Allegations of a conflict of interest involving Premier Christy Clark’s pricey exclusive fundraisers are back in the spotlight, with a new group taking the issue to the B.C. Supreme Court.
Last spring, B.C.’s Conflict of Interest Commissioner Paul Fraser threw the complaint out.
But now a new group is challenging that ruling, arguing the Commissioner himself may be in conflict.
LISTEN: Democracy Watch Co-Founder Duff Conacher on the new conflict claims
Alleged conflict in the premier’s office
Duff Conacher is a Co-Founder with Democracy Watch, the group filing the petition to the court.
He says first and foremost, they believe the original complaint against Premier Clark herself still has merit.
“There’s a very high threshold that politicians in BC have to meet. They’re not allowed to be in even the appearance of a conflict of interest, that means there can’t even be a reasonable perception that their private interests impact their actions or decisions as a politician.”
That complaint argues high-rolling fundraisers attended by the premier function essentially as pay-to-play opportunities for industry stakeholders, and that the Premier benefits personally because she’s paid a salary top-up of up to $50,000 by the party for attending, potentially from those donations.
Conacher says because she’s making decisions on behalf of those donors, there’s a potential conflict.
“When you’re selling access to yourself for up to $20,000 at small, invitation only, exclusive fundraising events it seems pretty clear to us you’re creating conflicts of interest for yourself.”
In May, Conflict of Interest Commissioner Paul Fraser rejected that argument ruling “While [the premier’s stipend] is a financial benefit paid directly to the Premier, it is paid by the Party from general funds and is not attributable to any one donor or group of donors.”
But Conacher says Fraser’s impartiality, too, is in question because he has a son who works in the B.C. Liberal Cabinet.
“It’s more than the appearance of a conflict of interest when he’s looking at a situation involving Premier Clark, his son essentially works closely with Premier Clark.”
Conacher says because of that, he should have stepped aside when a question involving the premier came up… and in fact, did just that in 2012 over another case involving the Premier because of his son’s connection.
“Why didn’t he do it this past spring? We don’t know, we’re using his own reasoning.”
Fraser rejected the allegation yesterday in an interview with the Vancouver Sun, suggesting he doesn’t control his son’s career and that is would be wrong to bar people from following their own professional paths.
But Conacher says that’s exactly the essence of conflict of interest rules.
“Conflict of interest rules have to override all of that or we do not have democratic government. That’s what the Supreme Court ruled in a case in 1996. That public officials, because of the responsibilities of their office, must be held to standards of conduct that an average person would find quite harsh and severe.”