Larry's Gulch list raises 'serious legal implications': AG
Attorney General Serge Rousselle says number of Tory partisans at fishing lodge raises legal questions
The Larry’s Gulch controversy took two dramatic new turns at the legislature on Friday.
The Liberal government is raising the possibility of "serious legal implications" for the Progressive Conservative Party, while the release of more guests lists reveal a Liberal MLA also hosted former Times & Transcript editor Murray Guy.
"There have been suggestions, allegations that [on] some of the lists over the last few years … the only link between those people is the Conservative party," Attorney General Serge Rousselle told reporters.
"We are very concerned with that. Given the fact that there could be serious legal implications, I cannot comment further than that."
The 2013 guest list includes a July 10 to 12 trip booked by then-premier David Alward’s office that included Alward; Jason Stephen, the president of the PC Party; Lisa Merrithew, a Tory supporter and former communications adviser to the Lord government; and Saint John Mayor Mel Norton.
Stephen’s name appears on a subsequent 2013 booking that also included Alward, several PC MLAs and party insiders and Robert Hatheway, who is the PC party’s official representative.
A July 9 to 11, 2014, booking also includes several Tory insiders, including the party’s executive director, Jean-Paul Soucy and Michel Leger, a Shediac lawyer who oversaw Alward’s campaign bus tour that began a month later.
After telling CBC News for two days he was willing to be interviewed, Alward said in an email message on Friday morning that he would not talk about his government’s use of the fishing lodge.
"We are finished speaking about Larry’s Gulch," Alward wrote.
"As I have said before, I am looking forward to the results of an independent review. There are other important issues currently going unreported."
The lodge is supposed to be used for government meetings and rentals, not for partisan purposes.
Speaker also invited newspaper editor
A 2012 financial report by the Progressive Conservative Party lists $623.29 paid to Darell Fowlie, Alward’s deputy minister of communications, for an item listed only as "Larry’s Gulch."
Fowlie is the official who, according to Brunswick News, was asked to alter records of a trip to the fishing lodge by Moncton Times & Transcript editor Murray Guy.
Guy made a total of three trips to Larry’s Gulch: two with NB Liquor CEO Daniel Allain in 2011 and 2013 when the PCs were in power, and one in 2010 with Chris Collins, who was then environment and local government minister in the government of Shawn Graham, and now speaker of the legislature.
Collins says his 2010 invitation to Guy happened spontaneously when he and other Liberal cabinet ministers were holding an editorial board meeting with the Times & Transcript. Al Hogan, the senior editor who was fired over Guy’s 2013 fishing trip, was also in the meeting, Collins said.
Larry’s Gulch came up, Collins said, and "Murray said he had never been there, and I was asked if I had any space on the trip that I would be going on in a week or two, and I said, 'Yeah.’ I had had two cancellations from two mayors."
The suggestion didn’t come from Guy, Collins said, but from another elected Liberal in the editorial board. Collins wouldn’t say who it was.
I’ve received no favours from the editorial board of the Times & Transcript following that … I had no benefit from doing it, other than the great company of Murray.- Chris Collins, speaker of the legislature
The Larry’s Gulch trip was organized to hold meetings with municipal and business leaders, Collins said. He said he wasn’t trying to get positive coverage from the Times & Transcript.
"In fact, I’ve received no favours from the editorial board of the Times & Transcript following that," he said. "I had no benefit from doing it, other than the great company of Murray."
Collins said Guy didn’t offer him communications advice and didn’t take part in any of the sensitive government meetings.
Guy left that job earlier this month after Brunswick News learned he took a trip to the lodge in 2013 with NB Liquor and its PC-appointed chief executive officer, Daniel Allain. Brunswick News says Guy sought to have a Tory government official conceal the trip from the public record.
In 2012, Collins suggested in an e-mail released to the media that he had a good rapport with the Times & Transcript, his local newspaper.
Collins wrote to Mike Murphy, then a Liberal leadership candidate, that if Brian Gallant won the top job and blocked him from running for the party in Moncton East, "I will run … as an independent and TT will support my move."
The email became public when Collins mistakenly attached it to another email sent to all Liberal MLAs.
Collins did run for the Liberals last year, was elected and was chosen as Speaker by Gallant.
"There was no way there was any correlation between that and the trip," Collins said Friday. "That was a very charged email and it had nothing to do with the visit or anything at Larry’s Gulch."
Collins said he was "so busy" in 2010 that he didn’t reflect on whether accepting the trip represented a conflict of interest for Guy. "I can understand why the perception would be that journalists should make other decisions."