A controversial loan to a Cumberland County farm has cost cabinet minister Ernie Fage his job.
Fage resigned as Nova Scotia's minister of economic development Thursday after admitting he was in a conflict of a interest over a government loan to a potato farm that leases land from his family.
"Upon reflection, it has become clear to me that I should have provided a much more complete disclosure of my relationship with that company to my colleagues," Fage said in a statement.
"Although there was no intent that I receive any benefit — and, indeed no benefit did come to me as a result of this decision — the proper and honourable action for me to take is to tender my resignation."
Up until now, Fage had defended his actions by saying he had excused himself from any cabinet discussion about the money because of his ties to S&J Potato Farms.
The $250,000, interest-free loan is only repayable if the number of jobs at the farm drops below 25.
The opposition Liberals questioned why the Department of Economic Development gave out the loan, and called for the province's conflict-of-interest commissioner to investigate.
Although Fage admitted Thursday that he should have supplied his cabinet colleagues with more information, he wouldn't say what he told them initially, nor what more he should have told them.
Premier John Hamm is also refusing to shed more light on Fage's breach of conduct, but he's quick to praise the former cabinet minister.
"I would be remiss if I didn't say that Mr. Fage was one of my most effective ministers. He is an honourable, honest man," said Hamm.
|Statement by Ernest L. Fage|
|Over the past several days, questions have been raised as to the appropriateness of my actions surrounding a Cabinet decision involving S&A Potato Incorporated.
Upon reflection, it has become clear to me that I should have provided a much more complete disclosure of my relationship with that company to my colleagues.
Although there was no intent that I receive any benefit - and, indeed no benefit did come to me as a result of this decision - the proper and honourable action for me to take is to tender my resignation to Premier Hamm.
The Premier has accepted by resignation, which is effective immediately.
The last thing that I want to happen in this situation is to have my actions reflect poorly on Premier Hamm or Premier-designate MacDonald, or any of my Cabinet colleagues.
I have the utmost respect for them, and for the office and responsibilities I undertook. I have taken my responsibilities as a Cabinet minister very seriously.
This decision is a personal point of honour for me and is the right and proper one to take.
I look forward to continuing to serve the people of Cumberland North as their voice in the legislature.
In resigning as economic development minister, Fage is also giving up his roles as minister responsible for Nova Scotia Business Inc. and Communications Nova Scotia.
Fage, who backed Rodney MacDonald in the Progressive Conservative leadership race, was expected to find a place in the premier-designate's new cabinet.
MacDonald isn't saying if that's still a possibility, nor is he revealing what Fage did wrong.
"I agree with his decision. It's the right decision to step down today. And I won't be going into anything regarding cabinet," MacDonald said.
It's unclear what will happen next about the $250,000 loan.
Jamie Muir, who has been handed the economic development portfolio, has asked for legal advice on the order in council, which authorizes the loan.
"The review is to see if the loan is effectively legal," said Muir.
Liberal Leader Francis MacKenzie wants MacDonald to be more forthcoming about what happened and what he plans to do about this loan and another to a Pictou County amusement park worth $350,000.
"When trust is questioned to the level that it has been here, I expect the premier-designate and his cabinet to come forward and be upfront," MacKenzie said.
As in the case of the potato farm, the loan to Magic Valley theme park is interest-free. It's also only repayable if the park, owned by two Tory supporters, closes in the next five years.
Hamm said he sees nothing wrong with giving a loan to a park that creates jobs for two months of the year.
"I have no concern about the optics. What I am concerned about is the community supports it. I was not involved. The government supports it," he said.