March 11, 2016 1:34 am

NDP criticizes government for grant given to premier’s biographer

WATCH: Former B.C. Liberal MLA Judy Tyabji-Wilson is facing allegations she’s in a conflict of interest in connection with a government grant she received a couple of years ago. Keith Baldrey explains.

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The NDP spent much of today’s question period criticizing the government for giving grants two years ago to a person now writing the first biography of premier Christy Clark.

Judi Tyabji, who served as a Liberal MLA from 1991 to 1996, announced last October that should be writing “Christy Clark: Behind the Smile,” a biography that is coming out this May.

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But the NDP says that in the year prior to her decision, Tyabji received $128,000 in grants to start a social enterprise called Tanned, Wild and Woolly – of which $67,000 went directly to her supervision of a project tanning sheepskins.

“One of the [Minister of Social Development] staff wrote: ‘There is a direct conflict of interest with the president of the non-profit being hired as a supervisor on the project. This one looks especially bad, as the president was the one that submitted the application and has been the negotiator for the project,'” said NDP MLA Katrine Conroy in the legislature.

The project was intended to “keep a thousand sheepskins out of the landfill and make them into a marketable product,” claimed MLA Shane Simpson.

“The reality is that they managed to process 148, less than 15 per cent of what was originally promised. Can the minister tell us whether the B.C. Liberal idea of performance is 40 per cent over budget for less than 15 percent of the promised deliverables?”

Social Development Minister Michelle Stilwell denied there was anything untoward with the project, or Tyabji’s decision to use part of the funds for her own salary.

“Staff are doing their due diligence and following the guidelines and the protocols that are involved with the community employment partnerships. The focus is always on the training of the individuals who will receive future skills to move on into the job market,” she said in the legislature.

“With these community employment partnerships, we often see that there are amendments that are made as projects encounter unforeseen circumstances — over a course of the project, such things as additional operational costs or participants leaving the project due to outside employment opportunities. We have to be flexible with these projects, and that’s what we do within the ministry.”

NDP House Leader, Mike Farnworth, sees it differently.

“How is it that the premier’s biographer is able to get a grant, that ministry staff says is a conflict of interest, it gets awarded, the government knows it is a conflict of interest, and then the grant gets increased, and it doesn’t meet its objective?” he said to Global News

“One has to be dumbfounded that a ministry would ignore its own staff’s recommendations. It’s there in black and white. This is a clear conflict. Not might be, not a possible, but this is a conflict of interest.”

For her part, Tyabji says that it created five summer jobs, allowing young people on the Sunshine Coast valuable training in sheep skinning. And she says she received a salary because she was the only person in the area that was qualified.

The NDP’s criticism over Tyabji’s contract is the latest turn in the complex relationship between her family and the Liberal Party. Her husband, former Liberal leader Gordon Wilson, joined the NDP in 1997. In 2002, Tyabji wrote a book entitled “Daggers Unsheathed: The Political Assassination of Glen Clark”.

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But in 2013, Wilson returned to the Liberal Party, and in the years since has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the government as a “Buy B.C. LNG” advocate.

The many layers of history may have been part of the reason why Christy Clark, aside from her defense of Stilwell, was somewhat elusive in her comments during question period.

“I don’t have a biography, but I promise that when I do write my book, the member opposite (Mike Farnworth) will certainly be in it, and there will be lots of stories to tell about this time we’ve had in the House,” she said.

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