Groups cite energy company donations and premier's salary in legal challenge of pipeline approval

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      Premier Christy Clark's $50,000 annual salary from the B.C. Liberals is the subject of another court fight.

      Two nonprofit groups, Democracy Watch and Pipe Up Network, filed a legal challenge today (January 31) against the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project.

      They have alleged that Clark violated the Members' Conflict of Interest Act by collecting money raised through party donations—of which large amounts came from the energy industry.

      Moreover, the court petition maintains that the premier's party should have sidestepped any involvement in the approval of the project.

      The case was filed by lawyer Jason Gratl, a former president of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, and Democracy Watch has launched an online fundraising campaign to cover the costs.

      Earlier this month, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Kenneth Affleck dismissed Democracy Watch's legal challenge of two rulings by Conflict Commissioner Paul Fraser. They each cleared the premier of a conflict of interest regarding political donations.

      Clark recently disclosed that she has stopped taking a salary from the B.C. Liberals. She already earns $195,000 per year as premier.

      Approximately 400 oil tankers per year will travel through the waters off Vancouver after the Kinder Morgan pipeline project is completed.
      Travis Lupick

      Pipeline shippers made large donations

      The Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project  would nearly triple bitumen shipments through the Kinder Morgan–owned network to 890,000 barrels per day.

      Once the project is completed, it would result in about 400 oil tankers per year passing through Burrard Inlet.

      The group's petition in B.C. Supreme Court alleges that six companies that will ship this petroleum contributed $330,470 to the B.C. Liberal party from October 20, 2011, to December 31, 2015.

      Over the same period, Kinder Morgan and its wholly owned subsidiary, Trans Mountain, donated $16,800 to the ruling party; the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers contributed $74,100; and Chevron gave $140,563.44.

      "Donations by Kinder Morgan, the KMP Shippers and other KMP intervenors to the Liberal Party were often paid in closely grouped clusters, in which high value donations, often for the exact same amount, were given on the same date or within a few days of one another," Democracy Watch and Pipe Up Network alleged in their petition to the court. "The Petitioners infer that the clusters of donations are the product of ticket sales for 'pay-for-access' events and/or Liberal Party fundraising campaigns targeted at KMP Shippers or pipeline shippers."

      None of the group's allegations have been proven in court.

      Democracy Watch cofounder Duff Conacher has frequently criticized B.C.'s campaign-finance rules.

      Petition alleges apprehension of bias

      The respondent is the province of B.C., though the petition also mentions the premier, the environment minister, and the minister of natural gas development in parentheses.

      The petition notes that Clark collected an annual salary of approximately $50,000 from the B.C. Liberals after being appointed as premier in March 2011.

      "An aspect of the Premier's duties as leader of the Liberal Party, for which she is paid her salary, is to engage in fundraising," the court document states. "It can be inferred by a reasonable observer that if Liberal Party fundraising were insufficient, the Liberal Party would cease to pay a salary to the Premier."

      It goes on to state that the petitioners do not know if Natural Gas Development Minister Rich Coleman or Environment Minister Mary Polak receive a salary or other benefits from the party.

      "Even if they do not, they remain influenced the the Premier by means of her power of appointing and dismissing Ministers and assignment of powers to Ministers," the petition claims.

      As a result, the petitioners allege that "a reasonable apprehension of bias exists in respect" of the pipeline approval.

      This, they claim, is true "whether or not the Premier's Liberal Party salary or the donation 'clusters' are taken into account".

      "The bottom line is that a reasonable informed and thoughtful person, after thinking about it for a while, would think that the Premier and the Ministers would have at least been unconsciously affected by more than $560,000.00 in payments to the Liberal Party of British Columbia," the petition declares. "The KMP Approval is tainted by money."