VICTORIA — Kelowna-West MLA Ben Stewart says he’s hopes an Elections B.C. review involving his constituency assistant, which caused him to step out of the B.C. Liberal caucus, will be completed quickly.
Stewart stepped away from caucus last week after a constituency assistant complained to Elections B.C., alleging being forced to donate approximately $1,225 on Stewart’s behalf to the B.C. Liberal Party. That amount is near the personal maximum under B.C.’s new donation law, also described as the top-tier “Founders’ Club” level for B.C. Liberal Party members.
The B.C. Liberal Party confirmed Thursday it had refunded the donation in March after the constituency assistant contacted the party and asked for the money back.
Stewart called it “a donation they made that was reimbursed.” It’s unclear how reimbursing another person’s donation falls under the rules of B.C.’s Elections Act.
“It’s kind of a very small issue, but because the individual is pursuing it and sending around accusations along with that, it makes it very difficult,” Stewart said. “So I thought the best thing to do was approach Elections B.C. and get clarity.”
Stewart said he made the move out of an abundance of caution. “I haven’t seen or heard complaints directly. This is all voluntary.”
Elections B.C. spokeswoman Rebecca Penz said the independent agency is conducting a “compliance review” — a step before an investigation that involves reviewing disclosure statements and financial reports. Only if the issue is substantial is an investigation launched, she said.
“The matter was brought to our attention last Thursday when we received a letter from Ben Stewart in regards to political contributions to the B.C. Liberal Party,” said Penz. “We are reviewing it to determine if there are any issues of compliance with the Election Act.”
Stewart said he’s spoken to the chief electoral officer, Anton Boegman, but has not been told how long the review could take.
The move reduces the Opposition Liberal bench to 41 MLAs and leaves the makeup of the legislature at 41 NDP MLAs, three Greens and two independents (Stewart and Speaker Darryl Plecas).
Stewart said he hopes the matter can be resolved before the legislature resumes on Oct. 7. He said sitting as an independent is difficult.