The B.C. Legislature’s ethics watchdog ruled Aug. 30 that an NDP cabinet minister did not break the conflict of interest law after a charity that bought her husband’s land received a major government grant.
Lorne Doerksen, the BC Liberal MLA for Cariboo-Chilcotin, complained in late June about Land, Water and Resource Stewardship Minister Jodie Osborne.
George Patterson, the husband of the 2020-elected, Mid Island-Pacific Rim MLA, sold his Tofino Botanical Gardens last September to MakeWay Charitable Society. In April, Osborne announced the organization, formerly known as Tides Canada, received a $15 million grant through the Healthy Watersheds Initiative [HWI] program.
“Minister Osborne was not involved in the decision to make the grant to MakeWay instead of [Real Estate Foundation of B.C.] and did not take any steps to influence staff in making that substitution,” Conflict of Interest Commissioner Victoria Gray wrote in her Aug. 30 decision. “Minister Osborne’s participation in lobbying on dates including March 30 did not have any impact on the HWI 2.0 grant to MakeWay. Minister Osborne’s participation in the public announcement on April 21 about the HWI 2.0 grant to MakeWay was not an apparent conflict of interest.”
Patterson sold Tofino Botanical Gardens to MakeWay for $2.3 million in September 2021, sold all shares in his Coastwise Holdings company to MakeWay for an undisclosed sum and entered a one-year operation and maintenance contract with MakeWay through Sept. 15, 2022. Gray wrote that Patterson’s remuneration was not dependent on MakeWay receiving the grant.
Gray’s report said Patterson rejected three offers, including one formal, because the potential buyers didn’t want to continue the garden. He eventually made a proposal to MakeWay with Eli Enns of the IISAAK OLAM Foundation.
Osborne was Tofino’s mayor in August 2020 when Patterson listed the property for $3.75 million. She became Minster of Municipal Affairs after the 2020 provincial election, joined Treasury Board in March 2021 and was shuffled to the new ministry on Feb. 25.
Just over a month later, on March 30, she met with Zita Botelho of Watersheds BC [WBC] and lobbyist Coree Tull of the B.C. Watershed Security Coalition and B.C Freshwater Legacy Initiative. The latter, Gray wrote, is an affiliate of the MakeWay “shared platform project.”
While Osborne was provided background information to prepare for the March 30 meeting, Gray said it did not refer to MakeWay. But, on or about March 30, staff explained to her that MakeWay would “provide administrative services to WBC to facilitate WBC delivering funding to Indigenous or Indigenous-led watershed projects.”
March 30 was also the date that Assistant Deputy Minister of Environment James Mack signed the funding agreement with MakeWay CEO Joanna Kerr and finance director Danae Maclean.
Gray’s report refers to Osborne’s April 1 letter to Deputy Minister Lori Halls. A copy of the two-paragraph letter, obtained Aug. 24 via freedom of information, says: “I am aware that MakeWay Foundation has a relationship with the Ministry of Land, Water and Resource Stewardship.
“The purpose of this letter is to advise you that my spouse, George Patterson, has a contractual relationship with MakeWay Foundation as an advisor to Naa’Waya’Sum Coastal Indigenous Gardens in Tofino, B.C.”
The letter, however, contains no reference whatsoever to Patterson’s sale of land and company shares to MakeWay.
The FOI disclosure included an undated document that states Osborne set up a screen with Halls to recuse herself from decision-making about MakeWay.
The ruling on Osborne was the first such investigation for Gray, a former B.C. Supreme Court Justice who was appointed to the $250,000-a-year position in early 2020.
In an unusual move, Gray also used the report to tell MLAs that she has no jurisdiction to do what Doerkson originally wanted, which was to investigate a potential conflict of interest and provide a full accounting of facts. She accused Doerkson of causing “confusion and delay” in his original complaint.
“I do not have the jurisdiction to investigate a matter based on suspicion alone,” she wrote.
The Members’ Conflict of Interest Act gives the commissioner power to conduct an inquiry, which includes ordering a person to attend, in person or by electronic means, to give evidence under oath or affirmation and to produce a record in a person’s possession or control. Gray’s report indicates Osborne provided letters and supporting documents only, instead of in-person testimony. Gray did reveal that she was able to inspect certain confidential Treasury Board documents.
Doerkson did not respond for comment.
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