A declaration of independence?

Earlier this week, we broke the news that one of the provincial government's supposedly non-partisan electoral boundary commissioners appeared to have some partisan connections. Specifically, Louise Burgart's company Apex Mountain Resort (1997) Ltd. donated $2,900 to the Liberals (apparently, without her knowledge). And, just before British Columbians went to the polls, she had a fawning letter praising the Campbell administration published in the Prince George Citizen. But now, your humble organ has exclusively learned Ms. Burgart did a lot more than just write cheques for the Liberals and say good things about them. During the last election, Ms. Burgart was an organizer for now government backbencher John Rustad, focusing on getting the party's vote out in Fort St. James. And she worked unsuccessfully to secure a Liberal nomination in Prince George-Omineca for Fort St. James mayor Jim Togyi prior to the 1996 election.

Moreover, her company didn't just give cash to the Liberals. In 2001, Apex also directly contributed $1,000 to Liberal MLA Bill Barisoff's election campaign. As Speaker of the Legislature, Mr. Barisoff - whose riding includes the resort - was responsible for Ms. Burgart's appointment to the commission. And it turns out Larry Halbauer, who represented Mr. Barisoff's brother during a case back in 1999, just so happens to sit on Apex's board of directors. But, when asked whether he was consulted about Ms. Burgart becoming a commissioner, Mr. Halbauer said "I have no comment. To the best of my knowledge, never with anyone that I'm aware of."

The electoral boundaries commission is responsible for making recommendations for the redrawing of British Columbia's constituencies. Appointees, who also include a judge and the chief electoral officer, are supposed to be non-partisan to avoid any possibility of gerrymandering (laying down boundaries that would favour one party over another). In a column yesterday, The Vancouver Sun's Vaughn Palmer reported New Democrat leader Carole James "knew (Ms. Burgart) by reputation as a former superintendent, and okayed the choice. She also thought it was a good idea to have a woman on the panel as well." It appears the Opposition leader's office didn't do a background check on Ms. Burgart prior to Ms. James giving that okay.

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