Le­Blanc in con­flict of in­ter­est

The Daily Press (Timmins) - - NATIONAL NEWS - Teresa Wright

OT­TAWA — In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Af­fairs Min­is­ter Do­minic Le­Blanc was found in breach of con­flict of in­ter­est rules Wed­nes­day for ap­prov­ing an Arc­tic surf clam li­cence to a com­pany that em­ployed a fam­ily mem­ber — a vi­o­la­tion that comes with no penal­ties.

Ethics Com­mis­sioner Mario Dion said in a re­port is­sued Wed­nes­day that Le­Blanc knew his wife’s first cousin was in­volved in the Five Na­tions Clam Co. and knew the cousin would have ben­e­fited fi­nan­cially when award­ing the com­pany a multi-mil­lion dol­lar li­cense in Fe­bru­ary.

Dion says Le­Blanc should have re­cused him­self from the de­ci­sion.

“If a public of­fice holder is aware of a po­ten­tial op­por­tu­nity to fur­ther the pri­vate in­ter­ests of a rel­a­tive through the ex­er­cise of an of­fi­cial power, duty or func­tion, the public of­fice holder must be vig­i­lant in avoid­ing such con­flicts of in­ter­est.”

The de­ci­sion comes less than two months af­ter the gov­ern­ment can­celled the li­cence and started the process over to award a fourth Arc­tic surf clam li­cence to en­cour­age In­dige­nous par­tic­i­pa­tion.

Le­Blanc said Wed­nes­day he ac­cepts Dion’s find­ings “with­out reser­va­tion.”

“Cana­di­ans ex­pect when mis­takes are made that peo­ple as­sume those mis­takes and, more im­por­tantly, com­mit to do­ing bet­ter in the fu­ture and that’s ex­actly what I’m do­ing.”

How­ever, the veteran MP also qual­i­fied that Dion’s rul­ing “con­firms that no fi­nan­cial ben­e­fit was cre­ated in this cir­cum­stance and no pref­er­en­tial treat­ment was given.”

The deal to award a fourth fish­ing li­cence for Arc­tic surf clams would have ended a 19-year monopoly on the Arc­tic clam fish­ery held by Clear­wa­ter Seafoods, of­fer­ing 25 per cent of the catch to lo­cal In­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties.

But it first came un­der scru­tiny when doc­u­ments filed in a court chal­lenge of the de­ci­sion suggested the com­pany did not meet the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s el­i­gi­bil­ity re­quire­ments, and that Five Na­tions Clam Co. had close ties to the fed­eral Lib­eral party — in­clud­ing the fam­ily ties to Le­Blanc, and also con­nec­tions to one cur­rent and one for­mer Lib­eral MP.

Le­Blanc was shuf­fled out as fish­eries min­is­ter in July, the same month the gov­ern­ment de­cided to can­cel the li­cence and start the process over.

New Fish­eries Min­is­ter Jonathan Wilkin­son said in Au­gust this can­cel­la­tion had noth­ing to do with the ethics is­sue fac­ing Le­Blanc and that he didn’t think Le­Blanc had acted in­ap­pro­pri­ately.

Can­celling the li­cence means Clear­wa­ter Seafoods will con­tinue their monopoly at least un­til 2020.

Court doc­u­ments show Le­Blanc awarded the li­cence to Five Na­tions in Fe­bru­ary de­spite know­ing the bid didn’t meet all the pa­ram­e­ters of the ten­der.

Le­Blanc ar­gued that he is not close with Gilles The­ri­ault and that he did not be­lieve The­ri­ault’s spousal ties would de­fine him as a rel­a­tive within the con­flict of in­ter­est law.

“One of my wife’s 60 first cousins was in­volved in one of the pro­pos­als. I ob­vi­ously didn’t think that this was caught by the def­i­ni­tion of rel­a­tive or fam­ily in the act,” Le­Blanc said Wed­nes­day.

Dion dis­agreed with this, and also noted Le­Blanc met with The­ri­ault prior to award­ing the clam li­cence to Five Na­tions, dur­ing which time they dis­cussed the is­sue.

“The in­clu­sion of Mr. The­ri­ault’s name in the pro­posal, while no doubt adding to its cred­i­bil­ity due to his ex­ten­sive in­volve­ment in the seafood in­dus­try and with First Na­tions in New Brunswick, should have put Mr. Le­Blanc on no­tice of the ex­is­tence of a po­ten­tial con­flict,” Dion writes in his rul­ing.

Le­Blanc says he ac­cepts Dion’s de­ter­mi­na­tion on this point, but a mem­ber of his staff stressed this marks the first time the com­mis­sioner has de­fined what con­sti­tutes a fam­ily mem­ber.

No penalty is at­tached to the rul­ing. Only fi­nan­cial penal­ties ex­ist un­der con­flict law and they only ap­ply for cer­tain types of breaches. This case isn’t one of those cases, a spokes­woman for the com­mis­sioner’s of­fice said.

The only direct re­sult of this rul- ing is “shed­ding light on the ac­tiv­ity ex­am­ined,” she said.

Con­ser­va­tive Leader An­drew Scheer stopped short of calling for Le­Blanc’s res­ig­na­tion, say­ing only he con­demns the cul­ture in gov­ern­ment that al­lowed this to oc­cur.

“The prime min­is­ter didn’t re­sign when he was found guilty of break­ing these rules, the min­is­ter of fi­nance, him­self, didn’t re­sign when he was found to have breached these types of rules, so we have no ex­pec­ta­tion that some­how they’ll start ap­ply­ing this now.”

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