January 22, 2013 - 7:56 PM
The BC Conservative party continues to make things uncomfortable for Vernon-Monashee MLA Eric Foster. Scott Anderson, the local Conservative candidate, says the party will ask the conflict of interest commissioner, and the auditor general, to reopen a review into Foster's Vernon office.
Foster's Vernon constituency office has been the source for two major criticisms in recent weeks. The first is that Foster submitted a hefty bill to the legislature for renovations to his new office, which critics have deemed unusually high for such a small building. Conservatives have suggested Foster also failed to provide proper documentation of all the receipts. Anderson questions how a $67,000 renovation can be reconciled with the current assessed value of the land and office being $187,100.
But according to Anderson, the issues don't end there.
He says the office, which Foster rents, was purchased by the family of Ravinder "Sid" Sidhu, a patron of the Liberal party, just four days before the 2009 election.
"(He) supported Foster's campaign," Anderson tells InfoTel News.
After winning his place as Vernon-Monashee MLA, Foster promptly moved out of what Anderson says was a perfectly adequate office in the Sun Valley Mall, to an "old, rundown office" which used to be a Sushi restaurant, on 31st Avenue. Foster's assistant is married to Sidhu, which further complicates things.
"I believe he's an old family friend," Anderson says of the relationship between Sidhu and Foster.
Auditor general John Doyle previously raised a conflict-of-interest concern about the landlord being married to Foster's assistant, which was ultimately cleared by the commissioner, according to an article in the Times Colonist by Les Leyne.
Anderson says he's not sure what will happen when the party makes its request for the file to be reopened.
"We just want to make sure they have the full information," he says. "The situation leads me to believe the conflict commissioner didn't have all the facts."
And if they already do, but aren't doing anything about it?
"Then we have a systemic problem," Anderson says. "If it is in fact rampant with MLAs, changes are needed."
He says Foster's ties with the landlord, the timing of the building purchase being just days before the election, and the poorly documented renos are too coincidental.
He points to Tom Birch, Conservative candidate for Shuswap, as an example of good transparency.
Birch has recently unveiled the "Victoria in Your Hands" smart phone app which allows him to communicate directly with voters. The app will keep voters informed, and offer them a chance to respond.
"I think if MLAs had access to that, this (Foster situation) wouldn't have happened," Anderson says.
While the Conservatives do their thing, blogger David Bratzer from Victoria has filed a complaint with BC Assessment regarding their assessed value of the building leased by Foster.
“Recent media reports suggest that in 2009, the individual leasing 3209 31st Avenue in Vernon – Mr. Eric Foster – spent as much as $78,000 on building renovations. This property is currently assessed at $187,100. Given the renos, I believe its actual market value to be higher," reads Bratzer's complaint.
Bratzer says the Property Assessment Review Panel is required to hold a hearing on the matter by March 15. Bratzer is asking the Panel to compel Foster to appear as a witness at the hearing and to produce financial documents regarding the 2009 renovations.
Foster could not be reached for comment on this article.
News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2013