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HomeBusinessGreen leader wants conflict of interest law strengthened after Horgan disclosed his coal board gig

Green leader wants conflict of interest law strengthened after Horgan disclosed his coal board gig

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Bob Mackin

The leader of the BC Greens wants an overhaul of the province’s conflict of interest law after former Premier John Horgan announced on his last day as an MLA that he would join the board of a Teck spinoff. 

Sonia Furstenau’s April 20-tabled bill would make B.C.’s Members’ Conflict of Interest Act similar to the federal law, which bans a former public officer holder from entering a contract of service with, or accepting an appointment to a board of directors of, an entity which they had direct and significant dealings.

Green leader Sonia Furstenau (CPAC)

For MLAs, the cooling-off period would be one year, for ministers, two years. The bill would include an allowance for a former member to apply to the conflict of interest commissioner for a public interest exemption to the prohibited period. 

Despite updates to the lobbyist legislation and bans on corporate and union donations since 2017, Furstenau said other loopholes remain. 

The bill also proposes raising the $5,000 fine to $50,000, in line with Alberta’s Conflicts of Interest Act.

“Our provincial act is sorely out of line with jurisdictions across the country,” Furstenau said. “We have seen the consequences, as the relationships between large corporations and this assembly are perceived by the public to have overruled the public interest. To be frank, that perception is not unfounded.”

On April 10, 2022, Teck lobbied officials, including Horgan’s chief of staff Geoff Meggs, about provincial/U.S. transboundary matters.

Teck lobbyists held a virtual meeting with Horgan on Oct. 11, five weeks before he left the Office of the Premier and David Eby was sworn-in. The meeting about mine operations and project development also included Meggs, environment minister George Heyman and mining and energy minister Bruce Ralston.

Horgan revealed on March 31 that he had agreed to join the board overseeing Teck’s metallurgical coal division and had been talking with the company about the appointment since December. 

“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,” Horgan told the Globe and Mail. “I don’t want to be snippy about it, but there are others that are making policy decisions.”

Horgan’s board appointment awaits the formal split of Teck into two companies, Teck Metals and Elk Valley Resources. The Vancouver-based mining giant is resisting a hostile takeover by Swiss-headquarted Glencore. Shareholders are expected to vote on the board’s recommended split on April 26. 

In Question Period, Furstenau asked whether Horgan, while premier, had discussed referring Teck’s pollution of the Elk Valley to the International Joint Commission (IJC). The B.C. government sent a letter to the federal government asking for the selenium pollution issue not be referred to the IJC. 

“There are very few issues, if any, with respect to the environment, with respect to international obligations relating to the environment, with respect to impacts of mining or work in which my ministry is engaged about which I have not had numerous discussions and meetings,” Heyman said in Question Period. “However, to the best of my recollection, I never had a discussion about the IJC with the former Premier.”

Private member’s bills rarely pass in B.C. Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch, said Horgan’s rapid rise to the corporate world shows just how weak B.C.’s political ethics rules are and suggested B.C. adopt federal language. 

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