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Poole's Free Jet Ride Was No Gift: Campbell

NDP asks why premier hasn't cited Beijing trip on conflict disclosure forms.

By Andrew MacLeod 10 Mar 2009 | TheTyee.ca

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. You can reach him here.

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Poole and Campbell guarding the bling in Beijing.

Premier Gordon Campbell accepted a flight on a private jet to Beijing, China, for the Summer Olympics last August, but the NDP say the trip is missing from his public disclosure statement filed with the conflict of interest commissioner.

"I can't imagine how we could be into March and he hasn't done that," said John Horgan, the NDP MLA for Malahat-Juan de Fuca.

It was reported in September that Campbell and his wife Nancy had taken the trip with Jack Poole. The explanation from the premier's office at the time, and reconfirmed last week by a spokesperson for the premier, was that Poole paid.

Poole was going by private jet anyway, said Campbell's spokesperson, and had space for the premier. Having Campbell along didn't cost Poole anything extra, she said, and therefore wasn't deemed a gift by the conflict of interest commissioner.

If the flight was not a gift, the argument goes, there's no need to disclose it.

Poole is the chair of the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, and the chair of the Vancouver development company Concert Properties. Canaccord Capital chair, VANOC board member and B.C. Liberal donor Peter Brown was reportedly also on the flight.

While in Beijing, according to the premier's media gallery, Campbell was "cheering on Team Canada and promoting the upcoming 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in British Columbia."

Should be claimed: Horgan

"My sense is it's a gift," said Horgan. "If [Jack] Poole paid for it, it's a gift."

According to the Members' Conflict of Interest Act, members of the legislative assembly "must not accept a fee, gift or personal benefit... that is connected directly or indirectly with the performance of his or her duties of office."

If there are situations where a "gift or personal benefit" worth more than $250 is received as part of the "protocol or social obligations" that come with the job, then the member must file a disclosure statement with the conflict of interest commissioner, the act says.

Campbell's most recent disclosure statement, covering up to Oct. 8, 2008, makes no mention of the flight to Beijing.

Campbell checked via letter with conflict of interest commissioner Paul Fraser before taking the trip, the premier's spokesperson said, and was told it was fine to accept. The commissioner said it was a savings for taxpayers. Asked if that correspondence could be released, she said, "We have chosen not to."

An official in Fraser's office said any advice given to an MLA, including Campbell, would be confidential.

Other Liberals disclosed trips

"I would think the premier's office would want to release that [correspondence] to clear the air," said Horgan. Campbell should also commit the gift to a disclosure form, he said, so that people can know the value of what he received.

Campbell and Poole have known each other a long time, said Horgan. "You'd think an abundance of caution would rule the day." It seems obvious Campbell was offered the flight because of his position at the head of the government, he added. "That's not what most people do."

In contrast, Liberal MLA John Yap's statement notes he took a "trip to Beijing, China August 2008 courtesy of Infospec Holdings Corp New Asia Capital Investments Corp." It included his hotel, meals, "transfers" and events, it said, with a value estimated at $5,000.

While there, Yap was part of a "delegation of business representatives to promote trade and goodwill. Also to observe Beijing Olympics."

And another Liberal MLA, Harry Bloy, said he and his spouse went to China on a $7,500 trip paid for by the Across International Business Exchange. He also took a $4,500 trip to Korea donated by Tomorrow Consulting.

It's unclear, said Horgan, why the same standard of openness has not applied to Campbell.

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