|MLA for Rossland-Trail|
|Preceded by||Alexander Douglas Turnbull|
|Succeeded by||Donald Leslie Brothers|
|Born||January 3, 1911
|Political party||Social Credit|
|Occupation||Teacher, Politician, Piano tuner|
Robert Edward Sommers (January 3, 1911 – 2000) was an Alberta-born elementary school principal and a politician, who served as a Social Credit Member of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia from 1952 to 1958, representing the riding of Rossland-Trail in the Canadian province of British Columbia. He served as Minister of Lands, Forests and Mines from until his resignation February 27, 1956. He was tried and in 1958 was convicted of bribery and conspiracy making him the first cabinet minister in the British Commonwealth to serve a term of imprisonment for accepting bribes in connection with his office.
Before entering politics, Sommers was an elementary school principal in Castlegar, BC. He was a trumpet player, a local band leader, a part-time insurance broker, a Kiwanis club president and a volunteer firefighter.:7
He was married twice: first to Marion Henry in 1930 and then to Nona Samson in 1940.
He was first elected as an MLA under the banner of the British Columbia Social Credit League as the member for Rossland-Trail in 1952.:228 He was re-elected in 1953, and 1956. In each election, against several opponents, his popular vote exceeded 50% of the votes cast including his last after he lost his cabinet position.:228, 250, 269
Sommers resigned his seat automatically upon his conviction on November 7, 1958, for bribery and conspiracy.:273
Scandal and trial
Sommers downfall began when the Liberal opposition, particularly MLA Gordon Gibson accused Sommers of impropriety in the granting of a forest management licence to E. P. Taylor's British Columbia Forest Products (BCFP).
These licences were a new form of tenure in the forests of British Columbia introduced in 1948 based on the 1944 recommendations of the Sloan Commission. Large companies were given cutting rights over Crown land in perpetuity and in exchange were responsible for forest management, construction of access roads and fire fighting. The goal was to provide a sustained yield to supply mills over the long term by giving the licence holder a long-term interest in the productivity of the land.:9 Forest management licences were extremely valuable. There were accusations that companies made huge profits selling shares issued after a licence was granted before a single tree had been cut.:49 E. P. Taylor's Argus Corporation, which incorporated British Columbia Forest Products to run its BC forest operations in 1946, had been turned down for a forest management licence in 1948. After he became the cabinet minister in charge of granting forest management licences, Sommers, who was then in awkward financial circumstances personally, had meetings with Taylor and the management of Argus at which BCFP sought a licence. Taylor, BC premier W. A. C. Bennett and Sommers met at the Empress Hotel in January 1955. Afterwards, Bennett directed Sommers to make the deal. The result was that BCFP was granted FML #22 which covered 250,000 acres (1,000 km2) between Port Renfrew and Estevan Point along the west coast of Vancouver Island.:43
A commission led by Justice Arthur Lord found no basis for the charges and Sommers responded to the accusations by suing Vancouver lawyer David Sturdy for libel. The Bennett government stonewalled in the legislature on the basis that the matter was before the courts until Sommers was dropped from cabinet in 1956. In November 1957 he was arrested and charged with bribery. The next year, he and Wick Gray were convicted. BCFP was acquitted. Sommers was sentenced to 5 years in prison but was released after 28 months. While imprisoned, he learned the piano tuning trade. He established a piano business on Vancouver Island after his release in 1961. Sommers was convicted on five of seven charges of receiving bribes. He was found to have received $607 worth of rugs, $3,000 in bonds, $1,000 in cash and $2,500 sent by telegraph making him the first person in the Commonwealth found guilty of conspiring to accept bribes while serving as a Minister.
During his time in prison, Sommers learned the trade of piano tuning and restoration from a fellow inmate. He took up residence on Vancouver Island after his release and established a business in that field.:169 Sommers died at age 89 in Nanaimo, British Columbia in October 2000.
- Normandin, P G (1965). Canadian Parliamentary Guide, 1965.
- O'Keefe, Betty; Macdonald, Ian (1999), The Sommers Trial, The Felling of Trees and Tree Lords, Surrey, BC: Heritage House, ISBN 1-895811-96-1
- An Electoral History of British Columbia 1871–1986 (PDF), Elections BC (published August 1988), 1988, ISBN 0-7718-8677-2, retrieved 2009-08-20
- Baroud, Aline; Gibbs, Andrew (2004), Improper use of public office (Bribery ed.), The International Cooperation Group, retrieved 2009-08-29 Cite error: Invalid
<ref>tag; name "baroud" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
- Francis (ed), Daniel (2000) , Francis, Daniel, ed., Encyclopedia of British Columbia, Harbour Publishing, p. 667, ISBN 1-55017-200-X
- Socred cabinet minister jailed for corruption, dies at 89, CBCNews.ca, October 30, 2000, retrieved 2009-08-20
- Sommers and Gray v. The Queen. - Decision of the Supreme Court of Canada, 25 June 1959 -  Supreme Court Reports, pages 678–690.
- Paddy Sherman, Bennett, Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 1966
- Google Books Donald Gutstein, Vancouver Ltd. mentions the Sommers defence in an article about Vancouver lawyer Jack Nicholson
- The Baroud Gibbs paper of The International Cooperation Group is also available at the Department of Justice website.
- The Sommers scandal was the subject of a play by David Ross
Alexander Douglas Turnbull
|MLA for Rossland-Trail
Donald Leslie Brothers
||Minister of Lands, Forests and Mines
Ray Gillis Williston