Justice Patrick Ryan’s conflict-of-interest report on former premier Shawn Graham’s handling of the Atcon controversy may break new ground over the issue of what cabinet documents are deemed confidential.
Ryan issued his long-awaited conflict-of-interest report on Monday, an investigation that took almost three years to complete.
In the end, Ryan ruled Graham was in a conflict of interest because his father, Alan, sat on a board of directors for an Atcon subsidiary. He recommended Graham pay a $3,500 fine.
The Atcon controversy started when the former Liberal government offered the Miramichi-based manufacturing company three loan guarantees worth $50 million.
The former premier told Ryan he had assumed his dad no longer had a role with the Atcon subsidiary but the conflict commissioner said Graham should have checked.
Along with a lengthy report, Ryan also released a separate document of various exhibits he collected during his investigation.
Many of the documents cited in his report and included in the appendix come from the bureaucracy.
Government officials, at first, offered Ryan information on how decisions were made on the Atcon file.
But his report said the information flow "dried up" as a deputy minister refused to give the independent commissioner certain Atcon documents citing the convention that any current government doesn't have access to cabinet materials from any previous government.
Ryan argued he needed the documents to determine the premier's participation in the decision-making process on the Atcon file. He relied on past precedents from the Supreme Court of Canada that underscored the importance of open governments in his arguments.
Lawyers for the Attorney General argued that "convention" prevented the deputy ministers from turning over Atcon documents to the conflict commissioner.
Ryan said if "convention" could trump law, then the ability to investigate conflicts of interest would be "frustrated."
"I ruled that I am not an agent of the new government; I am an independent sworn officer of the legislative assembly, chosen by consent of the parties for the appointment," Ryan's report said.
"Everything that comes through my office is confidential. The inquiry is closed and the results of the inquiry remain confidential until my report is laid before the legislative assembly."
He eventually received his documents, creating a potential precedent that could make it harder in certain cases for future governments to keep old cabinet documents secret.
In a statement on Monday, Graham accepted responsibility for his "oversight" but did not say he was sorry.
That has not stopped Graham’s political opponents from calling for more action on the Atcon file.
Transportation Minister Claude Williams, the PC MLA who launched the conflict complaint in 2010, said Graham should apologize to New Brunswickers for his role in the Atcon controversy.
If he doesn’t apologize, Williams said Liberal Leader Brian Gallant should punt him from the Liberal caucus.
NDP Leader Dominic Cardy said the provincial government should pay to set up a royal commission to look at the Atcon issue.