B.C.'s conflict of interest commissioner, Paul Fraser, has succeeded in thwarting a judicial review of his decision to clear Premier Christy Clark.
Today, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Kenneth Affleck granted Fraser's application for an order dismissing a petition by Democracy Watch.
The Ottawa-based watchdog group wanted the court to review two rulings last year by Fraser. Each determined that the premier was not in a conflict of interest for collecting a $50,000 annual salary from money generated through donations to the B.C. Liberal party.
Fraser ruled that Clark's attendance at fundraising events did not mean that these donations benefited her personally, and therefore this did not amount to a private interest that conflicted with her public duties as a legislator.
The $50,000 salary from the party was in addition to the $195,000 that Clark earns as premier.
In today's decision, Affleck ruled that the commissioner is authorized by the Members' Conflict of Interest Act "to do no more than conduct an inquiry; arrive at an opinion, and in the appropriate circumstance make a recommendation to the Legislative Assembly".
"It is then for the Legislature, not the Commissioner, if it chooses to do so to exercise discipline authority of its members," Affleck wrote. "An opinion of the Commissioner has no legal consequence unless and until the Legislature acts on it."
The judge did not impose costs on Democracy Watch.
Democracy Watch has issued a statement saying Affleck's ruling means that his decisions are "unreviewable opinions". And this means that members of the public who complain to the commissioner about the premier's conflicts of interest "are not entitled to a remedy, and are not even entitled to any assurance that the Commissioner himself has not been compromised by his own conflict of interest".
Fraser's son is a deputy minister in the B.C. government.
“It is dangerously undemocratic for B.C. to have an ethics law that politicians can ignore, and an ethics commissioner who is an unaccountable czar, and so B.C.’s political ethics law must be changed to make the commissioner’s rulings binding, and to allow court challenges of the commissioner’s rulings and the commissioner’s conflicts of interest,” Democracy Watch cofounder Duff Conacher stated.
Democracy Watch also stated that it "may well appeal and intends to explore other legal avenues for challenging Premier Clark's conflicts of interest".
“The court has unfortunately decided that no one can challenge Commissioner Fraser’s unethical decision that it is legal and ethical for Premier Clark and Liberal cabinet ministers to sell access to themselves at high-priced, invite-only secretive fundraising events, and that the events don’t create any conflicts of interest,” Conacher noted. "Commissioner Fraser stepped aside from ruling on a situation involving Premier Clark in 2012 because of his son’s work with the B.C. Liberals, and he should have stepped aside again this time. Democracy Watch is not prepared to let this issue go because the corrupting influence of big money donations in B.C. politics must be stopped."
The organization and the Government Ethics Coalition has called on the B.C. government to introduce campaign finance reform, like Quebec did, to limit individual donations to $100 annually to political parties. In addition, Democracy Watch wants the province to outlaw donations by corporations, unions, and other organizations, and prohibit loans to political parties, riding associations, and candidates from all sources except a "public fund".
In addition, Democracy Watch wants the B.C. government to limit spending before and during election campaigns and before and during party leadership races.