suggest he was trying to make illicit profits by buying
Alcan shares while his government was cutting a sweetheart
contract with the company is a joke. Whatever you may think
of him, Campbell simply isn't that stupid."
Columnist Michael Smyth, Vancouver Province, January 28,
Smyth also isn't stupid; he knows the difference between
an "apparent conflict of interest" and a "corrupt
politician". In his Sunday column he set up the straw
man of a corrupt politician who might be following in the
steps of Martha Stewart and then proceeded to knock it down.
That's fine for entertainment, and it fills the space allocated
for his column, but it doesn't offer any insight into the
serious issue of apparent conflicts of interest.
2(2) of the Members'
Conflict of Interest Act states: "For the purposes
of this Act, a member has an apparent conflict of
interest if there is a reasonable perception, which a reasonably
well informed person could properly have, that the member's
ability to exercise an official power or perform an official
duty or function must have been affected by his or her private
interest." The problem, of course, is determining what
a reasonably well informed person could perceive. That determination
is delegated to the Commissioner appointed under the Act.
23, 1991, in the dying days of the Social Credit government,
The Hon. E.N. (Ted) Hughes, Q.C. was appointed as BC's first
Conflict of Interest Commissioner. Hughes commanded everyone's
respect, as he does today, but he was appointed under what
many saw as a weak Conflict of Interest Act supplemented
by guidelines issued by the Premier. In June 1992 the Harcourt
government strengthened the Act with various amendments
including the introduction of the concept of "apparent
conflict of interest".
for the Office of the Conflict of Interest Commissioner
does not provide opinions of the Commissioner going back
to the first case which involved then Minister of Municipal
Affairs Robin Blencoe. In that case, Hughes ruled that Blencoe
was in an apparent conflict because he dealt with a development
project where one of the developers had made a $25 (just
$25, no extra zeros) donation to his constituency association.
That ruling shocked many about how little it took to be
in an apparent conflict; Hughes remarked that the government
of the day wanted the toughest conflict rules in Canada
and he was delivering those rules. The Official Opposition,
led by Gordon Campbell, subsequently dined out on allegations
of conflicts of interest.
changed in the world of conflict rulings when H.A.D.
Oliver was appointed Conflict Commissioner on August
7, 1997. It seemed as if the pendulum swung from extreme
sensitivity as evidenced by the Blencoe decision to one
of such a high standard of proof that a hand might have
to be found in the cookie jar in order to produce a ruling
against a politician.
over whether Premier Campbell's involvement with Alcan constitutes
an apparent conflict of interest were raised
by NDP energy critic John Horgan. If the Blencoe precedent
were applied, one would think the answer would be yes, but
if the H.A.D. precedents were applied, the answer would
probably be no. It is important to understand that, contrary
to some media reports, Campbell's ownership of Alcan shares
was not in a mutual fund. Even Mike Smyth conceded that
Campbell's shares are held in a manner where he takes ownership
of the shares, as opposed to taking ownership of mutual
fund shares, and where he receives regular weekly newsletters
on the investment portfolio. No one is alleging that Campbell
went out to promote the Alcan power deal because he would
line his pockets; that's the deal that was rejected by the
BC Utilities Commission as being bad for BC. The question
is whether, because of Section 2(2) of the Act, Campbell
should have disassociated himself from any involvement with
rules that the type of investment fund held by Campbell
should be treated like a mutual fund, then the ruling will
move BC further from the tough standards originally established
by Ted Hughes. H.A.D.'s term will soon end and he has made
it clear that he will not accept another appointment. Depending
on who is appointed as BC's next Conflict Commissioner,
the matter of interpreting what a reasonably well informed
person could perceive might change yet again.