A proposed new marina for mega-yachts in Victoria's harbour hasn't been built yet - and may never be - but there are already a lot of oars in the water.
So many, in fact, that opponents of the plan are wondering whether the project is being handled in a fair and transparent manner.
Consider, for example, the involvement of two top Conservative ministers from British Columbia who have conflicting views on the sanctity of the federal government's review process.
Last March 19, Stockwell Day, Minister of International Trade and Senior Regional Minister for B.C., wrote to John Baird, Minister of Transportation, to express unbridled support for the Victoria International Marina proposal.
"In these difficult economic times we should be assisting local businesses wherever we can. This project continues to be a potential economic generator and will no doubt mean more jobs to the local area once operational. I ask that you help make this proposal a reality as soon as possible," he stated.
Contrast that with the views of Gary Lunn, the Minister of State for Sport and the MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands, who on Oct. 13 wrote to Roger Patterson, a critic of the proposed project.
"I am given to understand that in this instance Transport Canada must review the plan under the Navigable Waters Protection Act. It would be inappropriate for me, as a Member of Parliament to politically interfere with this process," stated Mr. Lunn.
These letters and other documents, released by the Environmental Law Centre at the University of Victoria, have raised an obvious question. Why is it "inappropriate" for Mr. Lunn to interfere in the process, but okay for Mr. Day?
Perhaps the answer is that Mr. Lunn is sensitive to criticism because of his close ties to the developer.
Mr. Lunn's fundraising chair is Bob Evans, vice-president of Community Marine Concepts, which is jointly pursuing the marina with WAM Development Group.
Mr. Lunn's riding president is Jo-Anne Bilodeau, whose brother is Conservative Environment Minister Jim Prentice. (Opponents of the marina asked Mr. Prentice to order an environmental assessment by an independent review panel, but he refused.)
And Mr. Lunn's campaign manager in 2008 was Bruce Hallsor, a Victoria lawyer and federally registered lobbyist for WAM Development.
Last year, Mr. Hallsor discussed the marina with Lawrence Cannon, who was then transportation minister. Although he is not registered as a provincial lobbyist, he also met with Stan Hagen, when he was B.C. tourism minister.
In a letter to Mr. Hallsor, Mr. Hagen states: "At our meeting on January 23, 2007, you outlined a proposal for a high-end marina capable of berthing 80-foot to 120-foot yachts. … We support [these]plans to initiate tourism activity in the Victoria harbour, and look forward to hearing more about these exciting developments."
Mr. Hallsor, together with Mr. Evans, also met in 2007 with B.C. Finance Minister Colin Hansen, which raised some concerns among ministry staff.
"I understand that Hon. Stan Hagen, Minister of Tourism Sports & the Arts, sent a letter of support to the proponents," Todd Bailey, an official, wrote in an e-mail to a colleague. "Perhaps I am reading this meeting wrong, but I suspect that Community Marine Concepts will likely be seeking a letter of support from our Minister as well."
Then Mr. Bailey asked this question: "Is it normal for proponents to 'shop around' their project to Ministers during an ILMB process? … Call me so we can discuss."
ILMB stands for Integrated Land Management Bureau, and the note was expressing concerns that the minister was being lobbied when the project was under provincial review.
Given his links to the proponents, Mr. Lunn was correct to avoid interfering politically in the process. But he has raised suspicions by failing in his letter to mention his ties to the proponent, and by communicating on Sept. 30 with Mr. Hallsor, the WAM lobbyist. Federal records state: "Subject matter of the communication - sports."
The communication may well have been about the impact the marina would have on rowing and kayaking in Victoria harbour. But when a minister gets lobbied by his own campaign manager, who is acting for his fundraiser, it certainly looks bad. No wonder opponents of the marina are questioning the government's objectivity on this issue.