The opposition NDP spent much of Wednesday's question period calling for an independent inquiry into the procurement process around the Wood Innovation and Design Centre.
A series of NDP MLAs said an investigation is necessary into Prince George-Mackenzie MLA Pat Bell's alleged involvement in a loan handed out by Northern Development Initiative Trust (NDIT) as part of a land deal around the proposed wood centre in downtown Prince George as well as a promise a local business said Bell made to him about the procurement process.
"The appropriate thing [for Attorney General Shirley Bond] to do is to advise the house that she's going to order an independent investigation into this matter and clear the air once and for all," NDP MLA Leonard Krog said. "If this government has nothing to hide, then let it be investigated appropriately."
Bell, who was the lone cabinet minister to answer questions on the topic Wednesday, pointed to a report done by fairness advisor Jane Shackell which said nothing improper had been done. The NDP shot back that some of the allegations were outside of her jurisdiction.
Bell said Shackell's full report will be made public once the contract for the $25 million project is awarded in the coming weeks.
The NDIT loan in question was worth $1.4 million and awarded to Commonwealth Campus Corporation and its partners. In November, NDIT filed a foreclosure notice in B.C. Supreme Court. That case is ongoing.
Businessman Brian Fehr also invested in the block of land around the site of the wood centre and he said Bell had promised his company would be part of the shortlist for the project, but when the shortlist came out last year that never happened.
NDP MLA Maurine Karagianis said those two decisions hurt Fehr and Dan McLaren of Commonwealth in the pocketbook.
"Now these two business owners are out hundreds of thousands of dollars and are alleging impropriety at the hands of the jobs minister," she said.
Bell replied that last February, Fehr donated $50,000 to the NDP through one of his companies.
Also during question period, NDP house leader John Horgan made reference to a letter dated March 8, 2010 and signed by NDIT CEO Janine North, which said the regional investment agency was lending money to finance 75 per cent of the property acquisition "at the request of the two local ministers of the crown and the interests expressed by the mayor and council of the City of Prince George."
Horgan wanted to know "when does that request become coercion?"
Bell said Horgan crossed the line with his accusation and said by lobbying for a project in his riding, he was merely doing his job as an MLA. Bell said NDIT is an arms-length organization and neither he nor Bond improperly influenced the decision making.
Bell asked the NDP to repeat their allegations outside of the legislative chamber where parliamentary privilege doesn't exist.
"In about 14 or so minutes, maybe 15, that member opposite is going to have a chance to walk through those doors and make that same statement outside," Bell said at one point during the 20-minute exchange. "That would be outside the protection that is offered to that member when he's inside this house."