Premier Christy Clark cut marital ties with Mark Marissen years ago, but now that he's representing a company that wants to build a $10-billion oil refinery in British Columbia, she's gone a step further.
After consulting the conflict of interest commissioner, Ms. Clark announced she would no longer have anything to do with government deliberations on any oil refineries in B.C. Not the one proposed by Pacific Future Energy Corp., with which her ex is involved, nor the project it would rival, a two-year-old proposal by newspaper publisher David Black to build a $13-billion refinery in Kitimat.
"This morning it was announced that my ex-husband is joining a company that is proposing an oil refinery in our province and he's joining it as a senior communications executive," Ms. Clark said at a press conference.
"Now, anyone who has an ex-spouse knows that your ex has the right to manage their life and career as they see fit and I certainly have no business ties, or financial ties, with my ex-husband, but we do have a child together and we share that responsibility," she said.
"As Premier of our province, though, I also have another responsibility and that is to every single British Columbian … to maintain the highest standard of integrity. … So out of an abundance of caution, I've decided to take action today to ensure that there is no conflict, whether that is perceived or real."
Ms. Clark, who shares joint custody of 12-year-old Hamish Marissen-Clark with her former husband, said she's signed a directive documenting the recusal and delegation actions she is taking regarding oil refineries.
"To start with I'm going to recuse myself from any matter involving this company and their proposed refinery. But I've also decided to go further. And that's to take the additional step of recusing myself not just from this particular proposal, but also from any discussions or any decisions in government regarding any oil refineries in B.C.," she said.
Asked if she would also avoid government discussions regarding the transportation of oil by pipeline or rail, Ms. Clark indicated she wasn't going that far, but will consult further with the conflict commissioner if any issues arise.
Her decision was prompted by a press release in which Pacific Future Energy announced its plans to build an oil-sands refinery either in Kitimat or farther north at Prince Rupert.
Mr. Marissen, who separated from Ms. Clark in 2009, could not be reached for comment.
The Pacific Future Energy announcement, which said a prefeasibility study of economic, social and environmental aspects has begun, comes just days before the federal cabinet is expected to announce a decision on a proposal by Enbridge Inc. to build a pipeline from Alberta to a tanker loading facility at Kitimat.
The pipeline has been strenuously opposed by First Nations who say they fear heavy oil being spilled into salmon rivers or in the marine environment on the West Coast.
Art Sterritt, executive director of Coastal First Nations, said he doubts the Pacific Future Energy project will get built.
"It's got about as much chance as the Calvin Helin thing, which is about zero," he said, referring to a proposal by Mr. Helin's Eagle Spirit Energy Holdings, which is trying to gain First Nations backing for a pipeline.
Mr. Sterritt said the two proposed oil refineries and the two proposed pipelines all have one thing in common – they need heavy oil, which First Nations don't want to see transported across the province.
"I think they are dreaming in spades," he said of the proponents. "The non-starter is the product in the pipeline."
But Jeffrey Copenace, head of aboriginal relations for Pacific Future Energy, said he hopes to win support from First Nations in B.C.
"Our hope is for a full partnership, to include them in decisions right from the beginning," said Mr. Copenace, who used to be deputy chief of staff to former Assembly of First Nations chief Shawn Atleo.
Mr. Copenace said the refinery would be built to high environmental standards and could be supplied with oil by rail rather than by pipeline.