April 19, 2013 - 6:35 PM
Allegations that Vernon's Liberal MLA was abusing taxpayer money with renovations to his constituency office have been dismissed by B.C.'s conflict commissioner. Again.
Eric Foster hopes this is the end of "false accusations" from the B.C. Conservative Party.
"Everything Cummins (B.C. Conservative leader) gave to the commissioner was incorrect," Foster says. "When the commissioner asked him to provide the evidence, he couldn't, because everything I did was by the books."
Last month, John Cummins asked conflict commissioner Paul Fraser to re-open his investigation into Foster's constituency office. Fraser had already cleared Foster of any wrong-doing relating to his renovations, and the fact that his assistant's husband owned partial shares in the building.
In a reply to Cummins out Tuesday, Fraser rejects Cummins' claims.
"You have suggested that the facts provided to me by the member were not accurate and complete," Fraser said. "Principal among the new "facts" you assert is that the building "is owned by an immediate family member -the husband of Mr. Foster's assistant". You have provided no evidence to support that statement. I can advise you that the member did, in the first instance, make me aware that the assistant's husband had a 25% minority shareholding in the company that owns the building, with the majority shareholding belonging to his parents. This information has been independently verified as correct from the company's records. It is, therefore, inaccurate to suggest that the building was "owned by the husband of Mr. Foster's assistant".
In the letter, Fraser doesn't touch on the cost of the renovations to the office, which Cummins claims was unusually high for the size of the building, its location and the market of the time. He does, however, note Foster's reasons for moving as acceptable.
"In my view, a concern for better visibility and easy constituency access, and the view that this building best served that purpose, is an entirely legitimate consideration for an elected member of the Legislative Assembly," Fraser said. "In short, you have not provided new information that would warrant disturbing the finality of my opinion."
While Foster says the commissioner's letter is "nice" he doesn't think it will impact his campaign.
"People are tired of hearing about it," he says. "They're sick of hearing false accusations with nothing to back them up. This whole thing is a non-issue, and they know that."
He believes the Conservative's attack on him has back-fired.
"Scott Anderson (Vernon Conservative candidate) can't seem to let this go, even after the commissioner, who is well respected—he doesn't just make statements off the top of his head—has dismissed this four times," Foster says. "If Anderson and Cummins don't understand the commissioner's decision, then they can't read. Cummins obviously isn't competent enough to lead the province."
Anderson believes the lack of action made by the commissioner points to a bigger problem.
"At this point, if the conflict commissioner isn't going to do anything, then we have a real systemic problem," Anderson says. "None of this really addresses what happened here."
He says the Conservatives would expand the Act so it doesn't allow MLAs to rent from family friends.
"Foster says everyone does it, and if that's true, we have a problem," Anderson says. "The issue came to light here, and I wonder how many more are doing it."
To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (250)309-5230.
News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2013