The Progressive Conservative candidate in the Kent byelection says he accidentally broke conflict-of-interest rules by continuing to own a company that did business with the provincial government when he worked for a cabinet minister.
Jimmy Bourque is trying to win the Kent riding in the April 15 bylection, which was called last month when former premier Shawn Graham resigned.
Bourque ran unsuccessfully in the 2010 election for the Tories in the neighbouring riding of Rogersville-Kouchibouguac and then was hired as a political assistant for Economic Development Minister Paul Robichaud.
Bourque left that job to run in the byelection but it was his company’s relationship during that period that became an issue in the legislature on Wednesday.
The Tory candidate’s company rented construction equipment to the Department of Transportation during that two-year period.
"I find there's a little bit of a problem with that, Mr. Speaker, and I'm sure others will as well," said Liberal MLA Bill Fraser in the legislature.
The province’s conflict-of-interest law says executive assistants are in a conflict of interest if they own a company doing business with the government.
But these political assistants can sign a declaration to avoid being found in a conflict.
Bourque told CBC News on Wednesday he thought an earlier declaration he signed for a different minister in the Bernard Lord government still applied.
"Because I thought it was a declaration saying that I owned the business, but I guess I have to do another one because I came back there again, and that's a mistake on my part, for sure," he said.
Bourque has owned the company since 1996 and he said it has done work for the provincial government under both Progressive Conservative and Liberal governments.
Bourque's company has been renting a backhoe to the Department of Transportation. He said the rental brings in $500 to $1,000 a month to his company.
Bourque raises Atcon scandal
This isn’t the first conflict-of-interest controversy to hang over the Kent byelection.
Graham resigned his seat following the release of Justice Patrick Ryan’s conflict-of-interest report into his handling of the Atcon file.
The province’s conflict-of-interest commissioner found the former premier was in a conflict of interest.
Amid his own conflict-of-interest questions, the Tory candidate did not waste any time pointing the finger back to the Liberals.
"I find with everything that's been done with Atcon … I don't know why they would want to go that route at all. This is just small potatoes compared to what they've been involved with," he said.
Bourque is running against Liberal Leader Brian Gallant and NDP candidate Susan Levi-Peters.
The People’s Alliance of New Brunswick had intended to run Allison Fanjoy as a candidate in the byelection but the candidate had to withdraw because of a lack of signatures on her papers.
The Green Party said it would not run a candidate in the byelection.
The Tories have 42 seats in the legislature and the Liberal have 12 MLAs. The Kent byelection will fill the only vacant seat in the legislature.