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Committee chair raps BC conflict commissioner over budget

By the time the legislature's finance and government services committee was done with Paul Fraser yesterday, they had the province's new Conflict of Interest Commissioner in apology mode.

“I take your point,” said Fraser, who started in the position on January 1. “On balance it would have been more responsible of me to come and say 'this is what we're proposing to do and this is what it's going to cost.' . . . The most difficult thing a committee like this faces is people who decide to freelance.”

At issue was the grand sum of $15,000 that Fraser had spent to lease an office in Surrey. The idea was to be able to meet Lower Mainland MLAs closer to where they live and save on travel expenses.

The committee chair, Liberal MLA for Maple Ridge-Mission, Randy Hawes, led the attack, reminding Fraser the committee provides the only oversight for his office and those of the other independent officers of the legislature. Fraser, who took over from H.A.D. Oliver, was the second of the independent officers to bring their budget requests to the committee.

“I don't feel particularly good about the Surrey office,” said Hawes. If there are savings, they should be demonstrated in the budget proposal, he said. “If we don't see the savings, I'm not sure I'm very comfortable with it.” The amount of money is small, he said, but it is a significant portion of Fraser's budget and all the officers should be held to the same standard.

Fraser said, “I thought we'd be able to handle the Surrey office within the existing budget.”

The office had a budget of $384,000 last year, but spent $420,000. Much of the overspending was related to salary and benefit increases that were higher than expected. This year he is asking for $440,000.

It will be interesting to see whether the man with the potentially career-ending role of ruling on whether or not MLAs are in conflict of interest gets what he wants.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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