How close is too close for government and large corporations?
West Vancouver-Sea to Sky Liberal MLA Jordan Sturdy and Woodfibre LNG are caught up in a controversy after the company sponsored a fundraiser for Sturdy last week.
Although the next provincial election is in 2017, Sturdy was the beneficiary of a Woodfibre LNG hosted, BC Liberal Party fundraiser at West Vancouver’s Capilano Golf and Country Club on Thursday evening.
Woodfibre LNG is waiting to hear if the province will grant the company an environmental permit for its proposed Squamish liquefied natural gas export and processing facility.
“It is embarrassing,” said Eoin Finn, a well known anti-LNG activist who protested outside the event.
“It is basically wrong to have a proponent with a decision in front of the B.C. cabinet sponsoring an event in broad daylight where it is clear that it is right on that edge between legitimate fundraising and influence peddling,” he said.
“If they didn’t think it was wrong, then why not? To your average person who is suspicious of the links between large corporations, their paid lobbyists and government, this smells of all sorts of rotten things,” he added.
Sturdy told The Squamish Chief on Monday that the event is held every year, and many individuals and corporations bought tables, including Woodfibre LNG.
“There has been a fundraiser for decades now, at this time of the year, and it is put on by the West Vancouver Sea to Sky Riding Association and there were 175 people at the fundraiser,” he said.
“It’s all transparent.”
Sturdy added it is not unusual to have a fundraiser this far ahead of a provincial election: “We do it every year in January, generally,” he said.
Finn said while the event was published on the BC Liberals’ website, he heard through an undisclosed source that Woodfibre LNG was sponsoring the fundraiser.
Finn said he and the protesters stayed on public property and though one of the club staff told them not to enter onto the private business driveway, they had no contact with any of the people inside.
Finn said a couple of neighbours to the club came out to offer the protesters hot drinks. Passing cars also honked their support, he said.
Sturdy said he encourages his constituents to contact him and let him know what their concerns are. He said he has been trying to talk to each person directly.
Squamish documentary filmmaker Les McDonald told The Squamish Chief that he asked the leaders at Woodfibre LNG for an on-camera interview about hosting the event and was declined.
“They declined to any interviews now or in the future. This seems to be quite evasive on their part as they will not commit to having anything on record,” McDonald said.
“Many of us in the community of Squamish feel like WLNG is spending a lot of money right now to buy influence and this is a huge conflict of interest.”
Byng Giraud, vice president of corporate affairs for Woodfibre LNG said he didn't see what all the fuss was about, given Woodfibre LNG supports both political parties.
"We, like most companies in this province attend and participate in political party events. We were at the event last year, we were there this year," Giraud said, adding the company attends such political events all over the province.
“We don’t see it as anything atypical or unusual.”
Sturdy said Finance Minister Mike De Jong was also on hand, as well as Attorney General Suzanne Anton and Minister of International Trade Teresa Wat. Several Liberal MLAs were also there, including North Vancouver-Seymour’s Jane Thornthwaite, Ralph Sultan representing West Vancouver-Capilano and Gordon Hogg from Surrey-White Rock.
Editor’s note: This has been updated to include comment from MLA Jordan Sturdy and Woodfibre LNG vice-president Byng Giraud, who replied to requests for comment after the story was posted late Friday.