British Columbia

Conflict of interest allegations against Premier Christy Clark heading to B.C. Supreme Court

Two rulings clearing British Columbia Premier Christy Clark of conflict of interest allegations are now being challenged in B.C. Supreme Court by a citizen advocacy group.

Commissioner Paul Fraser cleared the premier earlier this year but decision being challenged

A non-profit government watchdog has filed a petition in B.C. Supreme Court asking for a review of rulings clearing Premier Christy Clark of conflict of interest. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

Two rulings clearing British Columbia Premier Christy Clark of conflict of interest allegations are now being challenged in B.C. Supreme Court by a citizen advocacy group.

Ottawa-based Democracy Watch has petitioned the court to set aside rulings last May and August by provincial conflict of interest commissioner Paul Fraser.

They cleared Clark of conflict allegations connected to her attendance at high-priced, exclusive B.C. Liberal party fundraising events.

The petition filed Tuesday in Vancouver also asked the court to find Fraser should not have ruled on the complaints because his son works as a deputy minister for the provincial government.

It said John Fraser "has personal ties to the premier. It is reasonable to suggest that the close family connection to senior members of the B.C. Liberal party, including Premier Clark, is a factor indicating a reasonable apprehension of bias."

The petition also said the conflict commissioner recused himself in 2012 from a separate conflict complaint against Clark by a former Liberal member of the legislature on grounds his son's senior government role could be viewed as creating a perception of conflict.

Fraser, citing unique family connections in 2012, said in a letter he was asking the conflict commissioner for the Northwest Territories to complete the review.

The petition filed Tuesday seeks an order to quash and set aside Fraser's May 4 and Aug. 9 rulings on conflict allegations about Clark's fundraising appearances. It also asked to send the complaints "to a substitute decision maker for reconsideration."

Fraser said Wednesday he has not yet seen the court petition. He said he will consider his next steps, which include responding to the court document, once he has time to study it.

He said Opposition New Democrat MLA David Eby, who filed the original conflict complaint against Clark, has publicly stated his confidence in Fraser conducting the review.

However, Eby said that didn't indicate an acceptance of Clark's fundraising philosophy. 

"I remain worried that my filing of the complaint might have been seen by the premier as some sort of vindication of her behaviour," he said. 

Democracy Watch wants previous decisions overruled

Fraser ruled last May that Clark's appearances at exclusive B.C. Liberal party fundraisers, where guests paid up to $20,000 to attend, did not constitute a conflict of interest because she did not receive a personal benefit.

Fraser said in his August ruling on separate conflict complaints, filed by Eby and Democracy Watch co-founder Duff Conacher, that he considered the matter closed.

However, Conacher said in a statement Wednesday that he's asking the court to "overrule commissioner Fraser's decision that the donations didn't benefit Premier Clark or put her in a conflict of interest."

Conacher's statement also said Fraser should have stepped aside in the case, as he did in 2012.

Fraser said he recused himself from the 2012 conflict complaint investigation because his son had shared office space with Clark's former husband, Mark Marissen.

Clark's office said in a statement it will not comment while the matter is under review.

With files from Richard Zussman