UPDATE: Challenging candidate raps van Dongen over conflict inquiry

Abbotsford MLA John van Dongen not satisfied with decision on Premier Clark

  • Apr. 11, 2013 8:00 a.m.
Darryl Plecas

Darryl Plecas

Liberal candidate Darryl Plecas is taking independent Abbotsford South MLA John van Dongen to task in the wake of the report of the BC Conflict of Interest Commissioner which cleared Premier Christy Clark of any wrongdoing in the sale of BC Rail.

Plecas, Liberal candidate for Abbotsford South, said in a press release Friday, “It is one thing to raise concerns and ask for an investigation, that’s appropriate. What’s not appropriate is—before that investigation has finished—to continually attempt to trash somebody’s reputation for nothing more than political gain.”

For two years, said Plecas, Clark endured untruths and baseless questions about her conduct and character.

“The commissioner has delivered a full and thorough review that unequivocally clears the air on the fact that the premier exercised an abundance of caution, and acted with absolute propriety.”

Yet, said Plecas, despite the thorough and detailed 40-page report produced by investigator Gerald Gerrand, van Dongen still won’t accept it.

“The investigation says Ms. Clark acted properly, out of an abundance of caution, in excusing herself from several cabinet meetings and from a debate in the House concerning BC Rail.

“But van Dongen immediately said: ‘In terms of the outcome, I can’t say that I’m satisfied.’

John van Dongen

Van Dongen made the complaint after he quit the B.C. Liberal Party last year.

In a 40-page decision released Wednesday, Gerrand found that Clark had no way to benefit personally from the sale, and that her decision to absent herself from 2003 cabinet discussions did not demonstrate a real or perceived conflict of interest.

Van Dongen called it a fairly major decision which raised some new information that he would like to review.

“In terms of the outcome, I can’t say that I’m satisfied,” said van Dongen.

He said the report does not deal with all of the issues he raised.

“The scope of the conflict of interest legislation is narrow, so we knew there was some risk of this kind of an outcome.”

But he did not say whether he was planning to pursue the matter, at least in the near future.

“I’m not sure in terms of where we go from here. We’re on the doorstep of an election and I think that the electorate, the voters themselves, will decide. They will render their own verdict on Christy Clark’s leadership.”

Clark said Wednesday she is relieved that the report is out, putting to rest what she described as “rumours, gossip and nasty untruths” about her conduct as education minister a decade ago.

“It’s cleared the air on this,” Clark said. “For me it’s proof that anybody can say anything, and it doesn’t have to be true for it to be hurtful, and it doesn’t have to be true for it to be reported again and again and again.”

Gerrand was harshly critical of some of van Dongen’s accusations, noting that they arose nine years after cabinet meetings that van Dongen attended as agriculture minister.

Van Dongen’s complaints about Clark’s dealings with a lobbying firm representing one of the bidders for BC Rail are “replete with suspicion and innuendo,” Gerrand wrote.

One of the accusations was that Clark may have been a source of confidential information that was passed to the bidder, U.S.-based OmniTRAX. The leaked information was central to the case against two former ministerial assistants in the B.C. government, Dave Basi and Bobby Virk.

Basi and Virk eventually pleaded guilty to breach of trust and accepting benefits for their role in the case, admitting to providing confidential bid information to OmniTRAX in exchange for money and a trip to Denver to take in a football game.

Garrand was appointed by B.C. Conflict of Interest Commissioner Paul Fraser, who excluded himself from the case because Fraser’s son works in Clark’s office. Garrand interviewed a long list of players in the BC Rail controversy, including Clark’s former husband Mark Marrissen and Erik Bornmann, a lobbyist with Pilothouse Public Affairs, which represented OmniTRAX.

Garrand, who serves as conflict of interest commissioner for the Northwest Territories, took evidence under oath in his inquiry. Its findings offer a preview of a commission of inquiry into the sale of the railway that NDP leader Adrian Dix has pledged to hold if he wins the May 14 provincial election.