N.S. premier denies he was lobbied by former PM Chrétien

Premier Stephen McNeil and Business Minister Geoff MacLellan met with Jean Chrétien at the premier's office on Wednesday but both men deny the former prime minister lobbied them about the Sydney Port project.

Jean Chrétien was in province to help promote Sydney Port project

McNeil tweeted this photo of himself and former prime minister Jean Chretien Wednesday, saying 'we enjoyed sharing stories about our political and personal journeys.' (Stephen McNeil/Twitter)

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.

"We talked about economic development," said McNeil. "We talked about what it was like to be from a large family. We continued to share stories about that, but I can assure you there was actually no lobby.

"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.

Lobbyist registry

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.

Sydney continues to push forward with its bid for an international container terminal. (Warren Gordon)

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.

"There was nothing formal, and again, if there was something formal coming from Mr. Chrétien and the people from SHIP [Sydney Harbour Investment Partners], clearly they'd had to be registered to do that," said MacLellan, who, as the Minister of Service Nova Scotia, is responsible for the lobbyist registry.

"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.

Municipal Affairs Minister Derek Mombourquette says the Cape Breton Regional Municipality has been "aggressively pursuing" the container port development. (HPDP)

"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."

About the Author

Jean Laroche

Reporter

Jean Laroche has been a CBC reporter for 32 years. He's been covering Nova Scotia politics since 1995 and has been at Province House longer than any sitting member.