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HomeBusinessFederal energy minister, ex-B.C. premier subjects of conflict of interest complaints

Federal energy minister, ex-B.C. premier subjects of conflict of interest complaints

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Bob Mackin 

The office of B.C.’s conflict of interest commissioner Victoria Gray confirmed it has received a complaint from an Ontario watchdog about ex-Premier John Horgan’s pending directorship of a steelmaking coal company. 

The day after Horgan formally resigned as the Langford-Juan de Fuca NDP MLA on March 31, he announced he would join the board of Teck Resources spinoff Elk Valley Resources. Glencore’s hostile takeover attempt has delayed the votes by Teck shareholders on splitting the company and appointing Horgan to the Elk Valley board.

Jonathan Wilkinson (left) and John Horgan in Victoria on March 15, 2019 (BC Gov/Flickr)

Democracy Watch co-founder Duff Conacher formally complained Aug. 17 to Gray, alleging that Horgan was in conflict of interest for participating in or attempting to influence government decisions about whether the International Joint Commission should investigate Teck for contaminated runoff from its mines.

Gray’s office acknowledged receipt of the complaint, but would not comment on next steps. 

Horgan met with Teck executives on Oct. 11, more than a month before David Eby succeeded him as premier on Nov. 18. Horgan claimed that he did not discuss the board opportunity until December. 

In the Legislature on April 20, Environment Minister George Heyman said “to the best of my recollection, I never had a discussion about the IJC with the former premier.”

Conacher said the only way to determine whether Horgan and Heyman’s statements are true is by Gray launching an investigation. 

Conacher’s letter said that “Horgan clearly had a conflict of interest or apparent conflict of interest” as defined by the law, “given that he was negotiating a position with Teck that would provide him with financial benefits.”

B.C. Greens leader Sonia Furstenau unsuccessfully tabled a private member’s bill to amend the Members Conflict of Interest Act. Furstenau proposed a two-year, post-employment ban on cabinet members from accepting a board appointment with any entity that they had direct and significant dealings.

When Horgan revealed his new job in the Globe and Mail on April 1, he said: “I don’t have a lot of time any more, none in fact, for public comment on my world view, or what I am doing with my time.”

Teck has not responded for comment. 

In another letter dated Aug. 17, Conacher filed a similar complaint to the office of the federal Ethics Commissioner about Liberal Minister of Energy and Natural Resources Jonathan Wilkinson. 

Wilkinson is one of the senior ministers from B.C. in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet, the government and cabinet are considering whether to request an investigation by the IJC and Teck has lobbied Wilkinson directly six times in the last year, said Conacher’s letter.

“His spouse has investments in financial institutions that are among the top 25 largest institutional investors in Teck Resources and he was CEO of BioteQ when it had a contract with Teck to clean up selenium contamination caused by Teck’s mines,” Conacher’s complaint said.

A statement from Sabrina Kim, the director of communications for Wilkinson, said: “Minister Wilkinson takes his obligations as a public office holder seriously. The Minister has fully and consistently adhered to all of the requirements under the Conflict of Interest Act and the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of Parliament.”

The Democracy Watch complaint noted Wilkinson’s current portfolio and past roles as minister and parliamentary secretary since December 2015, “always in the areas of natural resources and the environment.”

The government has been without an ethics commissioner for six months. If an interim or full-time commissioner is appointed by the Trudeau cabinet, Conacher said that person should recuse themself from investigating Wilkinson. 

“This complaint letter is about one of ministers in the Trudeau cabinet,” the letter said. 

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