N.S. premier denies he was lobbied by former PM Chrétien
Jean Chrétien was in province to help promote Sydney Port project
Jean Chrétien has been a vocal supporter of the plan to establish a container port facility in Sydney Harbour and has publicly stated he would be meeting Premier Stephen McNeil to talk about the project this week.
But both McNeil and Business Minister Geoff MacLellan are saying the former prime minister didn't lobby them on behalf of the project's proponents.
"There was no ask of me yesterday from Mr. Chrétien," he said. "There has been no ask in this journey."
"I can tell you there was no lobby when I was in the room," MacLellan told reporters of his time in the meeting between the leaders at the premier's office in Halifax.
Whether they were lobbied is important because Nova Scotia has a 16-year-old law that requires anyone who lobbies a public servant to register first. Cabinet ministers, staff, government officials and MLAs are defined as public servants under the Lobbyists' Registration Act.
Jean Chrétien is not registered as a lobbyist in Nova Scotia.
According to the law, "failure to register properly could result in prosecution leading to a fine of up to $25,000 for a first offence and to a fine of up to $100,000 for a second or subsequent offence."
It is also an offence to "knowingly place a public servant in a position of real or potential conflict of interest."
'There was nothing formal'
Both McNeil and MacLellan repeatedly said they saw nothing wrong with meeting with Chrétien and didn't think they had been lobbied because the former prime minister hadn't made a specific request of them.
"He's a former prime minister," said McNeil. "Whether he's registered as a lobbyist or not, if he calls my office he'll get an answer, he'll get a call and I'll open my doors to him."
McNeil suggested he would not stake his reputation on being swayed by or trading favours with a former prime minister.
"I took a long time building my reputation and I'll make sure I defend it," he said. "It's the only thing I have that tradable, quite frankly, is my reputation. It's how I have become premier of the province. It's how I got re-elected."
Bill before legislature
The law also defines lobbying as communicating "with a public servant in an attempt to influence the development of a legislative proposal" or "the introduction, passage, defeat or amendment of a bill or resolution."
A bill currently before the Nova Scotia Legislature would give the Cape Breton Regional Municipality the power to sell or lease land at below market value and to grant tax concessions.
The municipality lobbied to get those changes specifically to try to make it easier to bring a container terminal to Sydney.
"CBRM has been aggressively pursuing this economic opportunity," said Municipal Affairs Minister Derek Mombourquette, who introduced the bill. "This is going to give them some more flexibility to pursue that opportunity for home. I think there's some great potential for the community."
Bill 85, introduced March 8, is expected to pass during this spring sitting.
McNeil's communications director, Stephen Moore, said that topic did not come up during the almost hour-long meeting between his boss and Chrétien.
When asked for his take on the matter, NDP Leader Gary Burrill was frank.
"If you're lobbying in Nova Scotia on behalf of corporate interests, you should be registered with our lobbyist registry," he said. "It's pretty simple."