Newly independent MLA breaking 'caucus confidentiality,' Liberals charge

P.E.I.’s justice minister raised a point of privilege after the opposition PCs picked up on a series of questions begun by former Liberal MLA Bush Dumville, now sitting as an independent.

P.E.I. justice minister asks for ruling after Dumville, Tories ask questions about ‘secret committee meetings’

Newly independent MLA Bush Dumville has been asking questions in the P.E.I. Legislature about what he calls 'secret committee meetings' involving Liberal members of the province's public accounts committee. (P.E.I. Legislative Assembly)

P.E.I.'s justice minister raised a point of privilege with Speaker Buck Watts in the P.E.I. Legislature Wednesday, after the opposition PCs picked up on a series of questions begun by former Liberal MLA Bush Dumville, now sitting as an independent.

Dumville has used the six questions he's been afforded so far this sitting to describe "secret committee meetings" during which Liberal members of the province's public accounts committee were advised, according to Dumville, on how to proceed in the committee's review of e-gaming.

The auditor general's e-gaming report was highly critical of government's secretive efforts from 2009-2012 to become a centre for the regulation of online gambling. Those failed efforts led to an attempt to set up a financial services centre in the province to process online transactions, which is the subject of a $50 million lawsuit against the P.E.I. government.

Last Thursday Dumville told the house the premier's chief of staff, Robert Vessey, attended a meeting with Liberal members of the public accounts committee and told them "the premier wants e-gaming behind him." According to government, Vessey denies making the statement.

Then on Tuesday, Dumville said Spencer Campbell, a lawyer and former spokesperson for the provincial Liberal party, attended the same meeting to provide legal advice to Liberal committee members.

Justice Minister Jordan Brown said a line of questioning begun by Dumville around meetings of Liberal caucus members constituted a breach of those members' privileges. (P.E.I. Legislative Assembly)

"I take extreme offense to the whole line of questioning that was started by [Dumville]," Justice Minister Jordan Brown told the house Wednesday, after the PCs raised questions about Spencer Campbell's role in the meeting.

Brown called the questions "a breach of caucus confidentiality at its basest level and that's something that this house requires to function in the way that it should."

Brown told the Speaker the meetings in question were in-camera caucus meetings, and to raise them in the house constituted a breach of privilege for Liberal caucus members.

'Not proper questions,' Speaker told

He also told the Speaker the questions by Dumville and the Tories were not "proper questions to be put during question period" because they didn't deal with ministers' portfolios.

After Dumville was told by the Speaker he couldn't reply to Brown's points of order and privilege, he raised a point of privilege of his own.

"He's talking about caucus," Dumville told the Speaker. "Secret committee meetings are not caucus."

The Speaker said he would take the various points under advisement.

The clerk of the legislature confirmed to CBC News that, were the Speaker to rule in Brown's favour, he could find Dumville in contempt, or direct him to ask no more questions on the topic.

Tories pick up line of questioning

During question period, the Official Opposition honed in on two meetings of the public accounts committee in late 2017. At the first meeting, the Opposition received Dumville's support — he was then a Liberal — in passing a motion to call witnesses to talk about their role in the e-gaming affair.

At the next meeting, with Dumville absent and his seat taken by Liberal MLA Kathleen Casey, the Liberals passed a motion rescinding the previous motion to call witnesses.

"Question to the premier: who ordered [Dumville] to stay away from that committee meeting? You, your chief of staff or Spencer Campbell?" asked PC MLA Darlene Compton during question period Wednesday.

"There has been a pattern in question period in the last several days of asking the premier about matters that are not within my present knowledge in my ministerial role," MacLauchlan responded. "I've always treated that as the purpose of question period."

On the issue of whether he or his staff tried to direct the outcome of committee meetings, the premier said, "I do not make it my business to tell our committees, and notably public accounts, what to do."

The premier told the house that Campbell is a member of the legal team defending the province against the current $50 million e-gaming lawsuit brought forward by Capital Markets Technologies.

A similar line of questioning was picked up by PC MLA Jamie Fox, who described Dumville's assertions as evidence of "direct political interference" in the operations of the public accounts committee, an accusation which the premier denied.

An email from CBC News to Spencer Campbell did not receive an immediate reply Wednesday.


Kerry Campbell

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Kerry Campbell is the provincial affairs reporter for CBC P.E.I., covering politics and the provincial legislature.