Minister of Land, Water and Resource Stewardship Josie Osborne is refuting a conflict of interest allegation launched by the BC Liberal Caucus on Tuesday.
The claim stems from a $15 million grant received by the MakeWay Charitable Society, the same society that purchased the Tofino Botanical Gardens from Osborne’s husband George Patterson for $2.3 million in September, 2021.
“We’ve learned Minister Osborne granted millions in funding to an ENGO that had recently purchased a property from the minister’s family,” BC Liberal Critic for Land, Water and Resource Stewardship Lorne Doerkson said through a June 28 statement requesting that the Conflict of Interest Commissioner investigate Osborne’s actions.
“Concerningly, records show that a few days after the multi-million dollar property was sold to MakeWay Charitable Society, the same organization started lobbying the minister, only to be granted a $15 million stewardship fund a few months later. How are British Columbians able to have confidence that the purchase of the property did not play a role in the award of the $15 million fund or that MakeWay did not leverage this purchase to gain influence with the Minister’s Office? At the very least, people deserve clarity as to how the sale and granting of the fund came about. As a result, I have raised concerns with the Conflict of Interest Commissioner, calling for an investigation into the matter.”
MakeWay received the $15 million from the ministry to coordinate watershed restoration projects being led or co-led by First Nations, according to an April funding announcement from the provincial government.
The BC Liberals are asking the Conflict of Interest Commissioner to investigate whether MakeWay’s purchase of the Botanical Gardens played a role in the organization receiving the $15 million.
“It is essential that British Columbians can trust their elected officials, and especially government ministers, to act in the best interest of the people they were elected to serve, free of conflict of interest. As such, this information about Minister Osborne raises some concerns,” said Doerkson. “Minister Osborne’s decision to grant such a large amount of public money to MakeWay, after they purchased property from her family, must be investigated by the Conflict of Interest Commissioner. The minister should explain her actions and demonstrate that she is holding herself to the high standard of conduct people expect from their government.”
In an email to the Westerly News, a Ministry of Land, Water and Resource Stewardship spokesperson suggested the Liberal’s allegation is “inaccurate” and that Osborne has reached out to the Commissioner “to ensure that she has all the information necessary to resolve this matter quickly.”
“Minister Osborne did not participate in the decision to engage Watershed BC and MakeWay to administer funding for the Healthy Watersheds Initiative, as the decision was taken when the program fell under the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, prior to the creation of the Ministry of Land, Water and Resource Stewardship,” the spokesperson wrote.
“Furthermore, after becoming Minister for Land, Water and Resource Stewardship, Minister Osborne set up a screen with the Deputy Minister for Land, Water and Resource Stewardship to recuse herself from any decision-making involving MakeWay. This is in line with public service processes for preventing and managing any potential or perceived conflicts of interest.”
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