The B.C. Liberal Party's new candidate in a Vancouver riding was once the legal representative of a company controlled by controversial Chinese businessman Ni Ritao, whose broken promises regarding plans to restart a shuttered pulp mill in Prince Rupert have cost the city more than $3.5-million in legal and maintenance fees.
Andrew Wilkinson, who won the nomination for the riding of Vancouver-Quilchena on Sunday, also appears to have had significant dealings with Sun Wave Forest Products, a company controlled by Mr. Ni, when Mr. Wilkinson served as deputy minister for the Ministry of Economic Development between 2003 and 2006, according to documents obtained by The Globe and Mail.
Mr. Ni is being investigated by authorities in China for his role in an alleged bank-loan fraud involving the Skeena Cellulose pulp mill on Watson Island in Prince Rupert. China's top energy ministry official, Liu Tienan, is also under investigation for his alleged involvement in the deepening scandal related to the mill, which Mr. Ni purchased in 2006 for about $9-million. Mr. Ni had promised to restart the mill and return hundreds of lost jobs, but he never did and the city took back the property in 2010 for unpaid taxes.
As a lawyer with McCarthy Tétrault, Mr. Wilkinson was the lead counsel acting for Sun Wave in a suit filed against the City of Prince Rupert in February, 2010.
Mr. Wilkinson acted as a lawyer on the matter until March 27, 2012, when Bill Belsey, the vice-president of the B.C. Liberal Party and an employee of Sun Wave, assumed responsibility for the case, according to documents filed in court.
The lawsuit, and others filed on behalf of Sun Wave, have stymied efforts by the City of Prince Rupert to bring an end to a sad chapter in its economic history that is costing the cash-strapped municipality about $250,000 a year in legal bills and as much as $100,000 a month to maintain the mill site. Sun Wave's ongoing litigation against the city has prevented Prince Rupert from selling the land on Watson Island to a consortium of buyers who have said they would help with funding the environmental clean-up costs associated with the mill.
"I wouldn't wish this set of circumstances on any community," Prince Rupert's Mayor Jack Mussallem said in an interview. The mayor said he has repeatedly requested a meeting with Premier Christy Clark for help with the matter but has been rebuffed.
"I'm wondering what kind of leadership we have," he said.
In an interview, Mr. Wilkinson said he had met Mr. Ni in the past, but couldn't recall when, where or how many times. He said the lawsuit in which he acted for Sun Wave was related to the equipment on the pulp mill site. "There was one lawsuit where I was involved dealing with equipment. That is it," he said.
Mr. Wilkinson served as president of the B.C. Liberal Party between 1999 and 2001 when he joined the the newly elected Liberal government. In 2003, he became the deputy minister for the Ministry of Economic Development. When asked if he had any dealings with Sun Wave in this role, Mr. Wilkinson said, "No. No I think there was a small issue that came up with some environmental liabilities but nothing of any significance I remember."
However, a five-page letter written by Mr. Wilkinson to the president of Sun Wave in July, 2005, suggests he dealt with and provided information to the company on a number of topics including property taxes, forestry matters, immigration questions and environmental issues related to Sun Wave's plans to purchase the pulp mill.
"The government of British Columbia welcomes your ideas for restarting the Prince Rupert pulp mill, and we will do our best to provide you with clear answers to your various questions," Mr. Wilkinson said in the letter in which he indicated to Sun Wave that his ministry hoped "to be ready for a submission to Treasury Board and Cabinet in early September."
Mr. Wilkinson is just the latest B.C. Liberal to be linked to Mr. Ni and Sun Wave. In 2011, Jobs Minister Pat Bell forwarded an internal government e-mail discussing fraud allegations published in China against Mr. Ni to Mr. Belsey, the vice-president of the B.C. Liberal Party, who also works for Mr. Ni and appears to have lobbied on behalf of Sun Wave. Mr. Belsey, a former MLA, is now being investigated by a provincial watchdog for failing to register as a lobbyist.
According to Elections BC, Sun Wave and another company related to Mr. Ni donated $14,696 to the B.C. Liberal Party or election candidates between 2005 and 2007.