Dave Ramsay fires back at conflict of interest allegations
'There were no significant dealings that I had with Fortune Minerals during my time as minister'
The N.W.T.'s former minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment appeared live on CBC Radio's The Trailbreaker Friday morning to defend his appointment to the board of Fortune Minerals.
The territory's conflict of interest commissioner approved the appointment, waiving in part the usual one-year "cooling-off" period ministers must respect between leaving office and accepting such appointments.
But the appointment prompted criticism, from MLA Kevin O'Reilly as well as David Connelly, a Yellowknife-based mining consultant.
"First and foremost, the letter of the law was followed," Ramsay told host Loren McGinnis. "There were no significant dealings that I had with Fortune Minerals during my time as minister."
The following interview has been edited and condensed.
Q: This story garnered a fair bit of attention on social media and on our website. Many people are upset over the appointment. What do you make of the reaction?
A: I think first and foremost, the letter of the law was followed. We have a legislative assembly Executive Council Act. We have a conflict of interest commissioner for the Northwest Territories, a well-respected individual.
People are entitled to their opinions but it doesn't help when the CBC prints erroneous information in its news stories which leads people to jump to conclusions, and that erroneous information is that I was responsible for regulating the mining industry in the N.W.T. and Loren, that is absolutely false.
[For two years following devolution, David Ramsay's department oversaw the development and communication of mining regulations in the Northwest Territories. He did not, as minister, oversee the regulatory process by which those regulations are applied and enforced.]
Q: Let's clarify what you were responsible for as the minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment.
A: My job was to promote investment in the N.W.T., promote mining in the N.W.T. and I did not have significant dealings with Fortune Minerals. I met with a number of companies that were active in the N.W.T. during my time as industry minister here in the N.W.T. and Fortune was one of those companies. We are trying to build a mine near Whati. It is a great opportunity to continue to be involved in the industry. And getting back to the second story… Mr. Connelly is a direct competitor of mine. We both have consulting companies located in the N.W.T. We're both after the same clients. It's kind of funny that he doesn't mention that.
Q: According to the GNWT's website, from April 1, 2014, the time of devolution, "the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment is responsible for the administration of mineral exploration activities on public lands in the N.W.T. Mine operations activities will continue to be regulated under the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act. ITI is responsible for policy development and planning associated with the development of the N.W.T.'s mineral resources, administration of third-party rights, for example mineral claims, and administration of royalties." Agreed?
Q: An all-weather road to Whati is essential for Fortune Minerals' mine to operate. That project was outlined as a priority by the government while you were in cabinet (in a 2015 transportation strategy). What role did you have in that plan?
A: I was a former minister of Transportation but that mine does require a highway to be built. That's the responsibility of the mine. If the road does get built to Whati… to build the road from that road to the mine site, that's a public road and that was part of the plan. There hasn't been any money earmarked for that road. It's been in planning for a number of years. I guess to try to draw a correlation between the mine and that road… that's quite a stretch.
Q: In 2009, when you were a regular MLA, you were quoted by News/North criticizing former premier Joe Handley for taking on Atcon Construction as a consulting client before the end of his 12-month prohibition period. Atcon was the company contracted by the GNWT to build the Deh Cho Bridge. How is this situation different?
A: The two things are oceans apart. With Atcon, you're talking about a contract I think at the time was for $130 million that the government signed with Atcon to build the Deh Cho Bridge. There's been no contract, there's been nothing across my desk for Fortune Minerals in the time that I was minister so the two are completely, completely different.
Q: The conflict of interest commissioner has not returned our request for an interview, but in the letter he wrote approving your appointment it reads as if he based his decision entirely on information you provided him with. Do you know whether he did research beyond that?
A: You'd have to speak with him directly. I can assure you that if he did an investigation, it wouldn't take him too long. There were no significant dealings that I had with Fortune Minerals during my time as minister. Some people may want to believe that, others may not want to believe that. There's some folks here in the N.W.T. that do not want to see another mine built anywhere in the N.W.T. and I don't agree with that. I think we need the jobs, we need the opportunities here.
Q: Let's go back to the responsibilities of the minister of ITI. What did that mean for you in relation to Fortune?
A: It's industry-wide. My main focus was developing the mining industry here in the N.W.T. We got the mineral development strategy approved and put into place. But there was nothing specific to Fortune Minerals that I dealt with as a minister. You want to try to group Fortune Minerals in with the industry as a whole? That's a bit of a stretch. There is nothing specific that I did for Fortune Minerals that would constitute a conflict of interest for me.
Q: Explain what meeting twice a year meant.
A: It was for a project update. Usually we'd try to get together with companies that were doing work in the N.W.T. around conferences like the Prospectors and Developers in Toronto or the Exploration Roundup in Vancouver, so usually twice a year I met with company executives to get an update on where their project was at and that was it.
For me it really comes down to people questioning my integrity. I can say unequivocally that I did not have significant dealings with Fortune Minerals. And again, some people will believe me and some won't and that's just the way it is. I'm going to be unapologetic as I move forward.
When I was in politics I had to take the high road and not worry about what people were saying but I'm not in politics anymore, I'm in private life. And the CBC and others have to get their facts straight before they print things and I am contemplating some legal action.
Q: What restrictions are you facing as a board member because of your previous job as a cabinet minister?
A: In the cooling off period, I obviously cannot lobby [or] talk about the project [with] any cabinet ministers, deputy ministers and government officials. That's quite clear. The caveat is in the [commissioner's] letter and I provided the letter to the CBC.
I've been up front with everybody on this right from the word go. I'm going to have to be unapologetic as I continue to move some things forward here both in my private life and my professional life.
Q: How do you see your role changing with Fortune Minerals once the 12 month cooling off period is up?
A: I think going forward, obviously having me on the board will be beneficial to Fortune Minerals because of my experience in government here in the N.W.T., the fact that I've got solid relationships with politicians, both at the territorial level, aboriginal governments, the federal government. Once that time frame is up after six months, then I can approach the government, I can talk about things. Right now I can't and that's understood.