Liberal lobbyist hired as senior deputy minister, raising conflict fears

A top Liberal insider and corporate lobbyist is now one of the province's most powerful bureaucrats.

A top Liberal insider and corporate lobbyist is now one of the province's most powerful bureaucrats.

Doug Tyler, a former deputy premier, has been appointed the deputy minister of strategic priorities.

Tyler is the vice-president of government relations for Saint John-based Revolution Strategy, where his government experience is a selling point on the company website.

Earlier this week, the Opposition Conservatives argued in question period that Tyler's appointment to this job would create the perception of conflict of interest, because he'd be able to influence decisions that could benefit those he once was paid to represent.

Opposition Leader David Alward said at the time that Tyler should be forced to disclose all of his former clients before taking the job so people would know his old allegiances.

At the time, Graham said that was a personal attack on Tyler.

Late on Friday, Graham's office issued a news release formally announcing Tyler's appointment and his Jan. 5 start date.

Tyler was an MLA and cabinet minister in the former premier Frank McKenna years before losing his seat in the 1999 election.

It's his more recent work that's been controversial. After helping run Shawn Graham's 2006 election campaign and acting on the three-person Liberal transition team, Tyler moved to Revolution as a government-affairs consultant.

In his time as a paid lobbyist Tyler has represented a wind energy consortium trying to land a lucrative contract from NB Power without a formal bidding process.

He got Graham to support the plan, but NB Power refused, saying it could not bypass the tendering process.

Tyler also arranged meetings with provincial officials for another Revolution client, Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.  The federal Crown corporation wants to sell New Brunswick a new, untested model of a nuclear reactor.

The deputy minister's position opened up recently when Chris Baker, who was Graham's chief of staff while in Opposition, left the government for the private sector. The sensitivity of the role of deputy minister of policy and priorities means that premiers typically pass the post to one of their top political lieutenants.

The deputy minister is in charge of the cabinet agenda and shaping the premier's policy agenda.

Graham had promised to create a lobbyist registry in the province. He backed away from that commitment this week, saying it was too expensive. Graham said he now wants to see if he can work with other regional governments to develop an inter-provincial lobbyist registry.