Developer says B.C. minister made promises over land deal
NDP calls for full investigation over 'serious concerns'
A Prince George developer says Jobs Minister Pat Bell personally promised him he would be short listed for a project.
Brian Fehr spoke after a CBC News investigation revealed a fairness commissioner was asked to review the process to select a company to help build a Wood Innovation Centre in Prince George.
Bell and the government are accused of promising to influence what was supposed to be an independent bid process in favour of two developers with ties to the B.C. Liberal party.
The allegations are contained in a written complaint filed last November by Fehr and his partner Dan McLaren and submitted to Jane Shackell, the lawyer charged with overseeing the fairness of the bid process.
Although Shackell says the process itself was fair, there were allegations raised in the complaint that were outside her mandate, leaving the opposition NDP calling for a wider investigation.
I would not and could not offer that type of offer to anyone.
In the fairness complaint, McLaren and Fehr detail their concerns about "breached protocols, broken promises and misrepresentation" by Bell and the government.
McLaren and Fehr allege that in May 2012, government representatives met with them and assured them they would be short-listed for the project if the land needed to build the development was purchased ahead of time.
Did not make shortlist
Fehr then entered into a purchase agreement for the land, but in the end, no company owned by him or McLaren made the short list.
"I know for sure that after he [Bell] announced it that he came walking back into our office to apologize," Fehr said.
Three companies have been short-listed, but the winning bidder hasn't yet been named.
The Wood Innovation and Design Centre, first announced in the 2009 speech from the throne, is a $25-million project for downtown Prince George meant to showcase the use of wood for tall building construction. It will contain a variety of public and private sector tenants, including some classrooms for the University of Northern B.C.
Fehr says both he and Bell had good intentions.
"There was a whole bunch of good intentions to start with. I know my intention were very clean. I really wanted to do this for the City of Prince George."
According to regulations, government projects are supposed to be awarded without political interference. But the complainants say they were "duped into the deal," because the outcome was not what they claim they had been promised.
McLaren said in the complaint that he now faces foreclosure on the property deal unless he makes a $1.5-million payment.
Minister maintains he acted properly
But the minister insists everything was handled properly.
"I'm very comfortable with it," Bell told CBC News.
He also said that, in any case, he was not in a position to make any deals ahead of time, as the complaint alleges.
"To be clear, I do not sit on the project board nor have any authority over it. I would not and could not offer that type of offer to anyone."
Bell does admit he was interviewed by Shackell about the businessmen's complaint.
Shackell’s report, however, found the bidding process had been conducted fairly. But she also acknowledged there were concerns raised by McLaren and Fehr that didn't fall within her mandate to investigate.
Elections BC records show Fehr or his company have donated $123,000 to the B.C. Liberals since 2006.
The records also show McLaren has donated more than $2,100 to the BC Liberals over the past eight years and in 2001, he vied against Bell for the Liberal nomination in his Prince George riding.
NDP demands full investigation
NDP MLA Norm Macdonald, official opposition critic for Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations, called for "a full investigation" Tuesday.
"There's no question that these concerns are serious concerns and there are questions that have to be answered," Macdonald told CBC News.
Macdonald said Shackell's report did not fully investigate the specific allegations at hand.
"[She] made it clear that there are questions beyond her scope, and those are the questions that we need to focus on," he said.
With files from the CBC's Stephen Smart