Liberals try to tidy up conflict law by banning MLAs from lobbying jobs
Proposed 'Arseneault clause' a response to controversy over former cabinet minister's job with union group
The Liberal government is closing one conflict-of-interest barn door after the fact, but will leave another one wide open.
The government introduced a bill Wednesday to ban elected members of the legislature from holding second jobs as lobbyists or employees of any organization that lobbies the province.
It would also ban any kind of lobbying in the 12 months after they leave office.
- Integrity commissioner calls for tougher conflict-of-interest law
- Liberal Donald Arseneault — MLA and Ottawa lobbyist — accused of conflict
The changes will also require MLAs to disclose all secondary jobs or investments to the province's integrity commissioner, who will then make them public.
The amendments would prohibit a repeat of what former Campbellton-Dalhousie MLA Donald Arseneault tried to do earlier this fall: take a job involving lobbying while remaining an elected Liberal member.
"The fact that we are going to make it clear is to the benefit of all MLAs — current and future MLAs. They'll know exactly what they can do and not do, and I think that's quite important," said Attorney-General Serge Rousselle.
But the legislation doesn't address perceived or apparent conflicts of interest such as the one involving former Liberal health minister Victor Boudreau over his investment in a campground near Parlee Beach.
Earlier this year, integrity commissioner Alexandre Deschênes said that while Boudreau's investment did not technically put him in a conflict of interest, the perception of a conflict was "inevitable."
Deschênes told CBC News in June that to avoid such ambiguity in the future, the government should amend the law to ban not only real conflicts of interest but also "apparent" conflicts.
Closing the loophole
But that change is not part of the bill Rousselle introduced Wednesday.
He said he was keeping the promise he made at the height of the Arseneault controversy to quickly close the lobbying loophole.
"We said we were going to clarify this grey zone right away," he said.
Arseneault was shuffled out of cabinet in September by Premier Brian Gallant. As a backbencher, he was allowed to take a second job.
But the job he planned to take, supervising government lobbying by a national trade-union organization, caused a storm of controversy.
Arseneault promised first to not lobby the New Brunswick government he was part of, then promised to not lobby any government while he was still an MLA. But Gallant eventually forced him to choose between the two jobs.
Arseneault resigned as MLA Nov. 30.
Opposition parties in the legislature welcomed the amendment.
"It's absolutely essential, and it clearly is strictly the 'Arseneault amendment,'" Green Party Leader David Coon said.
Bruce Fitch, an Opposition Progressive Conservative MLA, wouldn't say whether his party believes "apparent" conflicts should be banned to cover repeats of Boudreau's situation.
"I'm interested to dig into the legislation as to how you would do that," Fitch said. "Like how would you cover every scenario?"
More scrutiny of municipal races
He said an "apparent" conflict is subjective.
"You get into the semantics of what exactly does that mean," he said.
A second bill introduced by Rousselle would require candidates in municipal elections to disclose the sources and amounts of their campaign donations.
Similar rules already apply to election candidates and to people running for political party nominations and in leadership races. But there's been no such requirement for municipal candidates until now.