North

Conflict of interest? Former N.W.T minister says not as he joins mining firm's board

The N.W.T.’s former industry minister has been granted permission to join the board of a mining company active in the territory, less than six months into a one-year ’cooling-off’ period.

MLA Kevin O’Reilly says Dave Ramsay’s appointment creates ’perception issues’

Dave Ramsay, the N.W.T.’s former industry minister, has been granted permission to join the board of a mining company active in the territory, less than six months into a one-year ’cooling-off’ period. (Handout)

Dave Ramsay, the Northwest Territories' former industry minister, is joining the board of mining company Fortune Minerals less than six months after being voted out of office.

Ramsay was unseated by Kieron Testart as the MLA for Yellowknife's Kam Lake last November. Prior to that, he held responsibility for the development and regulation of the territory's mining sector.

Ramsay, left, was unseated by Kieron Testart as MLA for Yellowknife's Kam Lake back in November. (submitted)
The N.W.T.'s conflict of interest commissioner has approved Ramsay's decision to join Fortune's board, waiving in part the usual one-year "cooling-off" period ministers must respect between leaving office and accepting such appointments.

However, Frame Lake MLA Kevin O'Reilly said the move raised "perception issues."

Ramsay told the conflict of interest commissioner, and CBC, he had no "significant dealings" with Fortune Minerals during his four years as minister. Fortune has spent two decades developing the NICO property near the community of Whati, where it hopes to soon mine cobalt and other commodities.

No contracts, no money, no problem

"I met with a number of companies over my time as minister. They weren't significant dealings, they were project updates," said Ramsay on Monday as his new job was announced.

"We had no contracts. We didn't give Fortune any money. Things like that never happened so there weren't any significant dealings that I had with Fortune Minerals as minister. The conflict of interest commissioner didn't see any difficulty."

An aerial view of Fortune Minerals' NICO project mine site near Whati, N.W.T. (Fortune Minerals Limited)
That commissioner, Edmonton-based lawyer David Phillip Jones, Q.C., sent his approval to Ramsay in a letter dated March 7, 2016.

Jones's letter, provided to CBC by Ramsay, appears to define significant dealings as any ministerial decision "that particularly affected Fortune Minerals or their operation".

Jones declares himself satisfied that Ramsay's appointment to Fortune's board is "not contrary to the public interest." Ramsay may therefore sit on the board and his consultancy firm may raise funds for Fortune.

"The only caveat is that you should not canvass or make representations in either of these capacities to the current ministers or other employees of the Government of the Northwest Territories until the expiry of the 12-month transition period after you ceased to be a minister," the letter reads.

'I do think it raises some issues'

O'Reilly, voted in as an MLA on the night Ramsay lost his job, did not accept the commissioner's view that no conflict exists.

"Look, I understand the North is fairly small and people need to have the ability to continue to work after public life," said O'Reilly.

'I do think it does raise some issues of conflict-of-interest,' says MLA Kevin O'Reilly.
"But this is a case where a minister was directly involved in regulating a company and is now on the board of directors of that company, in certainly less than a year. I do think it does raise some issues of conflict-of-interest."

O'Reilly said Ramsay was "honest, forthright" and must be taken at face value regarding the significance of his dealings with Fortune as a minister.

But the Frame Lake MLA continued: "I do think it creates issues, problems, for the government when individuals can float back and forth between the corporate sector and public life — where they may have some responsibilities for regulating a particular industry or company.

"We may want to look at how to strengthen or improve our procedures and processes in future, so people have confidence that those making decisions will not personally benefit from them at a later point in their life.

"It certainly caused some concern for me as an individual. As an MLA, I'll be curious to see how the public responds to this."

'I will be a valuable asset to the board'

The conflict of interest commissioner could not be reached by CBC on Monday. His office said he was attending a hearing.

Meanwhile, Ramsay is looking forward to his new role despite the temporary restriction on his dealings at the territorial level.

"There are many other ways I can be an asset to the board in the meantime: dealings with other levels of government I can help out with, industrial relations with other companies and things like that," he said.

"Going forward, yes, I will be a valuable asset to the board of directors at Fortune Minerals and able to manoeuvre in that political environment."

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