Christy Clark cleared of conflict in BC Rail sale
British Columbia Premier Christy Clark speaks to reporters after an emergency cabinet meeting in Vancouver on Sunday, March 3, 2013. (Darryl Dyck / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Keven Drews, The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, April 10, 2013 4:04PM PDT
Last Updated Wednesday, April 10, 2013 5:51PM PDT
VANCOUVER -- With just days to go until the election campaign officially starts in British Columbia, Premier Christy Clark has been cleared of conflict-of-interest allegations made by an independent MLA.
John van Dongen, a former Liberal cabinet minister, claimed Clark was in a conflict by recusing herself from some cabinet meetings where the issue of BC Rail's privatization was discussed, but not all of the meetings.
Clark's husband had a business connection to some of the players involved in the sale.
After the decision was released Wednesday, Clark said she didn't expect van Dongen to apologize.
"I always knew that the things that he was saying weren't true," she told reporters.
Van Dongen not only wasn't willing to apologize, he even vowed to continue his quest saying the report raises even more issues in the sale of the railway.
The 40-page report, written by Saskatchewan lawyer Gerald Gerrand for the Office of Conflict of Interest Commissioner, ruled Clark was not in a conflict of interest on the file.
Gerrand added that van Dongen failed to identify in his complaint how Clark would have benefited.
"It is not the statutory function of the commission to engage in a roving inquisition to ascertain if facts exist to support an innuendo or series of innuendoes, absent a reasonably supported factual assertion of a breach of a specific provision or provisions of the Act," he wrote.
Under the law, a complainant must base a complaint on reasonable grounds or risk being censured by the legislature, he said.
Gerrand said he based his conclusions on interviews taken under oath, written correspondences and redacted cabinet-meeting minutes that displayed only those issues related to the privatization of BC Rail.
Van Dongen said he plans to do a more detailed review of the report, and said it raises even more issues about the government's decision to pay $6 million in legal fees for Dave Basi and Bobby Virk, two former government workers convicted of breach of trust in the railway's sale.
"For people to say this deals with the BC Rail issues and clears the air completely is, you know, really a misrepresentation of the report," he said. "I mean it's a narrow set of issues under the Conflict of Interest Act."
Clark disagreed, saying van Dongen has had his day in the sun.
"It's cleared the air on this," she said. "For me it's proof that anybody can say anything and it doesn't have to be true for it to be hurtful and it doesn't have to be true for it to be reported again and again and again."
She said British Columbians deserve to hear discussions focused on the issues that will matter for children, "not about rumours, and gossip and, you know, nasty untruths."
The controversy focuses on the Nov. 19, 2003 decision by the Liberal cabinet to sell BC Rail to Canadian National Railways and the public announcement on Nov. 25, 2003.
At the time, Clark was the education minister and deputy premier.
In a Nov. 7, 2012 letter to the conflict of interest commissioner, van Dongen alleged Clark contravened the Members' Conflict of Interest Act and asked for an investigation into the BC Rail file.
At issue, said Gerrand, was Clark's attendance at several cabinet meetings in 2002 and 2003, during which the railway's reorganization was discussed.
Van Dongen, said Clark recused herself from some but not all of those meetings, and those voluntary recusals were admissions to a conflict of interest, Gerrand in his report.
However, Gerrand said van Dongen failed to identify in his complaint how Clark would have benefited privately by carrying out her official powers or duties.
"The mere fact of recusal does not warrant a leap to the conclusion that there was necessarily an actual conflict of interest, or an admission of conflict of interest," he added.
Gerrand also notes the decision to sell BC rail was made by cabinet, was informed by professional advice and approved by an independent fairness committee -- factors he said diminished her ability to influence the outcome.
Another conflict allegation involved tickets purchased bought by the communications firm Pilothouse to a party fundraiser.
Gerrand said that if ministers disqualified themselves from issues every time a lobbyist attended such a dinner, the result would be democratic paralysis.
He said there was no reasonable grounds to believe Clark traded the purchase of $2,400 worth of tickets to the Liberal fundraiser for influence on a cabinet decision.