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Clark ready to put a fork in rail conflict

The BC premier has pledged to fully co-operate should a conflict of interest probe be launched into her role in the controversial BC Rail sale.

"I'm glad in many ways that this issue was put before him," Christy Clark told reporters Thursday, referring to Commissioner Paul Fraser. "Because we will finally, once and for all, be able to put a fork in this."

Questions have dogged the premier over the nine years since she served as education minister and deputy premier when the railway was up for sale in a process that ultimately ended in scandal.

Independent MLA John van Dongen has again brought the issue to the fore this week by asking the Office of The Conflict of Interest Commissioner to investigate. Van Dongen has supplied the office with a 20-page brief and large binder of documents he compiled on his own accord.

"Everything I'm doing is in good faith and I believe it's part of my responsibility and my duty," he said in an interview.

"I have knowledge and concerns and that's what I'm doing, I'm raising them in good faith. I'm conscious of my duties from all perspectives as an MLA."

Van Dongen resigned both as a Liberal and a Conservative and now sits as an independent.

Clark said she thinks it's time the issue be settled with a final opinion from the conflict commissioner.

"A reputation is really one of the most important things that you have," she said. "The fact that all this supposition and all these rumours exist really only serves to undermine people's confidence."

Van Dongen is alleging that Clark contravened the provincial Conflict of Interest Act, and is asking the commission to investigate certain activities she engaged in with relation to the BC Rail file.

He refused to say exactly what be believes the conflict of interest might be, instead saying his documentation represents "reasonable and probable grounds."

His letter to the commissioner suggests that while Clark made known she was taking action to avoid a potential for a conflict of interest in relation to BC Rail on some occasions, there were instances where she did not.

The documents show Clark withdrew from a cabinet meeting about BC Rail on Nov. 19, 2003, the date it approved a successful bidder. She also left the legislature on Dec. 2, 2003, before the third reading of a bill on BC Rail.

According to the Hansard transcript, Clark received advice from the conflict of interest commissioner at the time, who advised her to excuse herself "out of an abundance of caution."

Van Dongen said the conflict of interest protocol applies to "not just decisions, but also participation in discussion."

"If you look at the body of evidence put forward in the binder (of documents), it will raise questions about the high probability of her being involved in other cabinet meetings involving this issue," he said.

Clark's brother is Bruce Clark, who is noted in the agreed statement of facts signed when two former aides pleaded guilty to corruption charges in relation to the scandal.

RCMP seized a number of document's from Bruce Clark's office and residence, which were disclosed to him by aides Dave Basi and Bobbi Virk over the year preceding the sale.

The provincial government cancelled the bidding process in March 2004 after learning confidential information about the bidding had been disclosed.

A criminal trial of Basi and Virk that began in summer 2010 ended abruptly the following October when the pair pleaded in exchange for government's payment of their $6 million legal fees. Their nearly two-year house arrest sentences concluded last month.

The Canadian Press


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