Conflict of Interest
Politics is a dirty business. It’s no secret to any of us that the agreements and plans which shape our community’s future are often hatched behind closed doors far away from the eyes and influence of the public. Insider influence and political favours are commonplace in any representational system that removes the influence of a community from day to day decision making processes. Sometimes though, the nepotism of representational democracy becomes so flagrant and so unethical that it does deserve public scrutiny.
This is the situation with the controversial Victoria International Marina Project that threatens to take over our harbour with the aquatic equivalent of a parking lot for hummer limousines. The proposed mega yacht marina will commandeer a large area that is already used by paddlers, ferry operators, sea planes and personal boaters.
It presents serious safety and environmental concerns and the project has been opposed by neighborhood groups, paddling clubs, ferry operators, eco-tourism businesses and Victoria City councilors. It’s hard to imagine a proposal that is this unpopular having any traction at all, but developers and their paid lobbyist have been meeting with politicians to grease the wheels of the approval process.
The project is being proposed by Bob Evans in collaboration with WAM Development group. Bob Evans was the fundraising chair for the federal Minister of Tourism and Sport Gary Lunn and Evans’ wife was the financial agent for a third party advertiser that sprung up to support Mr. Lunn’s last election campaign.
WAM Development hired Mr. Lunn’s campaign manager and federally registered lobbyist Bruce Hallsor to advocate on their behalf. Hallsor is also the BC Liberal constituency association president in Victoria – Beacon Hill and the fundraising committee chair for the Conservatives electoral district association for Saanich and the Gulf Islands. In 2008 he met with Lawrence Cannon who was then the federal Transportation Minister.
Mr. Hallsor also met with former BC Tourism Minister Stan Hagen, who wrote him a letter strongly supporting the marina project. Mr. Hallsor and Mr. Evans met with BC Finance Minister Colin Hansen in 2007 as well. When questioned about this meeting Mr. Hallsor denied having met with provincial ministers. Later he was quoted saying that he was “pretty sure,” that he registered as a provincial lobbyist and that his name may have been removed from the registry. An official with the registry, however; confirmed names are never removed from the database.
Wether or not Mr. Hallsor and/or Mr. Evans’ connections inside the federal Conservative and provincial Liberal parties have influenced decision makers is impossible to determine, but there is a reasonable apprehension that their political activities may have created a conflict of interest for the politicians that they met with. Who can tell now if their decisions are being influenced by allegiances to key members of the political teams that have helped their colleagues, their party and themselves attain power?
The federal Lobbyist Act states, “Lobbyists should endeavor to conduct themselves in the highest ethical manner thus avoiding situations which could create a real or apparent conflict of interest for a public office holder.” It appears that Mr. Hallsor and Mr. Evans may have failed to live up to this standard.