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Former B.C. minister's 'ethical difficulties' undeserved: commissioner

VICTORIA - Former B.C. agriculture minister Pat Pimm did not breach conflict of interest rules when he contacted the Agricultural Land Commission about a proposed rodeo ground and campsite project on protected farmland, the provincial conflict commissioner has ruled.

Paul Fraser's 41-page decision said Pimm was acting as an enthusiastic politician supporting a proposed project in his Fort St. John-area riding and did not do anything that amounted to personal representation for a constituent or breach conflict laws.

Fraser said Pimm's enthusiasm wasn't ministerial interference and didn't raise potential ethical difficulties.

Pimm said in a statement released Thursday that he was pleased he had been cleared of wrongdoing.

"Throughout my time as an elected official I have always conducted myself with integrity and honour," said Pimm. "I’ve also been a proud advocate for my community and that was exactly what I was doing in this case — advocating for a project that had broad community support."

Last November, Pimm asked Fraser to provide advice to all B.C. members of the legislature about situations where their duties collide with the Agricultural Land Commission, the independent body that protects farmland in the province.

The land commission complained that Pimm's efforts on behalf of local constituent Terry McLeod to remove land from the Agricultural Land Reserve were inappropriate.

But Fraser said Pimm's actions did not breach conflict guidelines.

"The representations he made amounted to general enthusiasm for the rodeo project which he saw as a benefit to the community," said Fraser's decision. "I am satisfied that Mr. Pimm, as a minister, did nothing himself and gave no instructions to others to do anything that amounted to a personal representation for a constituent or a breach of the (Members' Conflict of Interest) Act."

Fraser said speculation by the commission that Pimm's involvement in the land review process "as an MLA created potential 'ethical difficulties' was quite undeserved in light of all the information I have been given."

Pimm wrote to the commission expressing concern about the ALC's decision to reject McLeod's application to remove the land from the reserve. The commission then expressed concerns about a ministerial assistant from Pimm's office contacting the commission about the file.

The commission said Pimm's efforts could give the public, and the commission itself, the impression that he "was attempting to politically influence the commission."

During the same time period, questions about Pimm's contacts with the ALR were being publicly debated, cabinet documents were leaked suggesting Pimm also proposed sweeping changes to the Agricultural Land Reserve, the Crown agency that manages 4.7 million hectares of land in B.C.

The Opposition New Democrats said Pimm was attempting to interfere in a commission decision, and had a "secret plan'' to dismantle the land reserve.

Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett said Pimm's proposal was part of an old document that was rejected, but he confirmed the government was considering making changes.

Last spring, after tense debate in the legislature, the Liberals passed The Agriculture Land Commission Amendment Act, which split the land reserve into two zones, making it easier to use farmland in the Kootenays and northern B.C. for other purposes such as oil and gas development.

Pimm announced last January that he is battling colon cancer and took a leave, prompting Premier Christy Clark to appoint Norm Letnick as agriculture minister last April.

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