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Ministers caught up in Prince George wood centre affair should resign: Kash Heed

A digital rendering of the Wood Innovation and Design Centre to be constructed in Prince George, B.C., March 22, 2013.

Former B.C. solicitor-general Kash Heed is calling on cabinet ministers Shirley Bond and Pat Bell to resign over their apparent roles in the procurement process for a multimillion-dollar contract in Prince George.

Kash Heed, MLA for Vancouver-Fraserview, said in an op-ed first posted on The Huffington Post B.C. on Tuesday that he is "alarmed by the details emerging about the Prince George Wood Innovation and Design Centre" and feels the Attorney-General and Jobs Minister "have an obligation to remove themselves as ministers until this matter is formally investigated."

But Premier Christy Clark, following a rally to tout B.C. Liberal candidates in Surrey, effusively praised Ms. Bond as attorney-general.

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"I don't agree with [Mr. Heed], obviously, on this," she told reporters.

"Shirley Bond has conducted herself with absolute integrity. That's the reason she's running again and part of our renewed team."

She emphasized that Ms. Bond is seeking re-election. Due to health issues, Mr. Bell is not.

The two cabinet ministers are accused of improperly influencing the land acquisition and procurement process for the WIDC.

Briefing notes for Northern Development Initiative Trust (NDIT) CEO Janine North that were prepared for a September 2009 board meeting show Ms. North met with Ms. Bond and Mr. Bell to discuss the process. The meeting was held to review approval for an $8.9-million loan to Commonwealth Campus Corp., a company controlled by Prince George businessman Dan McLaren.

The documents, obtained by The Globe and Mail, stated Commonwealth intended to use the funds to purchase land in downtown Prince George, with the assumption it would eventually be sold to the University of Northern British Columbia or the province for use as the site of the WIDC, a 10-storey wood office tower that has been billed as a showcase for B.C. wood products.

Mr. McLaren and another Northern B.C. businessman, Brian Fehr, claim Mr. Bell promised their proposal would be shortlisted for the contract to build the WIDC and the land assembled by Commonwealth would be used as the site of the project. However, neither Commonwealth nor The Bid Group – a firm controlled by Mr. Fehr – were shortlisted and the loan is now in foreclosure.

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Further, Ms. North – the head of the NDIT, a public money trust that operates at arm's length from the government – said in a statement provincial staff had told her to rewrite a letter that said the loan was issued at the "request of two local Ministers of the Crown."

The ministers have denied any wrongdoing.

Mr. Heed noted he has personal experience dealing with such controversy, having resigned from cabinet in 2010 after learning he was going to be questioned by the RCMP about violations of the Elections Act in his campaign office.

"Upon hearing about the RCMP's intentions to question me, I made an immediate decision to step down as solicitor-general until such time as I was exonerated," he wrote. "While I was confident that I had not done anything wrong personally, I was aware of my accountability as a cabinet minister during the course of the investigation."

The public trust is where elected officials derive their legitimacy, he continued.

"The moment that this public trust is called into question is the point that our entire system of governance is compromised. I hope that Mr. Bell and Ms. Bond seriously contemplate the importance of the decision they have in front of them and do the right thing."

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Mr. Heed is not seeking re-election to the B.C. legislature.

With a report from Ian Bailey

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About the Author
News reporter

Based in Vancouver, Andrea Woo is a general assignment reporter with a focus on multimedia journalism. More

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