British Columbia's former liquefied natural gas advocate is seeking $5-million in a defamation lawsuit from Premier John Horgan, Jobs Minister Bruce Ralston and a federal NDP MP over false allegations that he completed little work before he was recently fired after four years on the job.
The lawyer for Gordon Wilson, a former BC Liberal leader whose career in provincial politics also saw him serve as an NDP finance minister, submitted a claim in the defamation suit to B.C. Supreme Court on Thursday.
"It is very early and there are a lot of facts still to come out and a lot of disclosure still to be made. However, the evidence that we already have suggests there is, at least, the justification for filing this claim," Robert Hainsworth said from Powell River, B.C., where Mr. Wilson lives.
Asked about the $5-million claim, Mr. Hainsworth said it was calculated based on the potential damage to Mr. Wilson's future earning potential. "We will leave a final determination up to a judge as to what the best assessment is. However, at this point, we feel that that number is justified."
Mr. Wilson was not available for comment on Thursday. All three named in the lawsuit have apologized.
At issue are the comments following the firing of Mr. Wilson by the defendants concerning the apparent lack of any written work by him during his time as LNG advocate. Former B.C. premier Christy Clark appointed Mr. Wilson to the post in 2013.
However, documents posted to a government website, produced as a result of an Access to Information request made by the NDP when it was in opposition, soon showed various papers written by Mr. Wilson during a tenure in which he was paid a total of $550,000.
In addition to the two senior members of the new NDP government, Mr. Wilson's suit takes issue with a Facebook posting on the matter by Rachel Blaney, the NDP MP for North Island-Powell River.
On Thursday, Ms. Blaney's office issued a statement in which the MP said she understood a comment she posted on Facebook was inaccurate. "I regret making that inaccurate comment, retract it in its entirety, and apologize to Mr. Wilson for making it."
Ms. Blaney's lawyer, Mark Underhill, declined comment on the case when contacted at his office.
On Thursday, Sage Aaron, the director of communications for Mr. Horgan, said she could not comment on a matter that is now before the courts. Mr. Ralston's office said they had no information on any legal counsel retained for the minister.
Mr. Wilson's 14-page claim, filed by Mr. Hainsworth, allege the plaintiff's words suggest "something dishonest" about Mr. Wilson's job history and that his work had the effect of "depriving taxpayers of benefit and money."
The claim alleges no internal review was conducted to back up the claim and Mr. Wilson was not invited to discuss his situation before the comments were made. Of 133 Liberal appointees fired by the new B.C. NDP government, only Mr. Wilson's exit was publicly announced, the submission says.
Also, the claim accuses Mr. Horgan and Mr. Ralston of a "premeditated campaign" to damage Mr. Wilson's reputation as part of a "political manoeuvre" to "eliminate Mr. Wilson from political opportunities in future. "The conduct was undertaken with reckless indifference to its legality and outcome."
"Potential employers are now aware that the plaintiff has been blacklisted by the defendant Horgan and defendant Ralston and effectively, the entirety of the government."
The claim also says Ms. Blaney repeated statements on social media she knew or ought to have known were false.
Mr. Wilson, a former professor of resource economics at what is now Capilano University, became leader of the BC Liberals in 1987 and led the party from zero to 17 seats in 1991. He eventually left the party and joined the NDP where he held cabinet posts including finance and education. However, he backed the BC Liberals in 2013, endorsing Ms. Clark's campaign that year.