Over the past month, I have sat within the B.C. Liberal caucus alarmed by the details emerging about the Prince George Wood Innovation and Design Centre. I am a backbench MLA and no longer a member of cabinet, and so in spite of having a unique vantage point of hearing the discussions from within, I am no more privy to the specifics than any member of the public.
That being said, I have been piecing together media reports and filings surrounding the issue, and believe I have a good sense of what is at the crux of the current controversy.
In November of last year, a complaint was filed by Prince George developers Brian Fehr and Dan MacLaren over the fairness of the project, documenting how "breached protocols, broken promises and misrepresentation" had infected what was supposed to be an apolitical exercise. More specifically, the submission claims that Pat Bell, the minister of jobs, tourism and skills training, was directly involved with the parties, parameters and procedural aspects of the land acquisition, tender and procurement process.
Furthermore, the head of the Northern Development Initiative Trust (a regionally operated economic development funding corporation for central and northern B.C. that operates at arm's length from government) has made a statement confirming that government bureaucrats requested that she change the language in a letter regarding a loan the trust was providing for the purchase of the land.
The statement from NDIC head Janine North alleges that the former deputy minister of forests (who served under Pat Bell when he was the minister of forests) had asked that the NDIC's letter remove mention about the loan happening at the "request of two ministers of the Crown" -- the second being B.C. Attorney General Shirley Bond.
I believe in the sanctity of due process. Both as a police officer for over 30 years, and B.C.'s former solicitor general, I am forever committed to the presumption of innocence that is at the core of our justice system. Thus, far be it for me to make any kind of definitive determinations about the above mentioned allegations. However, I also have the experience of being a part of a controversy as a minister of the Crown, and subsequently, living up to the conduct that I consider appropriate under such circumstances.
In April 2010, I learned that I was going to be questioned by the RCMP over materials and advertising that had been a part of my 2009 election campaign. At the time, I was unaware of the specific focus of the inquiry, other than the fact that it was related to my campaign. And, over the course of the ensuing investigation, I discovered that these campaign initiatives had violated the Elections Act.
Now as I write this, I have long since been cleared of any wrongdoing in the incident, and the individuals responsible have been charged and sentenced.
However, upon hearing about the RCMP's intentions to question me, I made an immediate decision to step down as solicitor general until such time as I was exonerated. While I was confident that I had not done anything wrong personally, I was also aware of my accountability as a cabinet minister during the course of the investigation.
I take the responsibilities of a cabinet minister very seriously, and have much deference for the public trust. Thus, regardless of what I knew about my conduct, I understood that an ongoing investigation prevented me from being above reproach, and by virtue of that fact, I was diminishing the prestige, importance and responsibility the title of solicitor general carries.
Furthermore, when the initially appointed special prosecutor resigned just one day after clearing me of wrongdoing, I once again stepped down within 24 hours of being re-appointed to cabinet. The circumstances of the resignation were completely out of my control, but still I understood that any swirling doubt would preclude me from honouring the post I was entrusted with.
So in the interest of maintaining the integrity of B.C.'s Executive Council, I believe that my colleagues Shirley Bond and Pat Bell have an obligation to remove themselves as ministers until this matter is formally investigated.
As stated above, this piece is not intended to pass judgment on Mr. Bell and Ms. Bond, but rather to encourage conduct that I believe every public office holder should adhere to (particular in the case of members of Cabinet).
The public trust is where we as elected officials derive all of our legitimacy from. The moment that this public trust is called into question is the point that our entire system of governance is compromised. I hope that Mr. Bell and Ms. Bond seriously contemplate the importance of the decision they have in front of them and do the right thing.