The B.C. Supreme Court is weighing whether or not to hear a bid to throw out a Conflict of Interest Commissioner’s ruling absolving the premier of a conflict of interest.
Last May, Commissioner Paul Fraser ruled the premier’s presence at pricey fundraisers and associated $50,000 salary top-up from the BC Liberal Party did not constitute a personal benefit, after a complaint was lodged by BC NDP MLA David Eby and Duff Conacher of Democracy Watch.
Conacher says that ruling was flawed, and wants the courts to turf it, while lawyers for Fraser want the whole suit dismissed as without merit.
LISTEN: Democracy Watch Co-Founder Duff Conacher on Christy Clark’s alleged conflict of interest
Conacher says from where he stands, there’s no question that Clark’s role in party fundraising puts her in a conflict of interest, because with her BC Liberal paycheck she has a private interest in raising the cash which conflicts with her public duties as premier.
But he says even if she wasn’t, there would still be the appearance of a conflict, which he says alone is sufficient to violate BC’s ethics rules.
“The events create an appearance of a conflict of interest for Premier Clark that would prohibit her from making decisions that affect any company or organization that had a representative at any of the events. Because those representatives were getting access to her at small, exclusive private invitation only events for ticket prices ranging from $2,000 to $20,000.”
Conacher says Fraser’s ruling last year failed to investigate who was at the events, and questions how he could find there would be no appearance of conflict in the premier’s future dealings with companies and organizations on that basis.
He says on top of that, he believes the commissioner himself to be in a conflict of interest, something he says Fraser himself acknowledged by bowing out of a ruling involving the premier in 2012.
“When he stepped aside and said I can’t rule on a complaint that’s been filed because it has to do with the office of Premier Christy Clark, and my son works for her,” he says.
“[In] 2016 the same situation exists, and suddenly he’s saying there’s no appearance of a conflict of interest and no need to step aside, and he went ahead and ruled on our complaint.”
Back in October, Fraser rejected that opinion in an interview with the Vancouver Sun suggesting he doesn’t control his son’s career and that it would be wrong to bar people from following their own professional paths.
Conacher says that’s not good enough, invoking the image of a hockey referee that everyone respects, but who’s son played on a team he was officiating.
“Would you want them being the ref?”
While both sides presented arguments today, it’s not clear whether a court will even rule on the merits of the case itself.
After arguments, the judge reserved his ruling on Fraser’s bid to have the whole case turfed, with a result possibly six to eight weeks away.