Author by : John Chilibeck /Legislature Bureau
Photo by : John Chilibeck /Legislature Bureau
I’ve had citizens say I can’t find a job description for MLAs. I think most citizens would be surprised that, not only is there no job description, but there is no code of conduct written down and attached to our house rules so they can look at it and say, ‘how should our MLAs be behaving? What should I expect of my MLA? That needs to be fixed. – David Coon
FREDERICTON • New Brunswick’s Liberal government says it won’t be rushed into creating a code of conduct for MLAs.
On March 16, politicians from all three political parties at the legislature passed a motion to create the code of conduct, referring the issue to the committee of procedures.
But eight months later the Liberal-dominated committee still hasn’t met, raising the ire of Green Party leader David Coon, who championed the original motion.
“In the Donald Arseneault affair, it could have made a real difference in terms of providing clear direction as to what can or cannot happen with an MLA when he’s looking for other kind of work,” Coon said in an interview. “I’ve had citizens say I can’t find a job description for MLAs. I think most citizens would be surprised that, not only is there no job description, but there is no code of conduct written down and attached to our house rules so they can look at it and say, ‘how should our MLAs be behaving? What should I expect of my MLA?’
“That needs to be fixed.”
Following a public outcry, Arseneault promised to quit his seat earlier this month under pressure from Premier Brian Gallant and the Liberal caucus. He took a second job with a labour organization in Ottawa shortly after quitting his cabinet post as minister responsible for labour in September – a move that did not violate house rules, but the opposition Tories and Greens denounced as unethical.
Arseneault declined comment Sunday, but has previously argued that plenty of MLAs past and present worked more than one job. He also said his new duties in Ottawa didn’t involve lobbying.
Two years after first raising the issue in the house, Coon brought up the need for a code of conduct again in question period Friday.
“It is very clear why it should move forward quickly. In his report on Atcon, the conflict of interest commissioner recommended years ago that this House consider adopting a code of conduct for members. More recently, the member for Campbellton-Dalhousie found himself embroiled in a conflict-of-interest controversy caused by the second job as a lobbyist that he had taken on. Perhaps if we had had a code of conduct that he could have consulted, this would not have happened.”
The reference to Atcon was a controversy under a previous Liberal administration in 2010 which granted the Miramichi construction consortium $70 million shortly before it went bankrupt, losing taxpayers’ money. The premier at the time, Shawn Graham, was eventually fined for not recusing himself from the cabinet decision because his father, Alan Graham, sat on the board of an Atcon subsidiary.
Liberal MLA Victor Boudreau was also a cabinet minister at the time and still sits as an MLA. On Friday, he spoke to reporters about why the government still hadn’t come up with a code of conduct.
Boudreau said a proposal was in development and would soon be presented to the all-party committee for debate before it’s formally adopted by the legislature.
“There are other provinces that have put in place codes of conducts for their MLAs, so we support that principle. And it is something that’s being worked on. Is it the number one priority of government right now? No, I think that’s obvious and that’s why it’s taking some time, but it is an issue we are working on.”
He wouldn’t say how soon the proposal would go before the committee or speculate on any of its contents.
But he acknowledged that adopting a code was important based on “various incidents that may have happened over the years in New Brunswick and other provinces” and the fact there was “no manual or guidebook on how to be a good MLA or cabinet minister.”
Progressive Conservative opposition leader Blaine Higgs said he would have to see the proposal first to know “if there’s any real meat to it” before he would support it.
“It’s sad that we need such a bill to come forward,” he told reporters Friday. “We saw a situation here over the last few months that had never been contemplated, in relation to the Arseneault affair.
“But if it brings better behaviour and better accountability and better performance, absolutely we should have one.”