The ability of MLAs to do their jobs will be “severely impaired” if the government blocks Auditor General John Doyle from examining the deal that paid $6 million in legal bills for two government aides who pleaded guilty to corruption, ex-Liberal John van Dongen’s lawyer told the BC Supreme Court Wednesday.
Roger McConchie added that the indemnity agreement should only stay a secret if the men in question repaid the $6m fees in full, “extinguishing the need for an audit.”
McConchie was speaking to a five-day hearing before Chief Justice Robert Bauman, at which the Auditor General’s lawyer Louis Zivot argued on Monday that Doyle cannot fulfill his duty if he is blocked from seeing the deal.
McConchie said yesterday, “At the end of the day, the actual indemnitor under the legal fee indemnity agreements at issue in this case is the taxpayer, who depends on his or her MLA to hold the government accountable for expenditures from the Consolidated Revenue Fund [general revenue].”
Van Dongen, who quit the Liberal caucus in March over the issue and joined the B.C. Conservatives, was granted intervenor status and is supporting Auditor John Doyle’s quest to see the indemnity deal that contravened government policy by absolving Dave Basi and Bob Virk of their $6 million legal bill. The former government aides made surprise corruption guilty pleas October 18, 2010, related to the 2003 sale of BC Rail to CN.
McConchie said that Freedom of Information laws and the Legal Profession Act both favour disclosure of the agreement, which the government says is protected by solicitor/client privilege.
“By agreeing to accept public funds to pay their legal bills, the persons indemnified must be taken to waive privilege with respect to an audit by the Auditor General, having regard to the public objectives of the Auditor General’s statute,” McConchie said. “Further, or alternatively, the persons indemnified could, it is submitted, preserve the privilege over their legal accounts by repaying the indemnities in full, thereby extinguishing the need for an audit.”
The provisions of the Auditor General Act, McConchie said, “read as a whole, clearly contemplate, require and authorize, by necessary implication and unavoidable inference, access to the legal fee invoices.”
The five-day hearing ends Friday, but closing statements won’t be heard until December 3 and 4 because of Chief Justice Bauman’s schedule.