Dominic LeBlanc under fire for agreeing to attend private event hosted by law, communications firms
Fisheries minister cleared 'Get the Atlantic Edge' reception with federal ethics commissioner
The Conservatives are accusing Fisheries and Oceans Minister Dominic LeBlanc of conflict of interest for agreeing to take part in an event hosted by a law firm and a communications company that does work with Irving companies.
Conservative House Leader Candice Bergen said LeBlanc's attendance at the "exclusive" event is problematic on two fronts: his personal ties to the Irving family, as well as his role as the prime minister's point man on government litigation.
"When a huge law firm comes calling to ask him to be the guest of honour at a reception and they boast and bill him as a trusted adviser of the prime minister, there should have been some alarm bells," she said.
But LeBlanc confirmed he was cleared by the ethics commissioner to attend the event.
To be held in Toronto Oct. 5, the event is co-hosted by law firm Cox & Palmer and communications collective 'group m5.'
Cox & Palmer's website says the firm's fisheries and marine lawyers provide legal representation for a wide range of clients. The website for group m5 lists a broad range of clients, including J.D. Irving Ltd. and Irving Oil.
The senior vice-president of group m5, Chris MacInnes, is also listed as the campaign co-chair for the Liberal Party of Canada's national board of directors on the party's website.
LeBlanc said he has no idea who Cox & Palmer's confidential clients are, and accused the Tories of "fabricating" a false scenario.
Cleared by ethics commissioner
He said he proactively went to conflict of interest and ethics commissioner Mary Dawson as soon as he received the invitation, and she advised him in writing it was "entirely appropriate" to attend.
An email from her office to LeBlanc said: "Based on the information provided, there is no issue with your being a guest speaker at the Cox & Palmer event."
When he was appointed to cabinet last fall as the government house leader, LeBlanc disclosed he had a personal friendship with Jim Irving, co-chief executive officer of J.D. Irving Ltd.
After meeting with the federal conflict of interest commissioner last fall, LeBlanc agreed to abstain from cabinet discussions or decisions related to Irving companies, subsidiaries, affiliates, associates or divisions, except those of a "general nature."
Today, the minister said he welcomed next week's event as an opportunity to explain how the Liberal government is investing in "historic ways" in Atlantic Canada.
But Conservative MP Blaine Calkins wondered why the minister would be touting federal efforts to boost the eastern provinces in the heart of Central Canada.
Getting the Atlantic edge
"Why does getting the Atlantic edge have to mean dodgy, unethical cocktail parties in downtown Toronto?" he asked.
Terry Moore, regional director of marketing and communications for Cox & Palmer, said the annual event draws members of the business community and lawyers and other professionals and typically has a guest speaker with a strong connection to Atlantic Canada to provide insight into the region's economy.
"As you no doubt can understand, law firms are not able to confirm whether any person or company is a client as such matters are confidential," he said in an email.
Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould faced sharp criticism this spring for attending a $500-a-plate fundraiser at a top Toronto Bay Street law firm.
Wilson-Raybould, a lawyer, maintained that she attended the event as a member of Parliament, and that she followed all the fundraising rules.