing health care," she said. "We have this radical, radical dismantling at the ministry and a massive shift in direction. They said: 'We can cut 20 percent and deliver better service.' It was almost like a cult, a disassociation from reality."

Steele said the restructuring involves moving to an "individualized funding" plan, where families get financial support to care for people with disabilities rather than support being provided by the ministry. And despite claims from Hogg and others that the plan has full community support, Steele said it is simply untrue.

"My very best hope is that they pull the plug on restructuring right away. There's no way they can justify spending another penny on restructuring when they're making cuts to services."

Journalist Holman says Hogg should never have allowed Walls to take a ministry-funded position due to the dealership bankruptcy and CareNet connections.

"Gordon Hogg should have known from the very beginning of a problem with CareNet. The fact that he ignored repeated warnings about both allegations is astounding. Why was this left for so long without any kind of scrutiny?" Holman asks.

Why, indeed? Perhaps membership does have its privileges.

West Star Communications president Bill Tieleman is a political commentator Thursdays on CBC TV's Canada Now and regularly on CBC Radio One's Early Edition. E-mail him at