The vice-president of the B.C. Liberal Party is under investigation for failing to register as a lobbyist before contacting provincial government officials, including Jobs Minister Pat Bell, on behalf of a controversial Chinese investor.
The Office of the Registrar of Lobbyists in British Columbia said it is investigating whether Bill Belsey violated provincial lobbying regulations by working as an agent for Chinese businessman Ni Ritao and his companies, including Sun Wave Forest Products, the former owner of the Skeena Cellulose pulp mill in Prince Rupert.
"We are actively investigating this," Mary Carlson, deputy registrar of lobbyists, said in an interview. "What we are looking at is if somebody was lobbying without being registered."
If Mr. Belsey is found to have contravened provincial lobbying regulations, the former North Coast MLA could face fines of up to $25,000.
The probe, which could take as long as six months, marks the latest setback for the Liberal government and Mr. Bell, who has been closely linked to Mr. Belsey as part of a deepening scandal involving Mr. Ni, Sun Wave and the shuttered pulp mill in Prince Rupert.
Mr. Ni bought the mill in 2005, promising to restart it and bring back lost jobs. He never did, and the city of Prince Rupert took back the property in 2010. Mr. Ni and Sun Wave are suing the city.
The Globe and Mail reported on Nov. 7, 2012, that Mr. Bell, the provincial minister responsible for jobs, tourism and skills training, forwarded an internal government e-mail in 2011 to Mr. Belsey discussing fraud allegations made in China against Mr. Ni and Sun Wave. In addition to being the vice-president of the BC Liberal Party, Mr. Belsey was employed as a spokesman and representative for Sun Wave in Canada. The e-mail also contained information regarding a potential settlement with Mr. Ni to end his legal dispute with the city. Mr. Bell has denied he divulged any internal government information by forwarding Mr. Belsey the e-mail.
In an interview last year, Mr. Belsey said he was a registered lobbyist and spoke to Mr. Bell frequently. "We talk about all kinds of things. I do lobbying. I'm a registered lobbyist with the province. Pat and I went into government together," Mr. Belsey said in early November.
However, the Office of the Registrar of Lobbyists showed no record of Mr. Belsey as a registered lobbyist at the time. Current records show that he later registered as a consultant lobbyist for the Gitxaala First Nations on Nov. 20, 2012. On Dec. 10, 2012, Mr. Belsey registered as a consultant lobbyist for Sun Wave Investments Inc. The filing shows that in his capacity as a representative of Sun Wave, Mr. Belsey contacted Mr. Bell, Environment Minister Terry Lake and two other government officials in hopes of arranging a meeting between "an individual" and "a public office holder" to discuss "environmental, permitting and economic development issues related to Watson Island on behalf of Sun Wave Investments."
Watson Island is the site of the shuttered pulp mill. Mr. Belsey did not respond to requests for comment on the investigation. Officials in Mr. Bell's ministry also did not respond to requests for comment.
Mr. Bell will be questioned as part of the investigation, Ms. Carlson said. She has already spoken to Mr. Belsey and will speak with representatives of Sun Wave as well as other government officials.