The Alward government is moving quickly to quash a potential controversy after the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers hired one of the government’s senior advisors on the shale gas file as a new lobbyist.
Until last week, Angie Leonard was involved with the New Brunswick government's shale gas working group, which is a team of civil servants that is developing a regulatory framework to deal with the shale gas industry.
She is now working as a senior natural gas advisor for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, which is one of the oil-and-gas industry’s largest lobby groups. Leonard is also the sister of Energy Minister Craig Leonard.
She's listed as a lobbyist on the federal government's lobbyist registry in Ottawa.
Opposition Leader Victor Boudreau said he is less concerned about Leonard's family connection than the fact she's now lobbying for an industry she was regulating a week ago.
"This revolving door between industry and government, while the taxpayers are left out in the cold to protest, I just don't think that is what was promised by David Alward during the last campaign," Boudreau said.
Steven Benteau, the director of communications for the Department of Natural Resources, said Leonard will have no access to ministers, deputy ministers and other senior officials dealing with the shale gas issue.
"They have decided that they will not be meeting with this individual on the natural gas file, and this would be due to the perceived appearance of a conflict," Benteau said.
Benteau said the provincial government acknowledges there's a perception problem on two different levels.
"We understand that based on the fact that she just worked for the natural gas group, and that she's gone to work for a group that represents petroleum producers, that there is an appearance of a conflict of interest, especially in that she is also a relative of a cabinet minister, who is a member of the natural gas steering committee," Benteau said.
Lobbyist registry laws
There's no law or rule that prevents Leonard from going to work for the oil-and-gas industry.
There is also no similar law in place in New Brunswick that would require Leonard to register to lobby the provincial government on any issue.
The Progressive Conservative government introduced a lobbyist registry law last year but it was never passed out of second reading.
The bill would have forced lobbyists to register, identify their clients and who they're lobbying for.
Lobbyists are paid consultants or employees of a corporation or organization who arrange meetings with government officials or try to influence decisions.
The Alward government had planned to set up an Office of the Registrar of Lobbyists, which would be a new independent office of the legislature.
The Alward government has since received a separate report from Bernard Richard, the former ombudsman, who has recommended not setting up any new independent offices of the legislature until after the province’s financial situation has been turned around.