B.C.’s top court won’t take another look at a pair of Conflict of Interest Commissioner’s rulings that cleared former premier Christy Clark of any malfeasance regarding party fundraisers.
Back in May and August of 2016, Conflict of Interest Commissioner Paul Fraser cleared Clark of conflict allegations linked to her attendance at pricey BC Liberal party fundraisers, and a $50,000 salary top-up she received from the party.
Earlier this year, watchdog group Democracy Watch lost a challenge of those rulings in the B.C. Supreme Court, and has now had an application to the B.C. Court of Appeals to review that decision dismissed.
The court said the outcome would now be a moot point with Clark out of office, and that no penalty could be applied to a premier who is now out of power.
Democracy Watch co-founder Duff Conacher said his group was asking the courts to change a 20-year-old ruling that said commissioners are protected by parliamentary privilege, which he argued allows them to make decisions without accountability.
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“That’s the current rule in B.C.,” Conacher said.
“We were hoping the courts would reverse that rule in this case but they, by not moving the case forward and ruling on it, allowed the commissioner to essentially be an unaccountable czar.”
Jason Gratl, the lawyer representing Democracy Watch, called the ruling a “missed opportunity,” and warned that it is only a matter of time before another politician finds themselves the focus of similar conflict of interest allegations.
“What we wanted was that the conflict of interest commissioner, rather than be a paper tiger or a toothless tiger, would have at least one tooth.”
Democracy Watch had initially argued that Clark’s presence at fundraisers, where guests paid up to $20,000 to attend, and stipend from the party amounted to a conflict of interest.
It further argued that Commissioner Fraser, whose son worked as a deputy minister for Clark, should have recused himself from the case.
Fraser ruled that Clark’s participation in the fundraisers did not constitute a conflict because she did not receive a personal benefit.