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Nunavut MLA 'steps aside' from cabinet posts after conflict of interest ruling

Adam Arreak Lightstone is a cabinet minister without portfolio after Nunavut’s integrity commissioner ruled that appointing his spouse as an acting deputy minister of the department he held responsibility for was a conflict of interest.

Proposed appointment of his wife as acting deputy minister did not pass 'the smell test'

Adam Arreak Lightstone is a cabinet minister without portfolio after Nunavut’s integrity commissioner ruled that appointing his spouse as an acting deputy minister of the department he held responsibility for was a conflict of interest. (Dustin Patar/CP)

Adam Arreak Lightstone is a cabinet minister without portfolio after Nunavut's integrity commissioner ruled that appointing his spouse as an acting deputy minister of the department he held responsibility for was a conflict of interest. 

In a report released Tuesday, Nunavut's integrity commissioner, Katherine R. Peterson, found that Arreak Lightstone "did not give thoughtful and timely consideration of the possible conflicts of interest associated with his spouse being employed in the department over which he had oversight, nor with respect to the acting appointment of his spouse as deputy minister."

Though Peterson found that Arreak did not initiate the appointment, and that he acted in "good faith" throughout the process, she also found that he failed to seek advice at several points, which could have headed off the conflict.

Arreak Lightstone held the portfolios for Finance and Human Resources and was also the minister responsible for the Workers Safety and Compensation Commission.

In a news release Tuesday, Premier P.J. Akeeagok said Arreak Lightstone would be "stepping aside" from his portfolios until the legislative assembly has an opportunity to respond to the integrity commissioner's report. 

The legislative assembly reconvenes in Iqaluit on April 21. 

Starting Tuesday, Minister Lorne Kusugak will take on Finance and Margaret Nakasuk will take over the Department of Human Resources and the Workers Safety and Compensation Commission. 

Reached by phone, Lightstone declined to comment on the report, saying he is fighting a cold. But he said he will be sharing his side of the story.

A plan approved

The conflict originated because Arreak Lightstone's spouse was a senior director in the department of Human Resources. 

In mid-December, she was appointed to briefly fill in as the acting deputy minister of the department while the deputy minister took vacation over the Christmas holidays. At the time, Arreak Lightstone's spouse had already resigned from the position, but the resignation had yet to take effect. 

The idea for her to take on the acting role came from a senior staffer within the department, who also devised a reporting mechanism that would mean Arreak Lightstone's spouse was not reporting directly to the minister, her husband. 

Asked to approve this plan, Arreak Lightstone raised concerns about it, but ultimately accepted it and signed the deal. 

The matter came to light when the deputy minister to cabinet was informed of the plan, and was concerned about it. She raised the issue with the premier, who was also concerned, and an alternate plan was arranged before Arreak Lightstone's spouse would have taken on the acting deputy minister role. 

'Everyone knew'

In her report, Peterson notes that all of Nunavut's MLAs were given a briefing on conflicts of interest shortly after the election and that Arreak Lightstone was one of just two MLAs who chose not to meet with her in person to discuss possible conflicts of interest. 

Cabinet ministers were given a separate briefing on conflicts of interest, but "Minister Lightstone did not advise any senior staff in the Department of Executive and Intergovernmental Affairs of the employment of his spouse in the Department of Human Resources. He indicated that 'everyone knew,'" Peterson wrote. 

Interviewed for the report, Arreak Lightstone said he had informed the premier of his spouse's position before he was appointed to the human resources portfolio, though Premier Akeeagok could not recall this conversation. 

Once cabinet ministers were selected and given portfolios, no formal request was made for them to declare conflicts, Peterson notes. 

However, she notes several junctures at which Arreak Lightstone could have reached out to her office for assistance. 

"No advice was sought from my office with respect to this arrangement or the appointment of the acting deputy minister," Peterson wrote. 

She found that no steps were taken to find someone from outside the department to fill in as acting deputy minister. 

She also disagreed that the steps taken to ensure Arreak Lightstone's spouse was reporting to someone else were enough to mitigate the possible or perceived conflict of interest. 

"This protocol, or ones similar to it may be sufficient in situations where there are several reporting layers between a minister and a family member, and where the position of the family member is not as significant as the position of deputy minister," she wrote. 

However, she said, to the ordinary person on the street, the proposed appointment did not pass "the smell test." 

Clarifications

  • This story has been updated to clarify that Adam Arreak Lightstone remains a cabinet minister without portfolio.
    Mar 28, 2022 4:00 PM CT

Written by Sara Minogue, with files from Nick Murray

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