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BC Liberal fundraising challenged in Canadian court

Democracy Watch seeks new investigation of Premier Christy Clark

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 October, 2016, 11:10am
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 October, 2016, 11:20am

By Bob Mackin

Democracy Watch wants a BC Supreme Court judge to quash findings by the province’s conflict of interest commissioner that Premier Christy Clark did not break the law when she attended exclusive, big bucks fundraising events.

In an October 25 petition, filed by lawyer Jason Gratl, Democracy Watch seeks a judicial review of decisions made May 4 and August 9 by Conflict of Interest Commissioner Paul Fraser. Fraser concluded it was not an apparent conflict of interest for Clark to receive a C$50,000-a-year (US$37,337) bonus from the BC Liberal Party to attend fundraisers “at which special access to the Premier was sold for high amounts (up to C$20,000, or US$14,935, per person).”

Clark is paid C$195,000 (US$145,615) per year as premier and MLA for Westside-Kelowna.

“The commissioner’s decision also unreasonably concluded that donations made to attend the events and the annual salary drawn by the Premier from the BCLP were not a personal benefit for the Premier that are indirectly connected with the performance of her duties as prohibited under section 7 of the Act,” said the court filing.

Section 7 says that a member of the legislative assembly must not accept a fee, gift or personal benefit, except compensation authorised by law, that is connected directly or indirectly with the performance of his or her duties.

Democracy Watch contends it is unreasonable to conclude that large donations do not create a private interest and it is also unreasonable to conclude that fundraising events did not create an apparent conflict of interest that affected Clark’s future decisions.

The court filing cited a Clark fundraising event hosted by Simon Fraser University chancellor Anne Giardini attended by nine individuals — seven paid C$10,000 (US$7,465) each and two paid C$5,000 (US$3,734) each.

“The Premier admits that funds raised at these events go directly to the general account of the BC Liberal Party or the LPBC Westside-Kelowna Riding Association,” the petition states. “The Premier admits that she is an employee of the LPBC who receives an annual salary of C$50,000 (US$37,337) per year from her party, which is paid from the LPBC general account. The Premier’s employment duties with LPBC include fundraising for LPBC.”

Democracy Watch wants a judge to order a re-examination of the complaints by a person who is fully independent of B.C. political parties.

At the heart of the filing is an allegation that Fraser himself is in conflict of interest, because his son, John Paul, has personal ties to Clark and is the Clark-appointed deputy minister for Government Communications and Public Engagement. Paul Fraser already set a precedent in 2012 when he recused himself, because of his son’s role in the Clark government, after ex-BC Liberal MLA John van Dongen filed an unsuccessful complaint about Clark’s involvement in the privatisation of BC Rail.

“The petitioner submits that it is more likely than not that Commissioner Fraser has a reasonable apprehension of bias which precludes him from making a fair decision,” the document says.

No date has been set for a hearing.