B.C.'s lobbyist watchdog has been asked if the chair of the Crown-owned Insurance Corp. of B.C. broke any rules when he contacted a government minister last fall as a representative for a controversial casino project.
The B.C. New Democratic Party lodged a complaint on the matter Wednesday, just a week after tighter rules regarding lobbying came into effect. It is not clear which rules would apply in this case.
The NDP learned last week that ICBC chairman Rick Turner telephoned B.C.'s Tourism Minister, Kevin Krueger, on behalf of Paragon Development Ltd.
NDP critic Spencer Chandra Herbert said Wednesday he wants to know if Mr. Turner was lobbying when he leaned on the minister over a pending decision to spend more than half a billion dollars on a new roof at BC Place.
Paragon had been selected to build a $450-million multi-hotel and casino project adjacent to BC Place, but Mr. Turner was concerned about media reports that the province was growing skittish about planned improvements to the roof of the aging sports stadium.
In an interview Wednesday, Mr. Turner said he wasn't lobbying when he warned Mr. Krueger that if the province didn't go ahead with the retractable roof on the stadium, the size and scope of the casino development would have to change.
The cost of the roof and the expansion of gaming have been politically divisive, but Mr. Chandra Herbert said he is particularly concerned that a Liberal insider such as Mr. Turner may have used his connections to bend the government's ear.
"When you have a public official … putting pressure on the minister by calling his personal cellphone, it raises serious questions which I think need to be investigated."
Paragon was not publicly named the winner of the bidding process until last month, but Mr. Turner knew the company had been designated the preferred proponent last summer.
Mr. Turner said he doesn't remember exactly when he placed the call, but estimates it was around October.
"I am the local guy for Paragon, I phoned the minister responsible. What I didn't do is say, 'I'm the chairman responsible for ICBC'. I said 'my name is Rick Turner and I'm phoning on behalf of Paragon.'"
Mr. Turner said his intent was to take the pressure off Mr. Krueger over the roof by saying Paragon would lease the Crown-owned lands for the casino development regardless.
He said he told Mr. Krueger that Paragon was counting on the "synergies" of a revamped BC Place. "But if the roof does not get built, we may have to revisit the size and scope of what we planned," he recalled telling the minister. "You figure out what's right for British Columbia - leave the roof as it is, make it a pyramid, whatever - and that's fine. Then we'll figure out what we have to do."
In late October, the province announced it would go ahead with the retractable roof at a cost of $523-million - 43 per cent more than original projections.
Mr. Krueger did not return calls Wednesday. But during legislature debate last week, he recalled that Mr. Turner impressed upon him that "the roof was actually essential to the bid, that they wouldn't proceed with the bid at the level they had if there wasn't a retractable roof."
As registrar of lobbyists for B.C., David Loukidelis, had battled with the province over the lack of authority under lobbying regulations, sparking changes that came into effect April 1.
Under the old rules, Mr. Turner could not be forced to co-operate with an investigation by the registrar. But he said Wednesday he expects he'll answer any questions from Mr. Loukidelis's successor, Paul Fraser.
"I don't know why I wouldn't want to comply," he said.
"It's got nothing to do with Rick Turner and it has everything to do with politics of B.C."