Back in the saddle,
with no regrets

The on-again, off-again solicitor-general
is unrepentant in the face of scandal

Vaughn Palmer, Vancouver Sun, May 5, 2010


It was one of the key moves in Premier Gordon Campbell’s strategy for renewing his B.C. Liberal government in the 2009 election.

Kash Heed, the outspoken West Vancouver police chief, was recruited to run for the B.C. Liberals with the tacit promise of a cabinet post. A seat was readied for him in Vancouver-Fraserview, a relatively safe constituency.

As for Fraserview’s incumbent B.C. Liberal MLA, Attorney-General Wally Oppal, the grand strategist had plans for him as well.

The premier used all of his powers of persuasion to get Oppal to vacate Fraserview, and switch to Delta South where the Liberals faced an upstart challenge from independent candidate Vicki Huntington.

Oppal lived in the riding. He was a cabinet minister. Campbell even hauled out a convenient party poll, showing that Oppal could expect to run several points ahead of Huntington.

Plus the party would pull out all the stops on his behalf. Money. Campaign workers. Whatever he needed, whatever it took. What could possibly go wrong?, as they say in the premier’s office.

Pretty much everything, as it turned out. Halfway through the campaign, Heed was in trouble. Far from the party assisting Oppal, his campaign had to inject money into Heed’s effort in Fraserview.

Meanwhile, the effort in Delta South fell just short. Oppal lost by just three dozen votes out of 24,000 cast.

One of the best-liked members of the cabinet, and one of its few small “l” liberals, was out of the lineup. A year later, he’s still awaiting a consolation prize for surrendering his seat, but so far the premier has not been in a giving mood.

Still, Campbell could claim to have broken even on the big gamble, for Heed did manage to pull out a win by a 750-vote margin in Fraserview. At the postelection cabinet shuffle, the premier rewarded him with the post of solicitor-general.

But even before Heed took up his duties as top cop, the story was already circulating that would chip away at his hold on the cabinet seat. Heed’s election campaign stood accused of involvement in a late-in-the-campaign brochure that slimed the New Democrats.

The allegations would eventually lead to a police investigation headed by a special prosecutor. Then a month ago, police advised Heed they would be wanting to interview him to determine his role, if any, and he had to resign from cabinet.

This week the allegations metastasized into a full-blown criminal proceeding. Special prosecutor Terry Robertson laid a dozen charges in all, including obstruction of justice and fraud, against three individuals, including the manager of the Heed campaign and the candidate’s financial agent.

Robertson went to considerable effort to put some distance between Heed and the charges.

One: “There is nothing to show that Kash Heed had any personal knowledge that the election financing report was false.”

Two: “There is no substantial likelihood of a conviction against Mr. Heed.”

Three: “A court would likely find that even with the exercise of reasonable diligence, Kash Heed could not have known about the conduct of the [accused].”

The rosy glow surrounding those passages was somewhat diminished with the news, late in the day Tuesday, that Robertson had stepped aside because his law firm had made a $1,000 contribution to the Heed campaign.

“I was aware of the contribution,” wrote Robertson in the astonishing letter that announced his resignation, “but did not believe that it was a conflict of interest that would preclude me from acting as special prosecutor.”

(Readers who have trouble digesting the incredible-but-true contents of the previous passage are advised to take a deep breath. Perhaps have a little lie-down before continuing with the rest of the narrative.)

Before Robertson’s withdrawal was announced, the premier reappointed Heed to cabinet, citing those very passages quoted above as proof “the special prosecutor fully exonerated Heed.”

The newly restored solicitor-general then met with reporters in the foyer outside the legislative chamber.

Some expression of relief on Heed’s part was understandable. He was off the hook. The premier had expressed his confidence and reappointed him to cabinet.

But the good-to-be-back-in-the-saddle tone was all wrong. Not a word of regret that his campaign stood accused of the most serious charges ever laid in connection with the outcome of a B.C. election.

As opposition house leader Mike Farnworth noted in his reaction, the accused in this case were not some minor-league volunteers run amok. Two of them were the key officials in the Heed campaign.

And depending on how these charges play out — there are several “ifs” — the outcome could be a court order that would vacate Heed’s seat in the legislature and lead to a byelection.

But when I asked Heed about the absence of any note of contrition in his statement, he pushed back. He’d been exonerated. The special prosecutor said so. The matter was closed as far as he was concerned.

No story here, says top cop. Move along.

Arrogant in the extreme. No wonder Campbell considers him a perfect fit for his cabinet table.

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