For someone who doesn’t have a clue what it’s about, Premier John Horgan is pretty heavily invested in defending a cabinet minister under police investigation.
Citizens’ Services Minister Jinny Sims’ abrupt resignation last week was the main topic of question period Tuesday for the second day in a row.
There was zero progress in determining what police are looking into. The only thing the legislature knows for sure is that no one knows anything. That’s never stopped politicians from arguing anyway.
Horgan is on risky ground in reacting to the first forced departure of a cabinet minister during his term.
He feels obliged to issue a defence of her character. But he’s going further than that, by unilaterally ruling out specific suspicions.
When the legislature adjourned in May, Sims was on the hot seat over claims of misconduct from a former constituency worker who turned whistleblower after being dismissed.
Barring everyone being blindsided by something completely different, those claims are the focus of much speculation about why police asked the attorney general’s ministry on Friday to appoint a special prosecutor to guide an investigation into Sims.
The fact the opposition wrote to the RCMP about the matter at the time increases the suspicion that the whistleblower’s complaints are the subject.
The former employee’s most serious allegations were that Sims planned to engage in a “cash for access” fundraiser in order to raise “Chinese money,” and that Sims was getting improper campaign contributions in exchange for writing letters of support for foreign nationals seeking visas.
There was a scattershot series of complaints about other things, including that office communication did not follow legal freedom-of-information requirements.
Horgan told the legislature Tuesday: “We looked into those allegations. They were unfounded. We closed the file.”
That’s the same line they held to in the spring. The only problem is that the RCMP has developed an interest that may centre on that same file.
If the police investigation turns out to be focused on the whistleblower’s complaints and turns up something serious, the premier has bigger problems than a cabinet minister under suspicion.
His office’s investigation of the original complaint will be equally suspect. It’s already in the minds of the opposition, although they don’t know any more than the government does about the issue.
B.C. Liberal critics have badgered Horgan and Attorney General David Eby for two days about that probe and their reaction to the police investigation, as well.
That has prompted Eby to tell his ministry to write the commissioner of the RCMP to pledge total co-operation with preserving any records they need.
Eby insisted the government has responded properly. They accepted the minister’s resignation within hours of learning of the request for a special prosecutor.
They cut off all access to government communication channels, although they let her keep her devices for four days.
And they’re keeping the proper arm’s length from the actual investigation.
This would all play a lot better if Horgan’s office hadn’t completely dismissed the complaints last spring, after a quick check by his chief of staff, Geoff Meggs.
Meggs, who has known Sims for years, looked into the complaints and dismissed all of them.
For good measure, the NDP caucus got a lawyer to write an intimidating letter to the whistlerblower’s lawyer. It was headed “defamation and privacy concerns” and rebutted every one of her claims, saying they were false and that repeating them constitutes defamation.
But somebody, the opposition and perhaps others, repeated them to the RCMP, and now they’re looking into them and Sims is forced into what could be an extended time-out.
Horgan said he has “every confidence in Jinny … and I’m confident that she will be able to clear the air.”
For her part, Sims says she doesn’t know what it’s all about, either, and is just letting the process play out. If it doesn’t play out in her favour, there will be a lot of finger-pointing about the initial handling of the claims.
Just So You Know: Adding to all the guessing underway is one phrase in the prosecution service’s only public statement.
It refers to the allegations against Sims “and other persons unknown to the prosecution service.”