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Liberal strategist testifies at defamation trial

Party on 'damage control' after learning of former MP's lawsuits, court hears

Behind-the-scenes politics took centre stage recently at a B.C. Supreme Court trial as a senior Liberal strategist testified about why the party dumped former West Vancouver MP Blair Wilson as a candidate.

Mark Marissen, a senior strategist with the federal Liberals and ex-husband of B.C. Premier Christy Clark, was the party’s B.C. campaign co-chairman at the time when Wilson was turfed from the party following publication of a damaging article about him in The Province newspaper in October 2007.

But Marissen told Justice Jane Dardi Thursday it wasn’t the allegations of Election Act irregularities or suggestions that Wilson owed massive debts that caused the party to remove him.

Marissen said the Liberals’ “green light committee” in charge of vetting candidates told Wilson he could not be a candidate in the next election because Wilson had failed to disclose numerous lawsuits he had been involved with to the party.

Marissen was called to testify by Judi Tyabji Wilson, a former provincial Liberal MLA and wife of one-time provincial Liberal leader Gordon Wilson (no relation to Blair Wilson).

Blair Wilson is suing Tyabji Wilson and her company Tugboat Enterprises, as well as The Province newspaper, reporter Elaine O’Connor and blogger Steve Janke for defamation over The Province article, a blog post, and information he alleges was passed to the reporter and Liberal party members to destroy his political career. The defendants have denied those allegations.

Marissen was also originally named in the lawsuit, but reached an out-of-court settlement with Blair Wilson near the beginning of the trial.

In court, Marissen denied that fellow Liberals had worked together to oust Wilson in order to run someone else in the West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country riding.

“That’s completely preposterous,” he said.

He described how a variety of political party staffers worked on damage control after they became aware Blair Wilson had not disclosed a number of legal suits he had been involved in prior to becoming a candidate, including preparing briefing notes for then Liberal leader Stephane Dion.

Marissen said it was his job to tell Wilson that he wouldn’t be allowed to be a Liberal candidate in the next federal election. Marissen also acknowledged receiving emails in the summer of 2008 in which Blair Wilson asked to be let back into the Liberal caucus and reinstated as a candidate once the issue of his alleged Elections Act violations had been largely dismissed or resolved. Marissen said the party refused.

Marissen denied that he or other members of the party leaked confidential information to The Province.

In the opening argument of her defence, Tyabji Wilson also denied that she was the source of damaging information that appeared in the article.

Specifically, Tyabji Wilson denied that she had been paid $185,000 by William Lougheed, Blair Wilson’s late father-in-law, through her company Tugboat Enterprises to help destroy Wilson’s political career. “Accepting money in exchange for political subterfuge is corruption,” she said. Lougheed paid the money to her company as an investment, in exchange for shares, she said.

In her opening statements, Tyabji Wilson also denied meeting Marissen in order to discuss launching media attacks on Wilson and denied writing an anonymous letter to Elections Canada alleging Elections Act violations.

Last week, Dardi made a ruling dismissing Wilson’s defamation claim against Lougheed after Lougheed died last month at the age of 88, partway through the trial.

In November 2015, after the trial started, Wilson also filed a separate defamation suit against Neil McIver, the former West Vancouver campaign manager of Conservative candidate John Weston, who was elected in the 2008 election.

In testimony at the beginning of the trial, McIver read from emails he exchanged with O’Connor that described how he met with the reporter and passed on information about Blair Wilson, under the condition he would remain an anonymous source. McIver also read from emails he exchanged with Lynda Lougheed, William Lougheed’s daughter, about Blair Wilson.

The trial continues.