In my previous post I reviewed The Mighty Hughes by Craig McInnes, a biography of Ted Hughes. After moving to British Columbia in his early 50’s Ted was the first Conflict of Interest Commissioner for the province. In that position and through other assignments he reviewed the allegations of misconduct against provincial politicians.
He became famous when Premier Bill Vander Zalm, an outspoken and colourful businessman, called upon Ted to investigate Vander Zalm’s business dealings, while Premier, with a Taiwanese businessman, Tan Yu, concerning the Premier’s money losing business Fantasy Gardens:
Depending on the eye of the beholder it was either the height of kitsch or an enchanting retreat, with extensive gardens, a giant windmill, a miniature train, a reproduction of Noah’s Ark, statutes depicting the life of Jesus and a Dutch castle with a drawbridge left over from Expo ’86.
The name and description of Fantasy Gardens may seem like fiction but it was real.
After arranging for the government to provide VIP treatment of Tan Yu on his arrival in British Columbia there was a late night meeting at which a revised agreement for sale of Fantasy Gardens was reached. The evening concluded with the Premier being given $100,000 in cash.
Vander Zalm, in his first interview with Ted, did not tell him about the $100,000. After Hughes found about the cash there was a second interview in which Vander Zalm “said he had not mentioned the cash because it was a private matter that had nothing to do with the sale of Fantasy Gardens.” The revised explanation was not believed. I doubt the explanation would have helped even if believed. Vander Zalm had no real concept of conflict of interest.
In his report:
Hughes found that the fundamental issue wasn’t that Vander Zalm did not understand the need to draw a line between his public and private life, it was his “apparently sincere belief that no conflict existed as long as the public didn’t know what was going on.”
The Premier resigned after the devastating report was released.
While many might conclude Ted was out to punish devious and wicked politicians it is actually his conviction that being a politician is an honourable profession and deserves to be respected:
Hughes’ strong belief in the fundamental honour of most politicians was matched by his zeal and determination to protect the honour of the profession. Hughes understood that as a public servant he was serving political masters, but from early on he also loyally served an ideal that his masters were also public servants who had to meet high standards to maintain the public trust. If they failed to meet that standard, he was ready to say so.
He supported strong conflict of interest legislation to support politicians
Ted’s opinion of the profession of politics led me to reflect that the provincial politicians I know best are honourable men and women doing their best for city or province or country. I think we are often unduly harsh in judging the motivations of politicians. I have known each of the MLA’s (Members of the Legislative Assembly) for Melfort over the past 40 years. They represented three different political parties. I consider each to be an honourable person.
Norm Vickar, former farmer and car dealer and Mayor, was our MLA when I came to Melfort in 1975.
He was followed by an auctioneer, Grant Hodgins.
He was succeeded by Carol Carson who had been Mayor of Melfort.
Rod Gantefoer, the co-owner of the local KFC franchise, was our next MLA.
Most recently Kevin Phillips, a newspaper man and car dealer and Mayor, was our MLA until he died suddenly last month. At Kevin’s funeral the Premier, Brad Wall, and a provincial Minister, Joe Hargreaves, spoke of Kevin’s integrity. Kevin worked hard to get a women’s crisis shelter built in Melfort, the first new shelter in 28 years in our province, including walking miles in red high heeled shoes in “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” fundraisers. I knew Kevin as a friend and as a client. I can affirm he was a man of integrity and principle.
I resent the attitude that politics is a dishonourable profession and support Ted’s view that the vast majority of politicians are honourable people.