Delta North MLA Ravi Kahlon was not in a conflict of interest while serving on a legislature committee tasked with making recommendations on ride-sharing regulations, according to B.C.’s acting conflict of interest commissioner.
In mid-February 2019, B.C. Liberal MLAs raised concerns that Kahlon was in a conflict of interest, or an apparent conflict of interest, because his father owns a taxi in Victoria, and called for him to step down from the legislature’s multi-party standing committee on Crown corporations, which at the time was under direction to “examine, inquire into and make recommendations on ride-sharing in British Columbia.”
Kahlon confirmed that his father, Navroop Singh Kahlon, is a long-time taxi operator with Bluebird Cabs in Victoria but denied any conflict, apparent or otherwise. Taxi licences outside Metro Vancouver do not have the six-figure values that have emerged in recent years with the scarcity created by B.C.’s Passenger Transportation Branch, and members of the committee don’t have the final say in what happens, Kahlon said at the time, adding that his father is semi-retired from the taxi business.
Nonetheless, Kahlon recused himself from the committee’s hearings into the ride-sharing industry and did not contribute to its March 2019 report. Kahlon also sought the conflict of interest commissioner’s opinion on the matter and waived the usual confidentiality of the commissioner’s findings.
On Aug. 14, acting commissioner Lynn Smith released her report stating she found no conflict or apparent conflict of interest in Kahlon’s participation in the committee’s discussions regarding the ride-sharing industry.
According to Smith’s opinion, a conflict of interest, as defined in the Members’ Conflict of Interest Act, exists when an MLA exercises an official power or performs an official duty or function in the execution of his or her office and at the same time knows that in the performance of the duty or function or in the exercise of the power there is the opportunity to further his or her private interest. A member has an apparent conflict of interest if there is a reasonable perception, which a reasonably well-informed person could properly have, that the member’s ability to exercise an official power or perform an official duty or function must have been affected by his or her private interest.
Because Kahlon’s finances are completely separate from his father’s and he has no financial interest in his father’s taxi business or the taxi industry, Smith found no conflict of interest in Kahlon’s work on the committee. Furthermore, Smith noted, Kahlon’s parents’ financial well-being is not dependent on the value of the taxi licence or the income received from it.
As the committee’s official duties involved the consideration of broad issues affecting a large industry, rather than the granting of individual entitlements, Smith found “the link between the exercise of Mr. Kahlon’s official duties and any potential impact on his father’s interests is remote in the extreme.”
Smith noted that committees don’t have the authority to make or alter legislation or cause the government to take any specific action, nor is the government required to respond to committee reports or accept their recommendations. As such, Kahlon had no decision-making power and only limited ability to influence the shaping of the broad issues under consideration.
“Given the committee’s limited role and the limited scope of Mr. Kahlon’s official duties as a regular committee member, Mr. Kahlon had a very limited opportunity to further his own or his father’s interests,” Smith wrote.
Smith also wrote that whatever regulatory regime the province were to adopt regarding ride-sharing, “its future impact on the value of Mr. Kahlon’s father’s taxi licence is a matter of speculation.”
As to the question of whether there was an apparent conflict of interest in Kahlon’s actions, Smith wrote, “the mere fact of having a family member involved in the taxi industry, which is likely to be impacted in some unknown way by the advent of ride-sharing, is insufficient on its own to meet the test set out in the act.
“A reasonably well informed person, i.e. someone who had an opportunity to review the mandate of the committee and to appreciate the type of official function carried out by the members on the committee, and who understood that Mr. Kahlon had no direct or indirect interest in the value of his father’s taxi licence, would not properly perceive that Mr. Kahlon’s ability to carry out his duties as a committee member must have been affected by a desire to protect the financial interests of his father.”
Kahlon said he was pleased with the findings, adding he was always confident that there was never any conflict of interest.
“I’ve never hid the fact from anyone what [my family members] do for a living and so on. So my sense of it is that this was just politics being politics,” Kahlon told the Reporter.
“The B.C. Liberals took this opportunity to try to smear me and smear my family, and I guess that’s just the way they do politics. But I was always confident that I’d been following the rules and so I’m pleased to get the result that we did.”
— with files from Tom Fletcher