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Conflict commissioner heeds van Dongen's call to step aside

Abbotsford South MLA John van Dongen. - News file photo
Abbotsford South MLA John van Dongen.
— image credit: News file photo

Conflict of interest commissioner Paul Fraser has bowed to John van Dongen's call to have someone else investigate Premier Christy Clark's involvement in the BC Rail sale.

On Friday, the independent MLA for Abbotsford South held a press conference to express his desire for Fraser to remove himself from the investigation. He noted the commissioner's son John Paul Fraser works for the government as the assistant deputy minister for strategic planning and public engagement at the government’s public affairs bureau.

Van Dongen said he learned this in a confidential phone call that left him stunned, and was also informed that the younger Fraser had known Clark for more than 20 years, had volunteered on her successful leadership campaign, and had been employed by Mark Marissen, Clark's former husband, at Burrard Communications.

Fraser has stepped aside, and Gerald Gerrard, the conflict commissioner for the Northwest Territories, will investigate the matter.

Last month, van Dongen gave the commissioner a 23-page letter and a binder of 43 supporting documents outlining why he believes Clark should be investigated for conflict of interest.

"The body of work that is represented in my submission involved many months of research on my part, and substantial expense for related legal advice, which I paid out of my own pocket," he said in a press release.

He said he has never been informed what the process would be for handling his request for an investigation. Other than a written acknowledgement, he has had no communication from the commissioner himself since some time before Oct. 18, he said.

"The integrity of our conflict of interest system depends on public confidence in the system’s impartiality," said van Dongen in a press release that urged Fraser to step aside. "To paraphrase a well-known legal principle which applies not only to judges but to all administrative decision-makers including the conflict of interest commissioner, justice must not only be done, but must manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done."

He stressed he is not alleging the commissioner is guilty of actual bias, but "simply saying that there is a basis for a reasonable apprehension of bias."

Van Dongen also said he was troubled by the commissioner’s failure to disclose these facts to him, or seek his input as to whether he considered they raised a reasonable apprehension of bias, he added.

Clark was the education minister and deputy premier in 2003 when the sale of B.C. Rail to CN Rail occurred, touching off a series of events that saw the police raid the legislature and two Liberal government aides plead guilty to corruption-related charges.

She said earlier she will co-operate fully with an investigation if one proceeds.

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