Democracy Watch and conflict commissioner in court over complaint about Christy Clark

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      A citizens' watchdog group will be in B.C. Supreme Court today in connection with a ruling by Conflict of Interest Commissioner Paul Fraser.

      Last May, Fraser dismissed a complaint that Premier Christy Clark had violated the Conflict of Interest Act by attending B.C. Liberal fundraisers.

      The B.C Liberals pay Clark $50,000 per year for her work on behalf of the party. Fraser rejected an allegation that she was collecting gifts in connection with her position.

      The ruling came after Democracy Watch and NDP MLA David Eby had filed a complaint alleging that Clark was personally benefiting from decisions that could affect party donors.

      After Democracy Watch filed an application to the court to review the ruling, Fraser responded by applying to have the case dismissed.

      This is at the centre of today's legal action. If Fraser is unsuccessful, the judical-review application will proceed at a later date.

      Fraser maintained in his ruling last year that donations made at the events did not personally benefit the premier.

      Therefore, he concluded that this did not amount to a private interest that placed Clark in a conflict of interest. 

      Fraser's son, John Paul Fraser, is a deputy minister in the B.C. Liberal government.

      Democracy Watch has alleged that because of this family relationship, the conflict of interest commissioner is himself in an apparent conflict of interest. And the group claims that the premier also has an "appearance of a conflict of interest", which is a violation of the law, by attending party fundraisers.

      "Democracy Watch’s position is that big donations made at private fundraising events where the politician is essentially selling access to themselves are a clear violation of the conflict-of-interest law, and we hope the B.C. Supreme Court will agree and overrule Commissioner Fraser’s decision that the donations didn’t benefit Premier Clark or put her in a conflict of interest,” Democracy Watch cofounder Duff Conacher said in a news release last year. "Commissioner Fraser stepped aside from ruling on a situation involving Premier Clark in 2012 because of his son’s work with the B.C. Liberal Cabinet, and he should have stepped aside again this time. Commissioner Fraser’s apparent conflict of interest and the legal errors in his ruling give the court many reasons to reject his ruling on Premier Clark’s fundraising events."

      Under the Members' Conflict of Interest Act, the commissioner has several remedies at his disposal should he find an MLA in a conflict. They include recommending that the legislature issue a reprimand, suspension, fine of no more than $5,000, or declare the member's seat vacant until an election is held in the politician's constituency.