Nfld. & Labrador

Dwight Ball 'committed' to transparency, but can't say whether tougher blind trust rules necessary

Liberal Leader Dwight Ball says he will ensure his business interests and political interests remain separated if he becomes premier, but can’t say whether current conflict-of-interest legislation and guidelines are tough enough.

Liberal leader has a number of business interests, according to public disclosure statements

Liberal Leader Dwight Ball has a number of business interests, according to disclosure statements filed with the province's commissioner for legislative standards. (CBC)

Liberal Leader Dwight Ball says he will ensure his business interests and political interests remain separated if he becomes premier, but can't say whether current conflict-of-interest legislation and guidelines are tough enough.

"Of course, I'm committed to being open and transparent with the people of the province," Ball told CBC News during a campaign stop in western Labrador Wednesday afternoon.

So whatever is required of me as a premier, a premier-elect, as an MHA, is something that I will certainly be in compliance with. But right now, my focus is clearly and squarely on the Nov. 30 provincial election.- Liberal Leader Dwight Ball

"As a matter of fact, it's one of the key planks, one of the five planks, in our election platform," he said. 

"So whatever is required of me as a premier, a premier-elect, as an MHA, is something that I will certainly be in compliance with. But right now, my focus is clearly and squarely on the Nov. 30 provincial election."

Ball says he files annual reports about his business interests to the province's commissioner for legislative standards, the watchdog over cabinet ministers and MHAs, as required.

But the Liberal leader is not sure if that watchdog needs more bite.

Ball noted that, in general terms, he has committed to review the policies around the House of Assembly.

"If there was anything that was required to strengthen those legislation or those requirements, that is something that we would be willing to do and I think should be done, because our focus will be around maintaining openness, transparency and accountability to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador," Ball said.

Liberal leader's business interests

According to his most recent filings with the commissioner, Ball is 100-per-cent owner of six companies, and holds a 25- to 50-per-cent stake in 10 others.

His business interests include a personal-care home, pharmacies, auto sales, and a number of real estate ventures both on the west coast and in the St. John's area.

Under the House of Assembly Act, MHAs are permitted to carry out business activities, but have to report them to the commissioner.

However, stricter rules apply to cabinet ministers, indicating they must restrict their involvement in outside businesses.

In addition to Ball, there are other Liberal candidates with significant business interests who could also end up in cabinet, should the party win government.

Danny Williams's blind trust

A CBC News investigation this week revealed that the son-in-law of former premier Danny Williams acted as trustee for a numbered company in his blind trust when it acquired 550 acres of land from the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation in 2007.

Williams told CBC News that purchase was made after a public call for proposals, and stressed that all rules were followed.

After becoming premier, Williams set up a blind trust to handle his business interests.

While blind trust guidelines brought in during the Tobin era specifically prohibit family members from acting as trustee, the definition of family in that 1997 directive does not include son-in-law.

Those guidelines remain in place today.

Ball sidestepped questions about whether family members should be permitted to act as trustees.

"I have not looked at the conditions of what's required for a cabinet minister or a premier," he said. "I have not looked at those conditions."

But he noted that he might be open to potentially reviewing the guidelines.

"We will put measures in place, whatever is required, to make sure that is strengthened if need be," the Liberal leader said.

Independent appointments commission

The Liberals slammed the appointment of former PC party president Paul Reynolds to the posts of chief electoral officer and commissioner of members' interests, as the ethics watchdog's job was then known, back in 2007.

Reynolds served in those roles until his death in 2011.

Ball suggested there will be a different process in place for jobs like that one under a Liberal government.

"Publicly, I've spoken quite a bit about the need for an independent appointments commission, and I believe to maintain the openness and transparency within our political system, this is one way of doing that," Ball said.

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