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Commissioner's Role in Clark's Conflict Review Questioned

Conflict commissioner has already acknowledged son's ties to Premier create 'perception' of bias.

By Bob Mackin 9 Apr 2016 | TheTyee.ca

North Vancouver-based journalist Bob Mackin has reported for local, regional, national and international media outlets since he began as a journalist in 1990.

A conflict of interest review of Christy Clark's private meetings with people in return for big donations to the BC Liberals has run into potential problems before it has even started.

Conflict of Interest Commissioner Paul Fraser agreed Thursday to investigate Clark's practice of holding private dinners or meetings with people in return for donations of up to $20,000 to the party.

But in 2012, Fraser stepped aside from a review of allegations against Clark, acknowledging that his son's senior role in the Liberal government and ties to the Premier could create the ''perception'' of a conflict of interest.

Fraser confirmed the review of Clark's role in party fundraisers after Democracy Watch co-founder Duff Conacher and NDP MLA David Eby filed separate complaints to the commissioner. They were reacting to Globe and Mail reports that BC Liberal donors have been paying between $5,000 and $20,000 to attend private dinners and other events with the Premier.

Eby claimed Clark's meetings with big donors violated the Members' Conflict of Interest Act and she should be required to recuse herself from decisions that could be seen as benefitting anyone who paid to attend the events.

The 2012 complaint came from then-Independent MLA John van Dongen, a former Liberal. He alleged Clark had violated conflict laws in connection with the sale of BC Rail.

But the decision -- which cleared Clark -- didn't come from Fraser.

Van Dongen filed a second complaint that said he lacked confidence in Fraser's ability to investigate the complaint without the perception of bias.

Fraser's son John Paul Fraser is the deputy minister of government communications and public engagement and was paid $193,831 last year. He has known Clark for more than 25 years, worked with her former husband's company, and volunteered on her successful 2011 leadership campaign.

In response to van Dongen's concerns, Fraser said he was confident he could review the allegations impartially, but after considering the ''perception issue,'' decided to refer the review to Gerald Gerrand, the Northwest Territories conflict of interest commissioner.

Dermod Travis of Integrity BC, which describes itself as a non-partisan political advocacy group, said Fraser should also recuse himself from the review of Clark's fundraising activities.

''He should not be undertaking any investigation that involves the Premier's office because of the appearance of conflict of interest,'' Travis said. ''Nothing has changed that gets around that particular issue for him.''

Eby said he will be writing Fraser to ask if someone else should be dealing with the complaint.

In an interview, Fraser confirmed he was investigating the complaints but would make no further comment.

Fifth conflict probe for Clark

The latest review will be the fifth conflict investigation for Clark, who was cleared in the first four.

Fraser was paid $201,204 as commissioner last year. His 2014 annual report, the most recent published, showed his five-person office spent $537,350 of its $567,000 budget.

Earlier this week, Independent MLA Vicki Huntington tabled a bill seeking a $1,500-a-year cap on political donations. NDP leader John Horgan's bill sought a ban on corporate and union donations.

Neither will pass. Finance Minister Mike de Jong said B.C. would not follow Ontario, Alberta, and the federal government in setting donation limits.  [Tyee]

Read more: BC Politics

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