Premier Christy Clark has been accused of interfering in a local band election to help a candidate who supports a $10-million wind farm proposal involving her brother, Bruce Clark.
Ms. Clark was not available for comment, but her office denied that the Premier’s recent visit to Haida Gwaii was in any way meant to influence the campaign of Chief Ken Rea, who was narrowly re-elected Monday, or to assist Mr. Clark’s business deal with the band.
“There’s no merit to this allegation whatsoever,” said Ben Chin, executive director of communications for Ms. Clark.
During her visit to Old Massett, a small native community on the north end of Haida Gwaii, Ms. Clark announced at a public meeting that the province was making a $150,000 grant to the Old Massett Village Council (OMVC).
The money is for a feasibility study of a proposed $4-million expansion to the 40-student elementary school on the reserve.
The announcement gave a boost to the campaign of Mr. Rea, who has been a long-time supporter of Mr. Clark’s proposed wind farm.
But Mr. Chin said there was no link between Ms. Clark’s visit and Mr. Clark’s private business dealings.
“The Premier is not aware of any relationship between Mr. Clark’s company and Old Massett Village Council,” Mr. Chin said.
Mr. Chin said the Premier went to Old Massett as a “relationship building” exercise, and it appears she got caught in political crossfire.
But Kimball Davidson, a candidate who was trying to unseat Mr. Rea, said the Premier’s surprise visit and the grant she announced on Nov. 26 unfairly helped his rival.
“I would consider it political interference,” Mr. Davidson said before Monday’s vote. “It’s in Bruce Clark’s best interest if Ken Rea becomes chief councillor again.”
Mr. Davidson, who got 117 votes to Mr. Rea’s 159, is opposed to the business deal between OMVC and Mr. Clark’s company, Broadwing Renewables Inc. and instead favours OMVC working in partnership with the Council of Haida Nation (CHN) to develop a wind farm.
Mr. Davidson said the school grant is curious because Chief Matthews Elementary School is on reserve lands, and is therefore a federal responsibility, and because two expansion studies have been done in the past 10 years with federal funds.
“I was kind of shocked that Christy Clark would come up here just to say, ‘Hey, we’re going to give you some money,’” Mr. Davidson said. “I think it all has to do with her brother.”
Mr. Clark said he had nothing to do with the grant and denied doing anything to get Ms. Clark to visit Old Massett.
“I have trouble getting her to come for family dinners,” he said.
Mr. Clark said he did help Mr. Rea make connections with government education officials.
“I simply told [Mr. Rea], ‘If you have issues, here’s who you talk to,’” he said.
Mr. Clark said due to his sister’s job as premier he is very sensitive to potential conflicts of interest, and he won’t get involved in business deals unless it’s through a public bidding process.
“At the end of the day, when you go through a public process and you’ve been prescreened and qualified and you have the best price and you win, I don’t see how anybody can complain about that,” he said.
Mr. Rea agreed Mr. Clark’s only role was that he helped make connections with the government.
“I don’t know anybody at the province, so Bruce gave me a number to call,” he said.
Mr. Rea said he dealt with officials in the Ministry of Education, not the Premier’s office, and Ms. Clark’s visit had nothing to do with the election.
“I don’t need her to come up to win or lose this election,” he said Monday, before the vote. “The real value for me to bring the Premier to help our community here is to give [the federal government] a kick.”
Mr. Rea said he was told by officials in Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (formerly Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada) that if he secured provincial funds, he could use it to leverage $2-million out of Ottawa and $2-million out of Victoria.
John Disney, economic development officer for OMVC, said the council has been working with Mr. Clark for several years, hoping to develop a wind farm to replace the diesel generation that now provides electricity on northern Haida Gwaii.
“That project is ready to go. It has been since 2007. The only thing that is stopping it is our own Nation, the Council of Haida Nation [CHN], won’t give us a letter of support for it. So it’s sort of internal politics,” Mr. Disney said.
Peter Lantin, president of the CHN, didn’t return calls.
Mr. Disney said the wind farm would cost about $10-million to develop and Broadwing Renewables Inc. would arrange the financing, bring in a firm to build the project, and then, after about five years, OMVC would buy full control.
The project could not go ahead without an electricity purchasing agreement with BC Hydro. In 2012, the power corporation made a request for expressions of interest on Haida Gwaii and received 26 submissions, including one from Broadwing Renewables. BC Hydro did not pursue any of those renewable power deals at that time for cost reasons.
Mora Scott, a BC Hydro spokesperson, said in an e-mail the corporation has asked the Haida Nation for a proposal, but “no project has been brought forward or selected at this time.”