Kelowna West MLA Ben Stewart is back in the BC Liberal caucus after a two-month absence.
He also broke his silence Oct. 1 and talked to theBreaker.news, but refused to discuss the reasons for the Elections BC investigation that eventually cleared him.
Stewart wrote a letter to Anton Boegman, the chief electoral officer, on Aug. 1, about a donation to the party that was reimbursed to a contributor. He left caucus the same day.
Elections BC has not released the investigation report. Stewart also refused to release the letter, which he said was just one paragraph.
Elections BC said in a statement on Oct. 1 that “The review found no evidence that the political contribution and reimbursement were made in contravention of the Election Act. Elections BC now considers this matter closed. To protect the privacy of the individuals involved, Elections BC will not be making further comment on this issue.”
“I’ve subjected myself to the scrutiny of Elections BC, you can ask them,” Stewart said in an interview. “They have all the information. I’ve provided everything that they could ask, that they wanted, and then some. The bottom line is they did their interviews and went through all the people in this, the groups that are involved.”
Sources said the matter involved a donation from a constituency assistant, but Stewart would not say whether it specifically involved riding aide Cheryl Doll or Erica Macnab, who worked on his 2018 by-election campaign. In the last two months of 2018, Doll made three donations totalling $1,450, which was $250 above the annual limit.
“It’s not a matter between the press and that, it’s between Elections BC and myself,” he said.
Pressed further about what is in the letter, Stewart said: “It’s important that the confidentiality in the matter, I mean what does the public benefit or what do you benefit by having that information? I’ve been very transparent and gave you more than you deserved, in fact I put out a text to you with a comment that I gave everybody; nobody got any more or less than you.”
That Aug. 2 statement read: “Sorry to advise that I voluntarily left the BC Liberal caucus last evening while Elections BC rules on a request I sent them to investigate an irregular donation under new election financing rules. Have to sit out of caucus till EBC rules on the matter. I’m confident there is no wrong doing as this is an administrative matter.”
BC Liberal filings for the second quarter of 2019 with Elections BC show that Stewart exceeded his contribution limit and the party returned $1,200 to him on June 25. He was the only MLA listed in the prohibited contributions list for the period. Under new campaign finance rules enacted by the NDP government in 2017, individual donations were capped at $1,200 per year to each registered political party, including its candidates, nomination contestants and registered riding associations. The limit was increased to $1,225.17 for 2019.
Quails’ Gate Wintery co-founder Stewart was first elected in 2009 in Westside-Kelowna and appointed to cabinet under Premier Gordon Campbell. Over the next four years, he held four different portfolios and won his seat again in 2013. But he stepped aside so that Premier Christy Clark, who was defeated in Vancouver-Point Grey, could win a safe BC Liberal riding and return to the Legislature. Stewart broke down in tears beside Clark at a news conference to announce the decision.
In fall of that year, Clark appointed Stewart as B.C.’s $150,000-a-year Asian trade envoy based in Beijing.
Stewart made a political comeback in a February 2018 by-election to replace Clark, who quit as both MLA and BC Liberal leader the previous July when Abbotsford South’s Darryl Plecas objected to her leadership at a pivotal BC Liberal caucus retreat in Penticton after the Green-supported NDP formed government under Premier John Horgan.
Stewart’s return means the BC Liberals technically regain their 42-41 edge over the NDP, with the Greens holding the three-seat balance of power. Plecas, the speaker, is the only independent.
However, Surrey-White Rock BC Liberal MLA Tracy Redies was hospitalized last month with heart failure and hepatitis after a trip to Brazil. The Legislature re-opens Oct. 8.
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