NDP MLA on riding-hailing committee accused of conflict of interest

Ravi Kahlon, MLA for Delta North, is on the B.C. legislature's riding-hailing committee. His father owns a taxi in Victoria. Photo: Times Colonist files

An NDP MLA is facing conflict-of-interest allegations because he sits on a committee discussing ride hailing despite the fact that his father owns a Bluebird taxi in Victoria.

Ravi Kahlon, MLA for Delta North, is facing pressure from the B.C. Liberals to step down from the select standing committee on Crown corporations, which will make recommendations to the government on ride hailing.

“I don’t think I’m under any conflict of interest,” Kahlon said Wednesday, noting that he’s one of nine members on the committee that is hearing from stakeholders on all sides of the issue.

Kahlon said his father has been a taxi driver in Victoria for 28 years and is two months from retirement.

Jas Johal, Liberal MLA for Richmond-Queensborough, said Kahlon should recuse himself, since the committee will make recommendations which could fundamentally affect the taxi industry and by extension, Kahlon’s father.

“The fact that you’re one of nine members [on the committee] and you have a family member who owns a cab and the price of the licence could drop significantly based on your recommendations, that’s an issue, that’s plain wrong,” said Johal, who is also a member of the committee.

“This does not pass the smell test for the average British Columbian.”

Johal said he has not yet taken the issue to the conflict-of-interest commissioner as he has only recently learned of Kahlon’s family connection.

In response to grilling from Opposition members in question period, Transportation Minister Claire Trevena dismissed conflict-of-interest issues, saying she makes the final decision on ride hailing and any legislation is voted on by all members of the house.

Kahlon said he did not tell Trevena nor committee members that his father is a taxi driver.

The MLA said he personally supports ride hailing despite his father’s business interests.

“The taxi industry generally has concerns about having any sort of competition but the reality is, most of them know that competition is coming and most of them are preparing for it,” Kahlon said.

Green Party MLA Adam Olsen, who also sits on the committee, said he did not know about Kahlon’s family connection.

Olsen did not take a position on whether Kahlon is in a conflict but said partisan bickering could derail the already glacial progress on bringing ride hailing to B.C.

In November, the NDP government introduced legislation to modernize B.C.’s taxi industry and promised that ride hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft will be allowed in B.C. by the fall of 2019. However, the legislation has faced heavy criticism from the Liberals and from ride hailing companies who say the industry will be so tightly controlled, it might not be able to thrive.

One sticking point, for example, is the requirement that ride-hailing drivers maintain a class 4 passenger licence, which is the same class of licence that applies to people who drive buses and minivans.

Ride-hailing companies have said a class 5 licence, issued to most motorists, would be enough to allow drivers to safely operate, which is in line with the recommendations in a report released this summer by industry expert Dan Hara.

Times Colonist