VICTORIA - British Columbia's conflict of interest commissioner has stepped away from conducting a possible investigation into Premier Christy Clark's alleged actions around the sale of BC Rail, saying he too may be considered in a conflict.
Paul Fraser — citing unique family connections — issued a statement Tuesday saying Northwest Territories conflict commissioner Gerald Gerrand will now handle a request by Independent B.C. MLA John van Dongen to investigate allegations the former Liberal is making against Clark.
Last week, van Dongen asked Fraser to conduct a conflict probe focusing on Clark, but when he found out a day later Fraser has a son who works for the Liberal government, he asked Fraser to step aside.
Fraser's son, John Paul Fraser, is an assistant-deputy minister within the B.C. government and is a personal friend of the premier's.
Fraser's statement said he considered van Dongen's request over the weekend and decided that due to his unique family connections, he should hand over the investigation request to Gerrand, who served as Saskatchewan's conflict commissioner from 2000 to 2010.
"I have concluded that given the very unique circumstances here — circumstances in which there is a familial connection to a part of the history in which a conflict appears to be alleged, combined with the acute political controversy that the BC Rail file has occasioned in this Province — it is unfair for me to ask the members of the legislative assembly or the public to bear the uncertain burden of my continued involvement in Mr. van Dongen's request," said the statement.
The two-page statement said Fraser's only further involvement in the matter will be to make sure Gerrand has the resources and people available to conduct his duties independently and file his report to the speaker of the B.C. legislature.
Last week, van Dongen filed an official request with Fraser's office to conduct an investigation to determine if Clark was in a conflict of interest nine years ago when the Liberal government sold the Crown-owned B.C. Rail.
But van Dongen said on Friday when he learned that Fraser's son works for the Liberal government he wanted the conflict commissioner to step away from the investigation on the grounds of possible bias.
Van Dongen, who said earlier he's spent $100,000 of his own money preparing the conflict request he submitted to Fraser's office, said the public is entitled to have confidence in the integrity of the conflict-of-interest complaint process.
He said knowing that Fraser has a son who works for the government could result in a "basis for a reasonable apprehension of bias." But van Dongen, who sits in the legislature as an Independent after bolting from both the Liberals and Conservatives earlier this year, said he is not alleging Fraser is guilty of bias.
In a statement, van Dongen said he welcomes Fraser's decision.
"I expressed my concerns, he has reflected on them and he has made the right decision," said van Dongen's statement. “'I agree with the Commissioner that the work of his office is ‘important to… the maintenance of the ethical fibre of the legislative assembly.'"
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.
Van Dongen's investigation request alleges Clark contravened the Members' Conflict of Interest Act. He asks the conflict commissioner to investigate her activities related to the B.C. Rail file.
Van Dongen's Nov. 7 letter to the commissioner suggested that while Clark made known she was taking action to avoid a potential for a conflict of interest in relation to B.C. Rail on some occasions, there were instances where she did not.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version said Fraser's son works in the premier's office.