Insurance controversy hangs over Leger

Progressive Conservative Premier David Alward's pick to lead his government's new automobile insurance committee is overshadowing the delayed review.

PC lawyer dropped out of 1995 leadership race over insurance controversy

Progressive Conservative Premier David Alward's pick to lead his government's new automobile insurance committee is overshadowing the delayed review.

Michel Leger, a Shediac lawyer and a long-time Tory, was appointed on Tuesday as the chairperson of the eight-person working group that will examine the $2,500 cap on court awards for soft-tissue automobile injuries and the definition of those injuries.

Leger, who has been a key figure in recent election campaigns, dropped out of the party's leadership race in 1995 because of his connection to a case of insurance fraud.

Michel Leger dropped out of the Progressive Conservative leadership race in 1995 after relevations about a controversy over insurance. ((CBC))
Justice Minister Marie-Claude Blais released the names on Tuesday but Leger didn't show up to the announcement of his own committee.

In 1995, Leger briefly announced his bid for the Progressive Conservative leadership but dropped out a week later in the midst of questions about his role in helping a couple from Grande Digue, N.B., obtain fire insurance after their rejection by insurance companies.

The couple used a friend to get the insurance, with Leger's help, on the building, which later burned down.

The controversy ended up in court in 1990 where Court of Queen's Bench Justice David Dickson found Leger had made a "fraudulent omission and misrepresentation" in documents used to obtain the insurance.

Leger was not a party in the 1990 lawsuit so Dickson's comments about the Shediac lawyer were not a legal finding of fraudulent behaviour.

After the story broke about his connection with the insurance issue came to light, Leger dropped out of the Tory leadership race. At the time, he painted himself as a victim of bad reporting.

New Brunswick's justice minister defended Leger's appointment on Tuesday.

"He knows about insurance, he has seen it first hand in his practice, he is somebody that I have all the confidence in," Blais said.

This isn't the first provincial working group that Leger has led for a provincial Progressive Conservative premier.

Leger was the chairperson for Bernard Lord's Premier's Health Quality Council after the 1999 election, which ended up in a large report in 2002.

'Political appointment'

The Opposition Liberals steered clear of linking Leger's appointment to his past insurance controversy.

Moncton Liberal MLA Chris Collins criticized Leger's appointment as political but avoided the issue of the lawyer's past insurance controversy. ((CBC) )
However, Moncton East Liberal MLA Chris Collins criticized the political nature of the Leger appointment.

"I do have that as a serious concern as a political appointment," Collins said.

Leger's appointment wasn't rushed, in fact it was two months overdue.

The Tory campaign platform said the working group would be studying the issue before the end of 2010.

The Alward government first announced the working group on Nov. 4 but did not name the members, establish a budget or set its terms of reference.

The Liberals criticized the Alward government for the review's delay in December.

The former Lord government brought in the $2,500 cap on automobile insurance awards in June 2003, not long after that year's provincial election campaign.