British Columbia

Ted Hughes, B.C.'s first conflict-of-interest commissioner, dead at 92

Ted Hughes, B.C.’s first conflict of interest commissioner, who also led more than a dozen public inquiries on issues from child protection to sexual discrimination in the justice system, died on Jan. 17.

The civil servant forced the resignation of a premier and led more than a dozen public inquiries

Ted Hughes, shown at his family's cottage at Shawnigan Lake on Vancouver Island, died Friday. (Craig McInnes)

Ted Hughes, B.C.'s first conflict of interest commissioner who also led more than a dozen public inquiries on issues from child protection to sexual discrimination in the justice system, died on Friday, Jan. 17.

After moving to Victoria from Saskatchewan where Hughes was a senior judge, he changed the course of politics and public life in B.C.

"It's a loss for our city and for the country," said Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps.

Hughes served as B.C.'s first conflict of interest commissioner, from 1990 to 1997, and also served as chief adjudicator for an alternative dispute resolution process involving survivors of abuse in Canada's residential school system from 2003 to 2008. He also served as conflict of interest commissioner for the Northwest Territories and Yukon.

In addition, he led numerous investigations and commissions including one in 2005 that followed the violent death of a child in foster care. His work led to the establishment of the Office of the Representative for Children and Youth.

Hughes may best be remembered for forcing the resignation of Premier Bill Vander Zalm.

Soon after his appointment as Conflict of Interest Commissioner in 1991, Hughes accepted the task of investigating the conduct of Vander Zalm in connection with the sale of his theme park outside Vancouver to Tan Yu, a Taiwanese businessman.

Hughes found that the premier had arranged a meeting with the finance minister and a luncheon with the B.C. Lieutenant Governor for Yu, receiving an envelope full of cash from the buyer.

In his report, Hughes concluded that Vander Zalm mixed his personal business with the public interest throughout the negotiation and sale, in violation of his own conflict of interest guidelines. 

"Hughes just did a meticulously thorough report, laid out all the facts, and said the premier is guilty of conflict of interest and that was the word," said Les Leyne, the Victoria Times Colonist's political columnist.

"He delivered the word, everybody accepted it. The premier quit about three or four days after the report landed."

Ted Hughes was appointed Saskatchewan District Court judge for Melfort, Saskatchewan, in 1962. (Ted Hughes)

While Hughes's reputation spread, along with demand for his services as an inquiry commissioner, his wife Helen Hughes entered municipal politics in Victoria. She served 18 years as a city councillor and took on volunteer roles. 

'A life well-lived'

Saanich councillor Susan Brice first met Hughes back in 1988 while she was the mayor of Oak Bay when he invited her to join a review of B.C.'s justice system.

"I have felt probably over the last 25 to 30 years he might be one of the most significant Canadian figures who was called upon to review huge social issues," said Brice. "We are all grieving, we know it was a life well-lived."

Brice says Hughes had been in hospital over the last few weeks with declining health.

For their public service, both Ted and Helen were appointed members of the Order of Canada and received honorary doctorates from the University of Victoria.

Ted Hughes also held honorary degrees from the University of Saskatchewan and Royal Roads University, and has been awarded numerous accolades for his volunteer work.

He acted as chair for the Saskatoon City Hospital board of governors, the Saskatchewan Cancer Foundation, Juan de Fuca Hospitals in Victoria and the Vancouver Island CNIB capital fundraising drive.

Hughes, in the Victoria courthouse library in March 2016, continued working through his late 80s. (CBC)

Hughes served terms as president of the Saskatchewan Health Care Association and the Canadian Hospital Association. He also advocated for homeless people in Victoria, acting in 2008 and 2009 with the mayor of Victoria as co-chair of the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness.

He formally retired at the age of 90. His life and career became the subject of the book The Mighty Hughes, written by author and journalist Craig McInnes.

With files from CHEK News and Deborah Wilson