Premier Christy Clark, who wants public trust to be a key issue in the British Columbia election campaign, has been cleared of allegations she was caught in a conflict of interest in 2003 when the government sold BC Rail.
"I'm not surprised by the outcomes, it's exactly what I always said," a relaxed and smiling Ms. Clark said at a packed news conference in Vancouver on Wednesday.
"I thought the outcome…would absolutely clear the air on this," she said, shortly after the Conflict of Interest Commissioner's office released the results of an investigation by an independent lawyer, Gerald Gerrand of Saskatchewan.
Mr. Gerrand was called in after John van Dongen, an independent MLA and former Liberal cabinet minister, complained that Ms. Clark had been involved in the government's deliberations over the $1-billion sale of BC Rail. Mr. van Dongen said he is "not satisfied by the outcome" of the investigation and still has questions about the sale of the Crown-owned railway.
But Ms. Clark, who has long been haunted by questions about her role in the BC Rail deal, said the report is definitive and makes it clear that she never did anything wrong.
"I always knew that the things he was saying weren't true and so I'm glad that the report is out," she said. "It's proof that anybody can say anything and it doesn't have to be true for it to be hurtful, and it doesn't have to be true for it to be reported again and again."
At the time of the sale, Ms. Clark was a minister in the government of Gordon Campbell. And she was then married to Mark Marissen, whose communications company, the Burrard Group, represented CIBC World Markets, which was handling the BC Rail sale for the government.
But Mr. Gerrand found Ms. Clark did nothing wrong. "Ms. Clark was not in a position of conflict of interest or apparent conflict of interest in relation to the BC Rail matter as alleged by the complainant," Mr. Gerrand concludes in his 40-page report.
Shortly after the BC Rail sale was announced in 2003, police raided the legislature offices of Dave Basi and Bob Virk, two ministerial aides who were subsequently convicted of breach of trust for leaking confidential cabinet information about the deal. Also raided at that time were the offices of Pilothouse Communications directors Brian Kieran and Erik Bornmann, who were representing a U.S. company bidding for BC Rail. Both the lobbyists knew Ms. Clark.
But Mr. Gerrand says Ms. Clark discussed any possible conflicts with H.A.D. Oliver, who was then the government's conflict of interest commissioner.
"Ms. Clark gave evidence that at all material times she consulted Commissioner Oliver regarding all matters that she felt might constitute a conflict of interest on her part," Mr. Gerrand wrote.
"Both Mr. Marissen and Ms. Clark testified that they jointly agreed early on in Ms. Clark's political career that every client acquired by Mr. Marissen or his company would be vetted through the Office of the Conflict of Interest Commissioner to confirm that there was no conflict of interest issue," the report states.
Mr. Gerrand says Ms. Clark failed to remove herself from one cabinet meeting at which BC Rail was discussed, but immediately afterwards had a meeting with Mr. Oliver.
"Ms. Clark has testified that she does not recall whether it was she or Commissioner Oliver who made the connection between Burrard's contract with CIBC WM and the BC Rail file, but she states it was discussed," says Mr. Gerrand. "While she did not consider there was a conflict of interest Commissioner Oliver indicated that he would consider the question further and that in the interim she should be cautious."
Mr. Gerrand says Ms. Clark acted out of an abundance of caution in excusing herself from several cabinet meetings and from a debate in the House concerning BC Rail.