Cannabis lobbyist's ties to Liberals under fire

A lobbyist for one of the province's cannabis suppliers has ties to the Liberal Party, and the opposition is questioning whether those ties led to preferential treatment.

Tourism and industry minister calls allegations of unfair dealings 'preposterous'

The opposition had tough questions about Liberal cannabis deals on Monday. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

A lobbyist for one of the province's two cannabis suppliers has ties to the Liberal Party, and the opposition is questioning whether those ties led to multimillion-dollar dealings.

Conservative leader Ches Crosbie directed his concerns toward Industry and Innovation Minister Christopher Mitchelmore in the House of Assembly Monday, asking in particular about the political affiliations of Biome Grow representative Gary Anstey. 

Anstey was a political aide to former premier Brian Tobin in the 1990s, and is currently registered as a lobbyist for Biome, which bills itself as "Canada's next cannabis conglomerate."

"You start with the question, was the $40 million really necessary to encourage a growth facility?" Crosbie said to reporters after Monday's question period, referring to a production contract with supplier Canopy Growth earlier this year. "Then you have the further $50 million for Biome." 

Both Biome and Canopy Growth agreed to contracts that give them a break on the commission charged when they sell product to the Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corporation.

Complaint 'under consideration'

When asked whether he thinks Liberal friends are essentially getting first dibs on a new market, Crosbie responded that it's "a question on many people's minds."

Last week, the Tories asked about a piece of land purchased by a numbered company and immediately leased to Canopy Growth for its new production facility.

There are a number of circumstances that deserve to be questioned.- PC leader Ches Crosbie

"We have the fact that the land was acquired in a rapid transaction by a numbered company," Crosbie said. "I checked myself to see if it could be done in Ontario where it's incorporated. You can't find out the ownership.

"There are a number of circumstances that deserve to be questioned...including the appearance that people with close ties to the Liberal Party are involved with lobbying on behalf of Canopy Growth and Biome."

Crosbie asked the premier to request an investigation into the relationship between Anstey and members of the ruling party, and said making a formal complaint to the lobbying commissioner about Anstey's ties is "under consideration."

Deals by merit: Mitchelmore

Mitchelmore says the political affiliations of industry representatives aren't able to be helped by the government — it's companies, not politicians, that choose who they hire as lobbyists.

He also said the province was open to making deals with any company able to create industry jobs within the province, and called the idea that Liberals couldn't, as a rule, make deals with former staffers "preposterous."

"We will evaluate each deal on its own merit," he said. 

Mitchelmore stressed that lobbyists must register with the commission and their deals and meetings appear on the public record.

"When it comes to doing any type of business deal, they are done by the professional staff [of the Ministry] make sure they are evaluating the benefits to the people of this province," he said.

"There are dozens of people registered as lobbyists and they could have any level of political affiliation."

With files from Katie Breen

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