Nova Scotia

RCMP conclude no evidence of lobbying by former PM Jean Chrétien

A retired union official filed a complaint last year related to allegations Jean Chrétien had lobbied Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil over a Cape Breton container terminal project.

Complainant, opposition leaders say Nova Scotia lobbyist law needs overhaul

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil and Jean Chretien are shown on Wednesday, March 22, 2018. McNeil tweeted the photo, saying 'we enjoyed sharing stories about our political and personal journeys.' (Stephen McNeil/Twitter)

RCMP have concluded there is no evidence former Liberal prime minister Jean Chrétien lobbied Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil or Business Minister Geoff MacLellan during a closed-door meeting last year.

"The Nova Scotia RCMP Provincial Commercial Crime Section began an investigation which determined there was no evidence of lobbying and the investigation concluded without charges," said a three-paragraph news release Wednesday from police.

The release did not name those involved, but retired union official John McCracken confirmed police were talking about the complaint he filed last year related to allegations Chrétien had lobbied the premier over a Cape Breton container terminal project.

He said he was disappointed but not surprised the police investigation ended without charges, based on a conversation last month with the RCMP officer in charge of the file.

"Basically, what he told me was that the burden of proof on this type of complaint is such that he had to get one of the parties to admit that lobbying took place," said McCracken. "That was the burden of proof.

"So, he had to get Jean Chrétien or Stephen McNeil or Geoff MacLellan to admit something that they've denied all along."

A ship passes the contained disposal facility in Sydney harbour where the Cape Breton Regional Municipality is proposing to build a container terminal. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Last March, Chrétien met with McNeil and MacLellan at the premier's office in downtown Halifax the day after the former prime minister attended an event in Sydney in which he promoted the port project.

Chrétien, who was not a registered lobbyist in Nova Scotia, is an international adviser to Sydney Harbour Investment Partners, which has been looking for support for the project.

Speaking to reporters at the Sydney event, he suggested he would bring up the issue with McNeil, but the premier and MacLellan repeatedly said it never came up in conversation.

Nova Scotia's registrar of lobbyists wrote Chrétien seeking more information about the meeting. When she didn't hear back, McCracken filed a complaint with police.

McNeil told reporters Wednesday the assessment by police was proof of what he repeatedly said last spring, when the issue first arose.

"They investigated the complaint and came to the conclusion that no lobbying had taken place," said McNeil.

'Asked me a lot of questions'

The premier said he met with officers but could not recall if they specifically asked if he had been lobbied. 

"I don't even remember if that was one of them, but they certainly asked me a lot of questions," he said.

"I have all the faith in law enforcement in the province to follow all the complaints that are brought before them, and they followed this one through and confirmed that no lobbying had taken place."

Both opposition party leaders are drawing a different conclusion than McNeil from the police investigation.

PC Leader Tim Houston said it showed the law needed to be changed to one similar to the federal registry where members of Parliament and senators need to disclose when they met with lobbyists and what they discussed during those meetings.

"I think the fact that the police had to get involved to do an investigation tells us that we need to update our rules and there needs to be more transparency in the process," said Houston. "Nova Scotians should be able to know if somebody lobbied their government and what the topic was."

NDP Leader Gary Burrill took a similar view.

"It just underlines the need for us to have a registrar of lobbyists to make these decisions," said Burrill. "These aren't decisions for politicians, they are also not decisions for police."