Ashfield denies stalling N.B. projects
MP accuses Ashfield of delaying funding announcements until provincial election
Last Updated: Wednesday, June 16, 2010 | 8:54 PM AT
Revenue Minister Keith Ashfield is denying accusations from a Tory MP that he's holding up New Brunswick projects for political reasons.
Ashfield, who is also the senior New Brunswick cabinet minister in Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government, is pushing back against comments made by fellow Tory MP Greg Thompson in a media report Wednesday.
Thompson, a former federal cabinet minister who is retiring from politics, is accusing Ashfield of stalling joint federal-provincial projects.
Ashfield said in an interview Wednesday he's making several project announcements in the next few days.
"Certainly we've never held up any projects, I've never held up any projects in New Brunswick because of politics," Ashfield said.
"I think people know me well enough to know I'm probably the least partisan person in New Brunswick when it comes to the political side."
Thompson has pointed to an email from one of Ashfield's staffers in making the accusation. He said that email — sent by Ashfield's chief of staff — said approvals are being put on hold until there's a federal Conservative candidate in Thompson's New Brunswick Southwest riding.
Thompson also claimed the email suggested putting projects in the province on hold until after the Sept. 27 provincial election. Liberals are currently in power in the province.
"When I confronted Mr. Ashfield with this on Monday evening prior to the vote on the floor of the House of Commons, Keith said, 'Well, we're not going to carry the province through to the provincial election on our backs,'" Thompson told Power & Politics host Evan Solomon.
"He said, 'We're not going to allow them to take credit for projects between now and the provincial election,'" said Thompson. "This is coming from the lips of the minister himself. Very disturbing, and I take exception to that."
Ashfield said the email is being taken out of context.
"That was an email from one staffer to another, certainly not reflective of my comments."
Thompson said he believes the email does represent Ashfield's views, because Ashfield made the comments directly to him.
Ashfield also served as a cabinet minister in Bernard Lord's provincial government and was elected in the 2006 provincial election. He left the Progressive Conservative caucus to run in the 2008 federal election.
New Brunswick Premier Shawn Graham said at a news conference on Wednesday afternoon that he wants to speak with the prime minister personally to settle the confusion raised by Ashfield and Thompson.
"We recognize the importance of putting people first," he said. "That is not the direction today of the government of Canada as it pertains to New Brunswick. Their own Conservative MP has said that."
'Destructive type of behaviour'
Thompson said he had discussed the matter with the prime minister's chief of staff, who in turn spoke to Ashfield.
But, based on Ashfield's comments on Wednesday, Thompson said it was clear the message had been lost.
"It's the taxpayers' money and they deserve better than that, regardless of where they live. They deserve better," Thompson said. "This, of course, is the sort of the bad name that politicians get as a result of this destructive type of behaviour when it comes to managing government."
Graham — a Liberal — said it is hard to imagine that provincial Progressive Conservative Leader David Alward was not consulted on the possibility of holding up projects until after the election because Ashfield and Alward both served in the provincial Tory cabinet together.
"Why is David Alward wanting to see these important projects being blocked from being approved?" he asked Wednesday.
Thompson said he has no reason to believe Alward had anything to do with discussions about stalling projects.
"I have no evidence to that fact at all. I do not," said Thompson. "So I'm not going to suggest that because I don't know."
Tory MLA Paul Robichaud accused Graham of using a federal controversy to score points in the province.
"I challenge him to prove what he was saying this morning, because this is completely false," said Robichaud.
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