British Columbians will hear directly from former cabinet ministers for the first time this week, as B.C.’s inquiry into money laundering enters a new phase.
Former BC Liberal premier Christy Clark and former finance minister Mike de Jong, Opposition Leader Shirly Bond, along with a handful of key deputy ministers, are set to testify before the Cullen Commission in the days to come.
In a year dominated by COVID-19, University of the Fraser Valley political science professor Hamish Telford said it will be the first time many in B.C. sit up and take notice of the proceedings.
“For many people in the public, this is the most important week, where we finally get to hear from the top players and whether they’re going to assume responsibility for what transpired with the casinos,” Telford told Global News.
“I think a lot of people will be looking for some expressions of sorrow at least and taking responsibility for this.”
Former gaming minister Rich Coleman, former public safety minister and solicitor general Kash Heed and current attorney general David Eby are all scheduled to testify the following week.
To this point, the commission has heard from former ranking police officers, casino staff, gaming regulators and other industry insiders.
Testimony to date has alleged a lack of political will to crack down on suspicious cash transactions and that the B.C. Lottery Corporation and casino managers pursued revenue from high rollers, despite being warned by investigators that gaming facilities were being used to launder money by transnational drug gangs.
With political decision-makers now taking the stand, Telford said he’ll be watching for how much they knew about the issue.
“To my recollection, the premier’s name has not come up. So how much was she in the loop on this and what is she going to say? So I think that’s what everyone is waiting to hear,” he said.
“The next thing I’ll be looking for is the consistency of testimony across the ministers that testify. Do they tell the same story? And if so, is it a plausible story that they are telling or do they have different recollections, remembering that they served at different times and would have dealt with different officials?
“From the point of view of the commission, the coming weeks’ testimony may not be all that crucial in completing its final report,” Telford said.
But for the public, he said the coming testimony could be the “pinnacle of the inquiry,” as much of what’s been said to date has been complex and at points procedural, making it relatively inaccessible to the casual news consumer.
He said that’s set to change as the public hears from people they know well, and may trust or have voted for.
“I’m not expecting any bombshells, to be honest. We’ve heard some pretty serious accusations, but I’m guessing the ministers will be telling a different story,” he said.
“They’re very skilled communicators and I think they will sound plausible and credible. So it will be up to the commissioner if there is conflicting testimony to determine whose evidence is most credible.”
Telford will also be closely watching Eby’s testimony, noting that the attorney general will need to sound credible, and not appear to be trying to score partisan points.
For the public tuning in, Telford cautioned that what’s heard over the next two weeks will not tell the whole story of the inquiry.
“The public needs to reserve judgment until we get the commissioner’s report. That’s the moment when we get the whole story, the parsed evidence, if you will, by the commissioner who determines what is credible,” he said.
“That’s what we really need to look for and the recommendations that he puts forward associated with his findings.”
Below is the upcoming Cullen Commission schedule:
April 19, 2021
- Sam MacLeod, Assistant Deputy Minister and General Manager, Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch
- Christy Clark, Former Premier
- Kevin Begg, Former Assistant Deputy Minister, Policing and Community Safety Branch; Former Director of Police Services
- Lori Wanamaker, Deputy Minister to the Premier, Cabinet Secretary and Head of the British Columbia Public Service; Former Deputy Minister of Finance; Former Deputy Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General
- Shirley Bond, Leader of the Opposition; Former Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General; Former Attorney General and Minister of Justice
- Michael de Jong, Opposition Attorney General Critic; Former Minister of Finance
- David Eby, Attorney General; Former Opposition Spokesperson for Gaming
- Cheryl Wenezenki-Yolland, Former Associate Deputy Minister of Finance
- Rich Coleman, Former Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General; Former Minister of Housing and Social Development; Former Minister of Energy and Mines and Minister Responsible for Housing
- Richard Fyfe, Deputy Attorney General
- Kash Heed, Former Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General; Former Chief Constable, West Vancouver Police Department