PCs call for conflict-of-interest investigation of Premier Gallant
MLA Jake Stewart says complaint filed to see if opposition is right
The Progressive Conservative Opposition is asking the province's new conflict-of-interest commissioner to investigate Premier Brian Gallant over the role of a Liberal insider in the Enbridge Gas legal settlement.
MLA Jake Stewart says while the dual role by lawyer Len Hoyt "doesn't pass the smell test for us," the party's conflict complaint is against Gallant himself, not Hoyt.
Hoyt oversaw Gallant's transition to power after the Liberals won the 2014 election and has since been hired by the province to help run key initiatives such as its strategic program review and the creation of "priority delivery units" within the civil service.
At the same time, Hoyt was the lawyer for Enbridge Gas New Brunswick in its negotiations with the province to settle two lawsuits in which the company was claiming $820 million.
"This is where we think the conflict lies," Stewart said.
Gallant "appointed the person from the transition team to be with him on executive council providing advice for key files," he said. "One of the biggest files they had is Enbridge, and that same individual that he appointed just happens to be the lawyer. To me it just does not add up."
Stewart has been raising the issue for weeks. He filed the complaint Monday in the wake of the appointment last week of a new conflict-of-interest commissioner, retired court of appeal justice Alexandre Deschênes.
Gallant said last month there was no overlap between Hoyt's role as a government adviser and his work for Enbridge on the settlement, which extended the company's gas distribution monopoly in New Brunswick to 2044.
"We always make sure that any appropriate walls are in place, any appropriate actions are taken to make sure that there would be no conflict of interest with any decision-makers or anybody that's involved with providing advice to government," Gallant said Nov. 17.
But the premier wouldn't go into detail, saying it would be inappropriate to discuss a human resources case.
New Brunswick's Conflict of Interest Act governs the actions of deputy ministers, ministerial executive assistants, and Crown corporation CEOs but doesn't apply to outside consultants like Hoyt.
A separate law, the Members Conflict of Interest Act, applies to elected officials, including the premier.
Three sections cited
Stewart's complaint cites sections four, five and six of that law, which says elected members of the legislature can't take part in decisions or influence decisions, or use insider information, that benefit their "private interest" or someone else's.
Stewart acknowledged it's "not exactly certain" how Hoyt's role would have benefited Gallant's private interest, "but I mean, why would he do it?" He pointed out the law also prevents the premier from making decisions that "further another person's private interest."
'We have to do our job on behalf of the people of New Brunswick to detect and make sure that he isn't, really. It's our duty to put this in.'- Jake Stewart, Progressive Conservative MLA
He said the PCs were filing the complaint "to see if we're onto something, to see if we're right."
The Enbridge settlement saw the company drop two lawsuits over a new rate structure imposed by legislation passed by the previous PC government in 2011. The PC law also tore up the company's exclusive franchise to retail natural gas in New Brunswick.
The Liberals persuaded Enbridge to abandon its claims for a total of $820 million in return for winning back its exclusivity and the right to seek uncapped rate increases from the Energy and Utilities Board starting in 2020.
'At the table'
Last month, Gilles Volpe, Enbridge's general manager for New Brunswick, confirmed Hoyt "was at table in the discussions we've had since 2011 on these matters."
He said the company did not have any objections to Hoyt also advising the Liberal government on other initiatives.
"He's been representing us properly and has done a good job representing us with whatever government has been in place since 1998, so I guess we don't have any issues with what he's done," he said.
But Stewart said all the Liberals needed to do to undo PC law passed in 2011 was repeal the legislation, without settlement negotiations involving lawyers.
"They could have easily started over. They didn't. Why didn't they? Was there something to gain? Well, there must have been."
Stewart said the complaint is not designed to see how Deschênes, the new conflict commissioner, will handle a case.
"Obviously the guy is qualified and worthy of the position," he said.
He said the PCs were filing it to clear up whether Gallant was in a conflict. "We have to do our job on behalf of the people of New Brunswick to detect and make sure that he isn't, really. It's our duty to put this in."
Deschênes's title will change to integrity commissioner and he'll take on other duties beyond conflict of interest complaints under a bill now before the legislature.