Probe throws light on the Liberal players

It's a piece of cake until you get to the top. You find you can't stop playing the game the way you've always played it.

-- Richard Nixon

The police search warrants executed last December at the legislature and the homes and offices of prominent Liberals in connection with drugs, organized crime, and the BC Rail privatization deal have resulted in several political casualties.

One of them came recently when Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon cancelled the privatization of BC Rail's Port Subdivision after the RCMP said an ongoing criminal investigation revealed that the process was tainted by "advisors" to a bidder obtaining confidential information. The sale-price estimate was between $70 million and $100 million.

Then there are the other casualties. Premier Gordon Campbell has repeatedly stated that the B.C. Liberal party is separate from the federal wing, pointing to the participation of federal Conservative, Reform, and Alliance party members as proof.

But the extensive ties between federal and provincial Liberals that are being exposed by the investigation show that federal Liberals are the dominant partner in the B.C. coalition.

The investigation has also prompted scrutiny of some key Liberal players who had heretofore operated in the shadows. Foremost among them is provincial lobbyist Erik Bornman. In December, a search warrant was executed at Bornman's Vancouver home office and at the Victoria office of Pilothouse Public Affairs, the firm owned by Bornman and former Province newspaper columnist Brian Kieran.

Bornman was an Ottawa aide to Prime Minister Paul Martin when Martin was finance minister, and he was a key Martin leadership-campaign operative in B.C. He served until recently as a federal party executive member.

Bornman also has strong Gordon Campbell Liberal ties, with Pilothouse's Web site stating that he has "over a decade of political experience" in the provincial and federal Liberal parties and has held senior roles "in numerous national and provincial election campaigns".

Bornman and Kieran were the registered provincial lobbyists for OmniTRAX, one of the three final bidders for BC Rail and also one of three bidders for the Port Subdivision, competing against Southern Rail and a consortium consisting of CN Rail, CP Rail, and the Port of Vancouver.

Information used to obtain the legislature search warrants noted that the RCMP is investigating whether or not a lobbyist identified as "L1" may have "offered to facilitate promotion prospects or employment opportunities for Official 1 and Official 2". The workspaces of David Basi, ministerial assistant to Finance Minister Gary Collins, and Bob Virk, ministerial assistant to thení‚ ­Transportation Minister Judith Reid, were searched last December.

Bornman is linked to some questionable activities with regard to the federal Liberal Party, including entering a locked party office--which contained the B.C. membership list--through the ceiling, earning him the nickname Spider-Man.

In 1999, Bornman was a key organizer for a Victoria Young Liberal convention that turned into a drunken hotel-trashing. Traveller's Inn president John Asfar sued the Liberal party for $10,000 in damages but settled out of court.

Surprisingly, in 2003 Bornman turned up as the registered lobbyist for Asfar's efforts to locate a casino in a Victoria hotel. Controversy erupted in February when some phony letters supporting the plan were posted on the casino proponent's Web site.

Bornman's connections to key Paul Martin organizer Mark Marissen and his wife, deputy premier Christy Clark, date back to the early 1990s, when they were Young Liberals. All three were close supporters of federal Environment Minister David Anderson; Bornman and Marissen both worked directly for Anderson at times, and Bornman's brother Roy currently works for Anderson's office in Vancouver.

Until recently, Erik Bornman was active in B.C. government relations as a registered lobbyist for the Employers Forum of BC, the Council of Forest Industries, the Western Canadian Shippers Coalition, the Broe Companies, Inc. (owners of OmniTRAX), the BC Real Estate Association, Famous Players, the Certified General Accountants Association of BC, and Cap Gemini Ernst & Young. The B.C. government's lobbyist Web site says all of these contracts have expired.

More federal Liberal connections can be found in the B.C. deputy premier's office. Christy Clark's former constituency office assistant and Web master, Tony Roy, is now a special assistant to Anderson in Ottawa.

Forrest Parlee, a B.C. federal Liberal vice-president, is the contact person for Christy's "youth advisory team".

How sensitive are federal Liberals to stories about the party's connections to the B.C. legislature raid?

On March 13, David Anderson's Ottawa communications director, Kelly Morgan, e-mailed me: "Due to past misrepresentation and inaccurate statements in the media, I would request that statements with regard to Minister Anderson be checked with me before they are published.

"The opening quote of Richard Nixon, 'Sure there are dishonest men in local government. But there are dishonest men in national government too.' and the closing paragraph which states 'In a future column, more on the key federal and provincial Liberal players, including federal Environment Minister David Anderson...', implies Minister Anderson has done something dishonest."

Because nothing else in the column mentioned Anderson, I see no such implication. But with Anderson already linked to the federal Liberal sponsorship scandal, one can understand why Morgan is sensitive about her boss's connections to friends who have been visited by the RCMP in connection to the legislature raids.

Unfortunately, this column wasn't submitted in advance to the minister's staff.

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