B.C. minister Josie Osborne denies conflict-of-interest allegations

B.C. Liberals have asked conflict-of-interest commissioner Victoria Gray to look into whether there’s any conflict concerning Josie Osborne.

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In the face of conflict-of-interest allegations, Land, Water and Resource Stewardship Minister Josie Osborne’s office has provided a timeline to show she was not involved in a decision to approve a $15-million grant to a non-profit group that purchased her husband’s investment property.

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In April, the Land, Water and Resource Stewardship Ministry announced that a $15 million stewardship fund would be given to the MakeWay Charitable Society, formerly known as Tides Canada, to co-ordinate watershed restoration projects led or co-led by First Nations.

Osborne’s husband, George Patterson, sold the Tofino Botanical Gardens to the MakeWay Charitable Society for $2.3 million on Sept. 17, 2021, according to land title documents. The 12-acre waterfront property on the Pacific Rim Highway was initially listed for $3.75 million.

The B.C. Liberals have asked conflict-of-interest commissioner Victoria Gray to look into whether there’s any conflict. They insist the optics aren’t good.

“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?” Lorne Doerkson, B.C. Liberal critic for Land, Water and Resource Stewardship, asked in a statement.

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However, Osborne’s office said she didn’t participate in the decision to select MakeWay as the group to administer funding for the healthy watersheds’ initiative. The decision was taken when the program fell under the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy before the Ministry of Land, Water and Resource Stewardship was created in February.

After taking charge of the new ministry, Osborne set up a screen with her deputy minister 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,” her ministry said.

Osborne wasn’t available for an interview, but her ministry said in a statement that the B.C. Liberal complaint is “inaccurate” and that she’s reached out to the commissioner to provide all necessary information to resolve the issue quickly.

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A public interest disclosure statement filed by Osborne on Nov. 26, 2021, says her spouse does consulting/contracting with the MakeWay Foundation. The foundation is a national charitable organization, which has a mandate of “nature and communities thriving together.” It converted the botanical gardens into an Indigenous conservation area and innovation centre.

When the land sale was announced, Patterson told local media he would stay on as an adviser for three years.

Osborne was one of the ministers lobbied by MakeWay in April relating to conservation and forestry issues.

Osborne, a marine biologist elected to represent the Mid Island-Pacific Rim riding in 2020, is the former mayor of Tofino.

Gray, the commissioner, didn’t comment on the allegations but her office said in a statement she “will determine in due course what further steps are required and will proceed accordingly.”

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