Justice minister Shirley Bond and jobs minister Pat Bell will be holding a media conference today in Prince George where they’re expected to make what they call a significant announcement about the Wood Innovation and Design Centre.
But serious questions remain unanswered about the controversial WIDC project after two Prince George businessmen raised concerns about the involvement of Bell and Bond in the procurement process. They alleged that they had been “duped” by the Liberal ministers.
Key among those unanswered questions:
- Has the legal services branch investigated the allegations? A government-appointed “fairness advisor” received the complaints made by the two businessmen. But the advisor noted that many of the allegations were outside her mandate. The legal services branch of the justice ministry has a responsibility to investigate the legality of the deal. In the Legislature, the justice minister repeatedly refused to answer questions. Prince George residents deserve to know whether the allegations were fully probed.
- Is it appropriate for a publicly funded trust to lend money on a speculative real estate deal? Minister Bell has claimed that the Northern Development Initiative Trust acts as an arms-length organization, but the trust falls under his ministerial responsibility and he appoints five members to its 13-member board. He has repeatedly refused to answer whether he thinks this was an appropriate business decision. As well, the deal was originally linked to treasury board approval – the justice minister was aware that approval had not been granted when the loan was given.
- What was the justice minister’s role in the procurement? Emails show that Minister Bond was part of the early discussion – using her private email address in some cases. But she has refused to answer questions about her involvement in the WIDC land deal that’s at the centre of the scandal.
- What did the justice minister know about the real funding commitment? In September 2011, Premier Christy Clark was in Prince George, promising the tallest multi-use wood building in the world, even though the government had only committed $25 million, an amount that was not nearly enough to have built a 10-storey structure. Former finance minister Kevin Falcon says the premier was aware the money wasn’t there for that project. The justice minister was deputy chair of treasury board and was at the premier’s announcement. Why didn’t she correct the record?
New Democrat forest critic Norm Macdonald: “This project was a campaign announcement by the Gordon Campbell Liberals in 2009 and has been repeatedly re-announced since, including today. This latest re-announcement is an attempt to paper over allegations of inappropriate involvement in a project that has been a bungled deal right from the start.”
The B.C. Liberals aren’t up to the challenges facing British Columbia today. B.C.'s New Democrats are offering change for the better, one practical step at a time.