Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training Minister Pat Bell rejected calls he be removed from cabinet Tuesday after allegations resurfaced about the handling of the contract for the Wood Innovation and Design Centre.
Conservative leader John Cummins demanded that Bell be removed from cabinet pending further investigation into the claims made by Prince George businessmen Dan MacLaren and Brian Fehr that Bell had promised that they would benefit from a land deal surrounding the project.
Although no documentation of any deal between Bell and the businessmen has been made public, Cummins believes there's enough to the allegations that Premier Christy Clark should suspend Bell if the minister doesn't step down on his own accord.
"People don't pick on politicians and make those sorts of statements unless there's some substance to them," Cummins said. "The substance may prove to be less than you might expect but on the other hand it may prove to be substantive."
Bell, who has already announced he won't be seeking re-election in May due to a health condition, said he has no plans to relinquish his cabinet responsibilities before the vote.
"It's a little hard to take John Cummins seriously, this is the same guy that actually committed a criminal act when he was a Member of Parliament and spent two days in jail for it," Bell said referring to a 1996 incident when Cummins protested First Nations fishing rights by illegally harvesting salmon during an aboriginal-only fishery.
The allegations around the wood centre have been bubbling around the project for months and Bell reiterated Tuesday that he didn't do anything improper.
"There's was no promises made, no attempts to influence," Bell said. "Nor would that be appropriate, that's not something you're allowed to do in my position. I know my responsibilities very clearly, I've been in cabinet for nine years and in government for 12 years."
The Opposition NDP peppered Clark, Bell and Justice Minister Shirley Bond with questions on the issue at the opening of question period on Tuesday. NDP leader Adrian Dix wanted to know what the government was going to do about the allegations.
Clark pointed to a report from fairness advisor Jane Schackell who said the project should proceed to tendering, but Cummins and Dix said Schackell doesn't have the mandate to give the allegations a full airing.
"What is in [Schackell's] scope is looking a whether or not the process is fair," Clark told reporters in Victoria. "They allege that the process wasn't fair and made a number of other allegations. My concern is looking a whether or not the process has been managed fairly and it has been managed fairly."
Cummins said any further investigation likely won't take much time to complete, but Schackell must be given more authority in order to allow it to happen.
"I think it's only appropriate that some caution be exhibited here," Cummins said. "I think the allegations are serious, they're made by substantial members of the community in Prince George."
NDP forestry critic Norm Macdonald asked why the project has been taking so long to be built.
"We know we have a hole in the ground in Prince George where we were assured there would be a wood innovation centre," he said during question period. "How did the government so bungle a project that was supposed to be an iconic wood structure."
Bell said the complexities of the project led to some delays but he expects a contract will be awarded in the next three to four weeks with construction beginning soon after as long as the weather co-operates. He said the building is still on track to be completed by the end of 2014 so it can be showcased at the 2015 Canada Winter Games.
"This thing has more twists in it than a southern yellow pine two-by-four," Bell said. "That said we're going to get a building and it's going to be a great building."