Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett denies there is a conflict of interest in his involvement with a dispute between B.C. guide outfitters and resident hunters, given an old shareholder loan of his in a now-defunct guide outfitters business.
Bennett, who had invested in a small business 20 years ago, says he gave his shares back when he received the BC Liberal Party nomination before winning his first election in 2001.
“I did that very specifically and deliberately so that I would put some clear space between me and this company,” said Bennett, “because at the time, there was this guide outfitter working this territory and I just didn’t want to have any association with anything like that because I knew after I got elected that I would be wanting to be involved with public policy issues relating to wildlife management.”
Every year, Bennett says he declares the shareholder loan—which was roughly $65,000—to the conflict of interest commissioner, who has told assured him that he is doing everything appropriately.
“I have spoken on numerous occasions to the conflict of interest commissioner to make sure that I’m okay that just because of this loan, I’m okay to be involved in public policy and discussions within government,” Bennett said.
“…There’s no interest on it, there’s no promissory note. If I demanded repayment on that loan, I have no documentation that would require them to repay the loan. It sits on the books and I disclose it every year in my conflict of interest disclosure statement.”
Bennett’s ties to the company arose following the debate over the government’s decision to reallocate more animals—including moose, elk, sheep and grizzly bears—for non-resident hunters and guide outfitting businesses in the province. Around December, the government backtracked on that decision, following protests from resident hunters.
“The gist of the criticism is that I’m somehow biased in favour of guide outfitters. If you check my record over the last 14 years, you will find that it’s very much the opposite, that oftentimes, the guides are not that happy with me because I tend to support the resident hunters,” Bennett said.
“Most recently in the allocation debate, I came out publicly at Christmastime and said that the minister responsible should rethink his decision to put mountain big horn sheep on general open season for guides in region four. I said that publicly and I got some criticism for it for speaking publicly but that was to support resident hunters.”