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Lobbyist fine upheld for former BC Liberal MLA

B.C.'s lobbying watchdog has upheld a $1,200 fine against a former BC Liberal MLA connected to a controversial Chinese businessman.

Bill Belsey was found June 4 to have broken two sections of the Lobbyists Registration Act. He applied for a reconsideration, but Deputy Registrar Jay Fedorak's decision was upheld Aug. 6 by Registrar of Lobbyists Elizabeth Denham.

Fedorak ruled that Belsey failed to notify the Office of the Registrar of Lobbyists within 10 days of agreeing to lobby on behalf of the Gitxaala Nation and he failed to inform the office of the date he completed or ended his assignment for the Kitkatla-based band.

Belsey has until Sept. 18 to pay the fine, a $600 administrative penalty per offence. His penalty is far below the maximum $5,000 for a first contravention.

Belsey was elected to represent North Coast in 2001 but lost in the 2005 election to Gary Coons of the NDP. A Nov. 7, 2012 Globe and Mail story about Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training Minister Pat Bell forwarding internal government emails to Belsey led to the investigation.

Belsey, a BC Liberal vice-president at the time, received correspondence about fraud allegations against his employer, Ni Ritao. Ritao's Sun Wave Forest Products bought the shuttered Skeena Cellulose pulp mill in Prince Rupert in 2005 and later became involved in a tax dispute with the municipality over the property.

An ORL staff member saw the story and found that Belsey was actually not registered to lobby. He eventually did register on Nov. 20, 2012 on behalf of Gitxaala, for the period of Nov. 1, 2012 to Nov. 19, 2013. An automated system alert that Belsey was non-compliant spurred the investigation.

"Almost two weeks after the media report was published, Mr. Belsey registered his undertaking to lobby with a start date of Nov. 1, 2012," Denham wrote. "While there is some discrepancy in the evidence from the lobbyist and from his client as to when he began lobbying, both dates result in a contravention. I agree with the Deputy Registrar that being aware of the legal obligation to register yet failing to do so in a timely manner is a serious omission."

Belsey responded to ORL on Feb. 6, 2013 and provided a March 9, 2012 letter that outlined his services to his client, including arranging meetings with government officials. He provided details of a Nov. 15, 2012 meeting with public office holders, but they were not identified by Denham.

In February 2013, ORL contacted several public office holders that Belsey listed as target contacts. The report said two stated they met with him in November 2012, but a third said a December 2012 meeting did not take place because of scheduling difficulties.

Belsey listed six target contacts on his registration: Premier Christy Clark, Aboriginal Relations Minister Ida Chong, Energy and Mines Minister Rich Coleman, Environment Minister Terry Lake, Forests Minister Steve Thomson and Thomson's Parliamentary Secretary John Rustad.

The registration said Gitxaala was "concerned with wind farm development, (land and resource management program) compensation, forestry issues and LNG tanker traffic" through its territory.

Belsey claimed on Feb. 25, 2013 that there was never an undertaking or agreement for his services. Denham quoted from Belsey's letter, in which he said: "Parts of the offer were undertaken, but at no time did I lobby (sic) any government official and there was no communication with any public office on behalf of the Gitxaala Band."

Belsey said the offer of his services expired in August 2012 and that the Gitxaala asked him in November 2012 to lobby for them, at which time he registered. A representative of the Gitxaala, who was not named in Denham's decision, told ORL on Feb. 14, 2014 that Belsey agreed to lobby for them during the week prior to Oct. 1, 2012.

"I am in agreement with the deputy registrar regarding the importance of general deterrence and the reminder to all lobbyists to be diligent in complying with their legal obligations to register when required and update their registrations ad required in a timely fashion," Denham wrote.

Belsey was also registered to lobby for Sun Wave from Dec. 1, 2012 to Dec. 1, 2013 and the target contacts were Bell, Lake, Thomson, and Burnaby-North MLA Richard Lee for the purpose of discussing "environmental, permitting and economic development issues related to Watson Island on behalf of Sun Wave Investments."

North Vancouver based journalist Bob Mackin is a frequent contributor to the Tyee.

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