Author by : ADAM HURAS Legislature Bureau
Photo by : ADAM HURAS Legislature Bureau
Continue as an MLA or take the new job as a lobbyist. – David Coon
Liberal MLA Donald Arseneault.
TIMES & TRANSCRIPT/FILE PHOTO/ARCHIVE
OTTAWA • Donald Arseneault says the conflict laws that allowed him to take on a second job need to change, even if he has to quit his new position.
Referencing backlash from New Brunswickers in the aftermath of his decision to start work as government relations manager for Canada’s Building Trades Unions while still holding down his job an MLA, Arseneault has told the Telegraph-Journal that he now agrees that politicians shouldn’t be allowed to earn a second wage.
“I have the utmost respect for the legislature and the laws that govern us,” Arseneault said in an email to the Telegraph-Journal on Wednesday night. “That is why I have followed the existing conflict of interest legislation as it concerns my immediate second employment situation.
“However, I hear the concerns raised by many New Brunswickers where they feel that a sitting MLA should not receive a second source of income.”
He added: “Therefore, I am fully in agreement that we, as legislators, need to tighten the current Conflict of Interest Act.”
Arseneault added that he’s aware that it could force him to quit his new job.
“I also understand that if such changes are brought forward, it may impact my current situation,” Arseneault said. “I will fully respect the new changes to the act, as I have with the current legislation.”
The veteran MLA’s words come after both himself and the Gallant government have defended the move amid persistent criticism.
Arseneault has maintained that Premier Brian Gallant wrote him a letter relieving him of part of his duties as a cabinet minister the day after he relayed word of a new job offer at a labour organization in Ottawa.
He also asserts that he’s not a lobbyist in his new role.
“This is a national organization who was looking for someone to help them with public relations, internal relations between their national, provincial and local groups and relations with major project owners,” Arseneault told the Telegraph-Journal. “This job isn’t about lobbying – it was about taking the skills I demonstrated as a public representative and putting them to work in the private sector.
“My employer has indicated that they can easily remove any activity from my job that even appears as lobbying – but no one seems to be interested in that.”
The Gallant government has said this week that it’s now willing to “strengthen” conflict-of-interest laws amid continued uproar over Arseneault’s ability to take on a second job under existing rules.
But whether that results in new legislation to block politicians from collecting a second paycheque remains to be seen.
Attorney General Serge Rousselle suggesting both on Tuesday and Wednesday for the first time that the existing rules need to be addressed.
“We agree with the opposition that clarification of the scope of the existing law is necessary,” Rousselle said on Tuesday inside the provincial legislature.
He then added that the Gallant government is ready to work with the opposition parties to strengthen conflict-of-interest laws.
“If the opposition wants to change the rules, we can change them,” Rousselle said.
Progressive Conservative Leader Blaine Higgs said this week that Arseneault’s decision to accept the job “is so outrageous that no person drafting legislation would ever have considered it a possibility.”
The Tories have continued to claim that Arseneault was only hired to lobby government.
“Associations pay government relations people for one reason,” Progressive Conservative MLA Ted Flemming said. “It is to effect government policy. That is why they have them.”
Green Party Leader David Coon has also said that he’s “happy to work with official opposition and the government” to make changes to the existing law, while adding that the responsibility lies with the premier to tell the member of Campbellton-Dalhousie to make a choice.
“Continue as an MLA or take the new job as a lobbyist,” Coon said.
Amid continued questioning in the legislature on Wednesday, Rousselle added to his own comments on conflict-of-interest laws.
“What I said yesterday was that we are ready to have a conversation with the opposition and the third party to clarify the rule and to make sure that each and every one of us in this room knows exactly what we can and cannot do,” Rousselle said.
Flemming fired back by calling the minister’s words “a significant backtrack.”
Rousselle then weighed in again.
“What I said yesterday is that we want to have a conversation with the official opposition and the third party in the House to clarify and strengthen the law. If we make it clearer, it is certain that it will be more strong,” he said. “I think I have been very clear in that regard.”
Arseneault told the Telegraph-Journal that the law does need to change.
“That is why I will work with my colleagues in government and those in opposition in making that happen,” he said.
-With files from John Chilibeck
MLA, Fredericton South and Leader, Green Party of NB