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BC conflict commissioner won't hear Clark complaint

Acknowledging there could be a perception he's biased, British Columbia's conflict of interest commissioner has removed himself from hearing a complaint about Premier Christy Clark.

"My initial public comments emphasized my ability to undertake this matter without any lack of impartiality in fact," Paul Fraser said in a statement. "I stand by that. However, I have given further and considerable thought to the perception issue."

Indpendent MLA John van Dongen had asked for an opinion from Fraser about Clark's conduct related to the BC Rail file while she was in former premier Gordon Campbell's cabinet. Clark, whose then husband Mark Marissen was a consultant to the company overseeing the privatization, had cited a conflict and recused herself from cabinet's final decision and a legislature vote on the deal, but not from earlier discussions, he charged in his complaint to Fraser.

But after learning that Fraser's son John Paul Fraser works in Clark's government as an assistant deputy minister responsible for strategic planning and public engagement, van Dongen said there was a "reasonable apprehension of bias" and that he lacked confidence in Fraser to investigate the complaint against Clark.

[Editor's note: For more on this story, read Bill Tieleman's opinion column today on The Tyee.]

John Paul Fraser also formerly worked for Marissen.

"I have concluded that given the very unique circumstances here – circumstances in which there is a familial connection to a part of the history in which a conflict appears to be alleged, combined with the acute political controversy that the 'BC Rail' file has occasioned in this Province – it is unfair for me to ask the Members of the Legislative Assembly or the public to bear the uncertain burden of my continued involvement in Mr. van Dongen's request," commissioner Fraser said in his statement.

He has retained Gerald Gerrand, the Northwest Territories' conflict of interest commissioner, having formerly served a decade as Saskatchewan's, to deal with van Dongen's complaint.

"As of today, the only further involvement I will have in this matter will be (a) to ensure that Mr. Gerrand has the resources and personnel available to assist him in addressing this matter independently, and (b) pursuant to the Act, to ultimately transmit to the Speaker Mr. Gerrand’s opinion, without any amendment or comment," Fraser wrote.

Fraser had previously issued two opinions on Clark's conduct, in both cases finding she had acted appropriately. On May 10, 2011, he said he could find no evidence that Clark had used government resources such as funding announcements to bolster her by-election campaign. And on June 14, 2011, he found Clark had acted appropriately in accepting tickets to Stanley Cup final games.

Fraser's son John Paul Fraser began working for the government in April, 2011.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

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