When he was responsible for the liquour distribution branch, provincial cabinet minister Rick Thorpe says he "never dealt with anything" that had to do with Vincor International Inc. - a wine producer he has had a reported financial stake in. But, speaking with Public Eye in Penticton, he did not say whether he had been involved in the development of government policies generally related to the wine industry.
Minister Thorpe has a longstanding relationship with that industry. According to his official biography, he spent 22 years working for John Labatt Ltd. Following that career, he became involved at a senior level with one of the companies that went onto form Vincor, North America's fourth largest wine producer.
According to public disclosure statements filed by Minister Thorpe between 2001 and 2005, he owns an undisclosed number of common shares in Vincor - which was bought out in June by Constellation Brands Inc. In addition, according to a 2003 article by The Daily News's Cam Fortems, his former constituency association president is Harry McWatters. Mr. McWatters is the founder of Sumac Ridge Estate Winery, which joined Vincor in 2000.
Minister Thorpe says he has reviewed the ownership of those shares with conflict of interest commissioner H.A.D. Oliver. And "if anything did come into my office that had Vincor on it, it would have been re-directed to another minister."
When asked whether he has been involved in the development of provincial wine policies, Minister Thorpe responded, "It's very hard to answer a broad-brushed question because I want to know what question three or four are going to be. Because I know you've been after this for a long, long time. Because I hear things to. And if you're trying to find some dirt on this, there's no fucking dirt. Because that's what you're trying to do...I know you've been out digging behind my back. You're trying to ambush me. You know it and I know it. And I did nothing wrong."
He then alleged those questions were being asked for the New Democrats. "I know it and you know it," he said.
Minister Thorpe was responsible for the liquour distribution branch until that file was transferred to then solicitor general Rich Coleman in April 2003. He is presently the minister of small business and revenue. A version of this article was originally published in today's edition of 24 hours.