New Brunswick

Donald Arseneault says he'll be MLA and lobbyist at same time

A New Brunswick Liberal MLA has landed a new job as a government lobbyist, and he appears to have found a way to hold both jobs without breaking any rules.

Progressive Conservative MLA Jeff Carr says government lobbyists don't belong in legislature

Campbellton-Dalhousie MLA Donald Arseneault is taking on the job of government relations manager for Canada’s Building Trades Unions as well as continuing as an MLA. (CBC)

A New Brunswick Liberal MLA has landed a new job as a government lobbyist, and he appears to have found a way to hold both jobs without breaking any rules.

Campbellton-Dalhousie MLA Donald Arseneault is becoming the new Ottawa-based "government relations manager" for Canada's Building Trades Unions, an umbrella group for more than 500,000 construction workers in 14 different unions.

In that role, he'll attempt to influence government decisions that apply to trade unions, but according to one report, he'll be doing it everywhere but in New Brunswick.

Arseneault told the Hill Times, an Ottawa-based political newspaper, that he met with Integrity Commissioner Alexandre Deschênes to make sure he could be in the two positions simultaneously.

"There was no problem … as long as I do not do any lobbying or government relations within New Brunswick," he said.

Premier satisfied

First elected in 2003, Arseneault was a minister in the Liberal governments of Shawn Graham and Brian Gallant. He was shuffled out of cabinet last month after deciding not to run in the 2018 election.

Arseneault said by email Monday he was too busy in his riding to do an interview with CBC News, but Premier Brian Gallant said he was satisfied with his Liberal colleague's explanation.

From my understanding, Mr. Arseneault did go to the conflict of interest commissioner to ask his opinion," Gallant said, "and I can only assume he's following the recommendations, and if he's not, I'm sure we'll hear from the commissioner."

Progressive Conservative Jeff Carr, the MLA for New Maryland-Sunbury, says Arseneault should make public his letter from Integrity Commissioner Alexandre Deschênes saying he can be both lobbyist and MLA. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

But Progressive Conservative MLA Jeff Carr said Arseneault should release any letter he has from Deschênes to clarify the commissioner's exact stance.

"It's almost impossible for Donald Arseneault to work in government relations while sitting in caucus and not lobby government," Carr said. "I just don't see how that's possible."

Earlier this year, then-health minister Victor Boudreau gave CBC News a copy of his letter from Deschênes on his potential conflict of interest in the Parlee Beach contamination issue.

Cabinet ministers are prevented from holding other jobs, but backbench MLAs are allowed to hold positions and own companies as long as they clear them with the integrity commissioner.

Rule doesn't apply

After leaving office,  a 12-month "cooling-off" period prevents an MLA from making "representations on his or her own behalf or on behalf of any other person with respect to a contract or financial benefit."

But because Arseneault is not resigning to take the union job, that doesn't apply to him.

There's another legal wrinkle that may come into play for Arseneault. New Brunswick's lobbyist registration law says MLAs are not required to register as lobbyists in the province.

That provision was included because it's part of an MLA's basic job function to try to influence government decisions on behalf of their constituents.

But it doesn't seem to contemplate a situation in which someone is both an MLA and a lobbyist working for someone other than constituents.

Carr said it's fine for MLAs who aren't in cabinet to hold other jobs. He said the lobbying role is the problem for Arseneault.

"If the legislation shows that Donald's not in conflict, obviously the legislation needs to be adjusted or brought up to date," he said.