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Conflict commish missed fact in refusal to probe premier's bank ties

B.C.'s Conflict of Interest Commissioner told Premier Christy Clark's chief-of-staff in a letter that he has no jurisdiction to investigate her over a 2007 contract with a subsidiary of RCI Capital Group.

But Paul Fraser omitted a key fact about Clark's political career that could have allowed him to launch such a probe.

Fraser's letter to Dan Doyle was in reaction to an April 10 National Post story revealing Clark became non-executive chair of RCI Pacific Gateway Education Inc. in 2007 and her name remained connected to the company's corporate registration until it was dissolved for inactivity after she became premier in 2011.

Clark, who did not publicly disclose the RCI contract in her campaign bio, said she did no work for the company and was not obligated to tell the public because she exited politics in 2005. NDP leader Adrian Dix cast doubt on Clark's explanation in Question Period on April 10.

Wrote Fraser: "The supervisory disclosure jurisdiction given to me under the Act has only to do with the conduct of Members after their election to the Legislative Assembly. I have no jurisdiction to scrutinize their conduct prior to them becoming leaders. Whatever obligations they may have for their prior conduct remains entirely in the political realm."

The fourth paragraph of Fraser's letter said that the Members' Conflict of Interest Act defines a member as an MLA or a member of cabinet or both. While Fraser wrote that Clark officially became an MLA for the Vancouver-Point Grey riding on May 30, 2011, he failed to mention Clark was sworn-in as premier at a March 14, 2011 ceremony for the new cabinet in Government House in Victoria.

"Even if he had not made that error in that paragraph, there's a bigger problem," IntegrityBC executive director Dermod Travis said. "The conflict of interest act for members in B.C. has gone out of its way to make sure it doesn't find any conflicts of interest."

Fraser's letter relies heavily on unattributed, media-sourced quotes by Clark and RCI CEO John Park.

Clark's Sept. 27, 2007 contract with RCI PGEI came a month after she launched a weekly afternoon talk show on CKNW. Clark's position with RCI PGEI was touted in proposals to various universities across Canada, including Simon Fraser University, of which she attended but did not graduate.

"What an individual in the private sector does and what happens when they become part of an elected government, if they use their office in order to benefit past clients, there is a very real conflict of interest in that potentially and the act doesn't address it," Travis said.

The Fraser letter to Doyle was dated April 14, two days after Fraser's office told The Tyee in an email "if or when this issue is formally referred to this office, it will be dealt with. In the meantime, the Commissioner will have no further comment."

The Tyee had sought an answer from Fraser about whether he would recuse himself from the RCI file, as he did in November 2012 when former BC Liberal John van Dongen accused Clark of conflict of interest over the BC Rail privatization. After van Dongen learned that John Paul Fraser, Fraser's son, was a Clark-appointed assistant deputy minister, the complaint was referred to Saskatchewan-based, Northwest Territories conflict of interest commissioner Gerald Gerrand. Gerrand's April 2013 report found no wrongdoing.

Since Clark became premier, RCI executives have traveled with her on Asian trade missions and helped organize BC Liberal fundraisers and campaign events.

Last October, Clark appeared at a news conference in Vernon to promote a high tech tire gauge developed by the Park-chaired SST Wireless, which received undisclosed loans from the Southern Interior Development Initiative Trust. RCI lead director Stockwell Day, the former Conservative International Trade minister, appeared with Clark at a November news conference in Beijing for an RCI-brokered agreement to export B.C. wood pellet to China. Day appeared in Clark's 2013 campaign infomercial. RCI non-executive chairman John Reynolds, another former federal Conservative, co-chaired the annual premier's fundraising dinner in 2012.

Last December, Clark appointed then-RCI managing director Tenzin Dargyal Khangsar to chair the B.C. Multicultural Advisory Council.

Vancouver journalist Bob Mackin is a frequent contributor to The Tyee.

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