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HomeBusinessExclusive: Conflict of interest scandal dogged North Shore BC Liberal candidate during Christy Clark years

Exclusive: Conflict of interest scandal dogged North Shore BC Liberal candidate during Christy Clark years

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Bob Mackin

The BC Liberal candidate hoping to succeed the retiring Ralph Sultan in the Oct. 24 election was at the centre of a conflict of interest scandal when she headed a Crown corporation during Christy Clark’s premiership.

Karin Kirkpatrick and Murray Campbell (BC Liberals)

From 2011 to 2014, West Vancouver-Capilano candidate Karin Kirkpatrick was the CEO and registrar of the Private Career Training Institutions Agency of B.C. The now-defunct agency regulated private colleges on behalf of the Ministry of Advanced Education.

In 2012, PCTIA hired the downtown law firm where Kirkpatrick’s husband was partner. Lawson Lundell was chosen without competition to represent PCTIA against companies that ran afoul of their licences to offer career training courses. Only after an adjudicator’s order did Kirkpatrick reveal how much Lawson Lundell billed PCTIA. 

Kirkpatrick did not respond to interview requests. When theBreaker.news contacted her campaign manager, Jack Welsh initially said by email “unfortunately we won’t be able to accommodate the interview in the schedule.”

When theBreaker.news emphasized the nature of the query was about Kirkpatrick’s background with PCTIA, Welsh changed his tune: “It’s not something we’re interested in participating in.”

At the time of the controversy, David Eby was the NDP’s critic for advanced education.

“This is the way that people hire lawyers in their private lives, somebody is related to a lawyer, knows somebody who works at a law firm,” Eby told The Tyee in February 2014. “That’s not an acceptable process for a public agency, because it does raise questions of conflict of interest and who benefits from that contract.”

Kirkpatrick claimed PCTIA was not required to seek competitive bids, but would only seek quotes or issue a formal tender call for contracts $30,000 and up. PCTIA paid Lawson Lundell $39,631.57 during the fiscal year that ended March 31, 2013. Kirkpatrick kept that sum secret until she was ordered to disclose it after an inquiry by an Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner adjudicator.

Kirkpatrick claimed that she verbally disclosed her relationship to Lawson Lundell partner Murray Campbell at a board meeting, but “it was not formally documented,” she said by email. The only relevant email that PCTIA did release under the freedom of information law was a February 2012 message from Kirkpatrick to board chair Kelly Rainsforth.

BC Liberal candidate Kirkpatrick (BC Liberals)

″[PCTIA in-house lawyer] Luce (Lafontaine) has found another lawyer with regulatory and board experience,” Kirkpatrick wrote in the email. “I let her make this selection using her own experience and judgment. She has gone with a fellow named Michael Lee (unless I hear otherwise) whom she has worked with previously and from Lawson Lundell,” she wrote.

“Now — just in case there is a perception of conflict — I wanted you to be aware that my soon-to-be husband is a partner at Lawson Lundell. Let me know if you have any concerns.”

(Lee, coincidentally, is the 2017-elected, BC Liberal incumbent in Vancouver-Langara. Lafontaine was a Kirkpatrick hire in 2011.)

The Advanced Education ministry conducted an internal review of PCTIA legal procurement practices in February 2013. Acting assistant deputy minister Joe Thompson’s report was heavily censored and only two of three recommendations were visible in the version released: formalize-in-writing the procurement and purchasing policies “to reflect an open, fair and transparent process” and to “ensure clear guidelines are available to the board and staff.”

PCTIA logo

“The Crown Agency Resource Office, the organization responsible for providing ongoing expertise, advice, information and support to ministries and Crown corporations to promote good governance, accountability and continuous improvement, has advised that Crown corporations, such as PCTIA, are encouraged but not required to follow government’s procurement policies and procedures on (request for proposals) or (requests for quotes). PCTIA uses RFPs and RFQs to solicit competitive bids on larger projects,” Thompson wrote.

Said Eby: “I’m concerned that a government agency like this could fail to see the importance of this issue and the need to be fully transparent about what they’ve done to fix what appears to be a serious problem with procurement.”

PCTIA amended its policy to require annual board approval for the list of legal vendors.

Kirkpatrick’s years at PCTIA were also the subject of an investigation by Ombudsperson Kim Carter. In 2015, after Kirkpatrick had resigned and PCTIA dissolved, Carter called for a students’ bill of rights because PCTIA failed to protect students and failed to properly enforce regulations and laws. PCTIA’s successor is the Private Training Institutions Branch.

Carter also found systemic conflict of interest, because the cabinet-appointed board members came from private training institutions that PCTIA was supposed to regulate.

Kirkpatrick was a volunteer and $500 donor to Clark’s winning 2011 leadership campaign. She was rewarded with a patronage appointment to the Judicial Council of the Provincial Court.

Jane Thornthwaite amused Karin Kirkpatrick during Sultan roast (BC Liberals/Zoom)

Last July, she was appointed to run for the BC Liberals in West Vancouver-Capilano without a competitive process. The last time the seat was up for grabs was March 2001, when almost 1,700 members signed-up to decide the replacement for Jeremy Dalton. Economist Sultan beat six others in a hotly contested, six-round vote in March 2001. Sultan, 87, was elected four more times.

Kirkpatrick was CEO of the Family Services of Greater Vancouver for the past three years. Prior to PCTIA, she was CEO of the Real Estate Foundation of B.C. and assistant dean at the Sauder School of Business. During the 2015 federal election, she was North Vancouver winner Jonathan Wilkinson’s financial agent.

Kirkpatrick’s introduction to many local voters was in the scandalous Zoom roast of Sultan, which was leaked Oct. 10. While North Vancouver-Seymour incumbent Jane Thornthwaite insulted the NDP’s Bowinn Ma in the Sept. 17 fundraiser, Kirkpatrick was seen violently laughing in the top row centre square.

Kirkpatrick claimed in a series of apologetic Tweets on Oct. 13 that she was surprised and caught off-guard, despite appearing to be very amused by Thornthwaite’s zingers that critics labelled sexist.

“Frankly, in the moment, I didn’t know what to say or do,” Kirkpatrick Tweeted, nearly a month after the leaked Zoom fundraiser took place.

“To anybody that feels I let them down by staying silent during the event, I sincerely apologize and will do better.”

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