After Abbotsford South MLA John van Dongen raised concerns Friday about a possible perception of bias in an investigation of the premier, provincial Conflict of Interest Commissioner Paul Fraser said Tuesday that he will back away from the matter.
Fraser acknowledged that there could be an appearance of bias because his son, John Paul Fraser, works in a senior position in Premier Christy Clark's government. Fraser said he would recuse himself "from any further substantive involvement in this matter."
"I have given further and considerable thought to the perception issue. 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," Fraser wrote in his statement on Tuesday.
The possibility of the commissioner being in conflict himself surfaced after van Dongen asked Fraser look into possible contraventions of the Members' Conflict of Interest Act by Clark, dating back to the 2003 sale of the government-owned BC Rail to the private sector.
Clark was deputy premier and the education minister at the time, and her brother and her then-husband had links to lobbyists and financiers connected to the bidding process.
Van Dongen backed up his request for an inquiry this fall with several documents, which he released to the public on Nov. 7.
Van Dongen was waiting to hear whether or not Fraser would proceed with an investigation when the Vancouver Sun revealed that since March 2011, Fraser's son worked in the government as the assistant deputy minister for strategic planning and public engagement at the public affairs bureau.
In addition, Fraser's son has known Clark for more than 20 years, had volunteered on her leadership campaign and at one time, worked with Mark Marissen, Clark's former husband.
Van Dongen made a statement Nov. 9, noting that because of John Paul Fraser's senior position in Clark's government, there was "a reasonable apprehension of bias" if Commissioner Fraser were to review the premier's conduct.
He requested that the senior Fraser step aside.
Initially, Fraser said he was confident he could address the matter impartially.
However, he said he considered the issue over the long weekend and decided he should pass matter on.
"The work done by my office is important to the integrity of the legislative process, as well as to the maintenance of the ethical fibre of the Legislative Assembly. The Legislative Assembly needs to be able to rely on me to take reasonable steps to weigh all the circumstances, and to ensure that any opinion offered to the assembly . . . is one in which legislators and the public can have confidence," he wrote.
Fraser has requested that Gerald Gerrand, conflict of interest commissioner of the Northwest Territories and one of the longest-serving conflict commissioners in Canada, deal with the Clark review.
On Fraser's behalf, Gerrand will conduct a preliminary review of van Dongen's request, and decide to whether to not to take it to a full-blown inquiry.