Premier Christy Clark has a problem on her hands – his name is Pat Pimm.
Mr. Pimm is the Minister of Agriculture and the central figure in a growing controversy involving a large tract of land in his riding of Peace River North. On the basis of the facts made public to this point, it would seem Mr. Pimm has demonstrated judgment that casts serious doubt on his suitability for cabinet.
Here is what we know.
A constituent of Mr. Pimm's named Terry McLeod applied to have a 70-hectare piece of land removed from the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) so he could build a rodeo park, with seating for up to 3,000 people. According to standards established by the reserve, the land is rated as having high agricultural value.
The Agricultural Land Commission, the independent arbiter of applications to have land removed from the reserve, initially rejected Mr. McLeod's bid on the grounds it could find no evidence that the site was the only suitable location in Fort St. John on which to build such a project. Mr. McLeod let it be known that he planned to appeal the decision. In anticipation of that petition, members of the commission visited the site of the proposed rodeo late last May.
It was there that they were met by Mr. Pimm, recently re-elected as the MLA for the area. Mr. Pimm impressed upon the commission members his desire to see the land removed from the ALR. He followed this up with a couple of letters that reiterated his position in support of Mr. McLeod's application.
Mr. McLeod formally notified the commission of his decision to appeal its ruling on June 6, coincidentally the day before Mr. Pimm was announced as Ms. Clark's new minister of agriculture. But even Mr. Pimm's elevation to cabinet into a position responsible for the land commission itself was not enough to stop the minister's requests on his constituent's behalf. A staff member in the minister's office twice contacted the commission inquiring into the status of Mr. McLeod's application.
Soon after, the commission rendered its verdict, upholding its initial decision.
Here is the problem: The commission is an independent, quasi-judicial body. The last thing a government MLA should be seen to be doing is trying to politically influence a pending decision of such a group – a fact the commission verbalized in an unusual public reproof that it issued in August. Worse is the fact that this type of inappropriate interference would be carried out by a member of cabinet – one responsible for the body he's perceived to be trying to influence.
The commission articulated this view on its website: "Whenever an elected person with political power attempts to influence the outcome of a court or tribunal decision, there is a reasonable perception that the elected person has been brought in from the outside precisely to use their power to influence the outcome of a dispute that is supposed to be decided on the evidence and the judgment of the decision maker."
The commission is absolutely right. Mr. Pimm demonstrated exceedingly poor judgment first as an MLA, but then, more seriously, as a cabinet minister. What's more disturbing about all this is the recent revelation by my colleague Mark Hume that Mr. Pimm has been drafting a cabinet proposal to drastically reduce the powers of the very land commission that thwarted the application of his constituent and ruled against his own wishes.
The story doesn't appear to be over. In a remarkable interview with Mr. Hume, Mr. McLeod confirmed that he's built the rodeo anyway, so confident is he that the land will eventually be removed from the ALR. What does that say?
Mr. Pimm's response to concerns raised about his conduct in this affair is not reassuring. He said he was advocating on behalf of a constituent and a project he believes will be good for the community. As for the entreaties made by his ministry office staff, Mr. Pimm said he was merely inquiring about the timeline of the decision. That, to me, does not sound like someone who has even the foggiest notion of what constitutes appropriate behaviour for an MLA and minister of the Crown.
If Ms. Clark is serious about her pledge to have an open and transparent government – one that abides by the highest standards of ethical conduct – then she will ask Mr. Pimm to temporarily step aside until his involvement in this matter can be properly investigated.