The longest-running political scandal in British Columbia history has lurched back to life with allegations by an independent MLA that Premier Christy Clark violated conflict-of-interest regulations concerning cabinet meetings about BC Rail in 2003.
John van Dongen, a former Liberal MLA who has been investigating the government’s handling of the BC Rail sale, released a letter Wednesday that asks the conflict of interest commissioner to look into Ms. Clark’s activities nine years ago.
Ms. Clark said she had nothing to hide and would co-operate if conflict commissioner Paul Fraser has any questions for her.
“I know he’s referred it to the commissioner,” she said of Mr. van Dongen’s complaint. “I will absolutely co-operate with anything the commissioner asks. I’ve always conducted myself with an abundance of caution, absolutely honourably. And if this resolves any questions that he may have in his mind, I think that’s a good thing.”
In his letter – and in a lengthy attachment that quotes from documents he obtained through court or found on the Internet – Mr. van Dongen says Ms. Clark told the legislature at one point that she had recused herself from cabinet discussions about BC Rail.
But he says the record shows she only recused herself from cabinet once, at a meeting in November, 2003, when the government decided to sell BC Rail to CN Rail for $1-billion.
The complaint revives interest in the BC Rail scandal.
That scandal preoccupied politics in British Columbia between 2003 and 2010, during an epic court case involving fraud and conflict-of-interest charges against former ministerial aides Dave Basi and Bob Virk. The trial ended suddenly in the fall of 2010, when both men entered guilty pleas after maintaining their innocence through years of pre-trial hearings.
Ms. Clark’s brother, Bruce Clark, and her husband at the time, Mark Marissen, were both associated with Mr. Basi and Mr. Virk.
Mr. Clark and Mr. Marissen were visited by police after investigators staged an unprecedented raid on the legislature offices of Mr. Basi and Mr. Virk on Dec. 28, 2003.
But neither Mr. Clark nor Mr. Marissen was ever accused of any wrongdoing – nor was Ms. Clark, who was deputy premier at the time.
In his letter, Mr. van Dongen points out that Ms. Clark told the House she would not take part in any debate on a bill concerning the sale of BC Rail, because she was in a conflict of interest. At that time she also told the House: “I have previously absented myself from cabinet discussions on this matter.”
She did not say what the nature of her conflict was, although it has widely been reported it was because of her brother’s connection to a U.S. company that was bidding for a BC Rail port facility which, in the end, wasn’t sold.
“That is not clear to me,” Mr. van Dongen said when asked what he thought her conflict was. “What is clear, and what we’re saying is, she disclosed a conflict.”
Mr. van Dongen said cabinet records show that she only once left a cabinet meeting declaring a conflict, although there were numerous meetings at which BC Rail must have been discussed.
“She clearly and distinctly stated she recused herself very early in the process [when she did not],” Mr. van Dongen said. “What I am asking for today is an investigation … which enables the conflict of interest commissioner to take statements under oath and acquire documents.”
Mr. van Dongen has been researching the BC Rail issue for the past year, and said his complaint has arisen now because he has had time to analyze all the documents he’s acquired.