Dirty Money report effectively gores Coleman and de Jong, ICBC report did in Stone, so what's next for Wilkinson?

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      When Premier John Horgan appointed Geoff Meggs as his chief of staff last year, I knew that the B.C. Liberals were going to be in for a rough ride.

      That's because as a Vision Vancouver councillor, Meggs played an instrumental role in the destruction of the political brand of his opponents.

      The NPA controlled Vancouver municipal politics for the better part of 70 years when Vision won the election in 2008.

      Within three years, the NPA was eviscerated.

      It was no small thanks to Meggs convincing the public that it had made a mess of the city's Olympic Village development.

      In this instance, the print media was deployed very effectively. The Globe and Mail's Gary Mason played a leading role in publicizing leaks from unnamed sources.

      In July of last year, I wrote a column predicting that similar tactics would be used to demolish the B.C. Liberals in the eyes of the public.

      That seems to have occurred.

      When it seemed like Todd Stone could emerge as the next B.C. Liberal leader, the government dropped a bombshell: a previously unreleased report into ICBC's finances.

      It somehow landed in the hands of Rob Shaw at the Vancouver Sun. And it revealed that the B.C. Liberal cabinet ignored a key recommendation to fix a financial mess.

      Stone, of course, was the minister responsible for ICBC.

       In the aftermath, Attorney General David Eby predicted that the annual loss would reach $1.3 billion. He delivered the ultimate soundbite, describing the situation as a "financial Dumpster fire".

      I wondered, however, if that script might have actually been written in the premier's office.

      Stone went on to lose the B.C. Liberal leadership race, which was the perfect outcome for the B.C. NDP.

      That's because he would have been the party's most formidable opponent to Horgan, who desperately wants to win B.C. Interior constituencies in the next election.

      NDP spin doctors know that there's nothing quite like grainy black-and-white images from a security camera to suggest that something nefarious is going on, so pictures like this were posted on the government website.

      Dirty Money has a devastating impact

      This week, former finance minister Mike de Jong and former deputy premier Rich Coleman have been seriously wounded with a report into money laundering.

      De Jong was the revenue-hungry finance minister and Coleman was the minister responsible for the B.C. Lottery Corporation.

      The report was cleverly entitled Dirty Money, which has since become a top-trending hashtag on Twitter. It was released just as Coleman is considering a run for Surrey mayor.

      Dirty Money author Peter German, a former senior Mountie, was commissioned in September 2017 when Coleman was interim leader and de Jong was seen as a possible successor to Christy Clark.

      But something unexpected happened in the B.C. Liberal leadership race.

      The MLA for Vancouver-Quilchena, Andrew Wilkinson, won a surprising victory.

      The ever-nimble NDP then announced a new surtax on homes assessed at more than $3 million, knowing full well that Wilkinson's constituents would go berserk. Naturally, he defended them, which has played into the hands of NDP spin doctors.

      But Meggs still has a problem with Wilkinson because he hasn't been driven into the ditch with a damning report like Stone, Coleman, and de Jong have.

      What kind of dirt can be dug up to damage Wilkinson politically?

      This will pose a challenge for the New Democrats because unlike the three B.C. Liberals mentioned above, Wilkinson never received a major cabinet post.

      Former premier Clark gave Wilkinson B-list positions (minister of citizens' services and minister of advanced education) precisely because she knew he posed a threat to her leadership.

      It was only in the dying days of her government that she promoted him to attorney general, and only then, it was because her preferred A-G, Suzanne Anton, lost the election in Vancouver-Fraserview.

      Knowing Meggs and his friends, they're going to investigate more deeply into Wilkinson's past.

      I'm guessing that he and other New Democrats will probably start focusing attention on the new B.C. Liberal leader's time as a corporate litigator.

      Which clients did he represent in those days? Which little guys did he try to squish on behalf of his powerful benefactors?

      That's where I expect this story will go from here.

      The premier's chief of staff, Geoff Meggs, has a proven track record in demolishing the brands of his political opponents.

      Should the B.C. Liberals fold their tent?

      Regardless, the B.C. Liberals' brand is never going to be seen in the same light again after the ICBC and money-laundering reports.

      Keep in mind that we haven't seen the last of these releases.

      Next, I expect the NDP government will prepare a report linking money laundering to high housing prices.

      Maybe there will be a probe into how Wilkinson bungled the oversight of postsecondary education.

      And the media will eat it all up.

      In light of this, it might be time for B.C. Liberal backroom boys to get ahead of the story and rename their party.

      After all, the Socreds dumped their name after being eviscerated through a series of scandals.

      The old Socred coalition re-emerged as the B.C. Liberals and won four straight elections.

      The NPA, on the other hand, has hung on for dear life and lost three straight elections in Vancouver.

      If the B.C. Liberals continue taking on Meggs and his friends, they could easily face a similar fate.

      When you're sideswiped by a truck, there's a tendency to go into shock. As a former doctor, Wilkinson is well aware of this.

      But if the B.C. Liberals are clear-headed about this, they must recognize that the money-laundering report is just one chapter in a never-ending saga.

      And if they're really honest, they'll recognize that they've been checkmated by the wily Meggs.

      Their brand is toast.

      Attorney General David Eby talks a good game about improving transparency, but the rubber will hit the road when his government amends section 49 of the Business Corporations Act.

      Footnote: NDP still hasn't addressed corporate secrecy

      If the NDP government truly wanted to boost transparency and root out corruption and money laundering, it would have amended the Business Corporations Act in the recent session to shine more light on who owns companies.

      Section 49 of the act outlines strict rules governing legal grounds for releasing lists of shareholders.

      Under the law, these shareholder lists cannot be obtained by the media for the purpose of educating the public about who's behind shell companies.

      This was a change introduced by the Gordon Campbell government in its first term in office.

      It's made it impossible to know who are partners in companies that own properties across the province.

      Former Vancouver Sun reporter David Baines and I have pointed out this problem with the Business Corporations Act on more than one occasion.

      Corporate secrecy also highlighted in a 2016 report by Transparency International Canada.

      But neither the NDP's finance minister, Carole James, nor any former B.C. Liberal finance ministers have demonstrated any interest in addressing this.

      Prior to that legislative change, reporters or anyone else could walk into the registered records office and find out who owned private companies.

      Since the NDP was elected, it has amended the Business Corporations Act for housekeeping changes in Bill 7. But it didn't touch section 49, which keeps shareholder lists secret.

      Even the attorney general acknowledged this problem in a speech last December at the Peter A. Allard School of Law at UBC.

      "Transparency International Canada has rightly noted that British Columbia’s corporate registry does not require declaration of beneficial ownership of companies in our province," Eby said. "Alberta, right next door, does; however, there is no shortage of companies in our province where the sole director of the company is a lawyer, (in addition to law firms). These are firms where the sole director is a lawyer, one could argue, in order to shield the true owners of the company from disclosure. That is certainly the effect."

      Despite this awareness, still nothing has been done about it. This could have been fixed in the last Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act that sailed through the legislature.

      Today, for instance, I can't visit a registered records office and find out who owns the Storm Crow tavern next door to my office.

      I could have done this 20 years ago in B.C.

      Of course, highlighting this doesn't fit the storyline of David Eby fighting on the same side as his favourite print journalists for truth, justice, and full transparency.

      Let it serve as a reminder that things are rarely as straightforward as they sometimes appear to be in the media.