13 MLAs disclosed other business and interests to the integrity commissioner
Author by : Jacques Poitras
Photo by : Jacques Poitras
It is a full-time job, more than a full-time job. So for the most part, it is hard to see how someone could hold another job of any kind and do their job as MLA effectively – David Coon
Liberal MLA Donald Arseneault’s frustration was clear over the last two weeks as he struggled to respond to accusations that holding a second job put him in a conflict of interest.
“This is not new, for MLAs, sitting MLAs, to have other private business opportunities or whatnot,” Arseneault said.
* Donald Arseneault says he’ll be MLA and lobbyist at same time
He rattled off a list of examples, including Opposition Progressive Conservative MLA Ross Wetmore, who owned a gas station and convenience store when he was first elected, and Larry Kennedy, a former Liberal MLA who maintained a medical practice while in politics.
“Take someone like Kirk MacDonald, who has a private business and who gets up in the chamber and asks questions about the small business tax,” Arseneault said. “No one asks questions about that, about whether that looks like a conflict of interest.”
MacDonald, the PC MLA for Fredericton-York, lists an unregistered business, MacDonald Shingle Works, and “apartment rentals” as his financial and business interests on his conflict of interest disclosure form.
The difference with Arseneault’s job, according to his critics, was that his position with a national union organization involved lobbying — trying to influence governments, including elected politicians. He announced last Friday he’ll resign as MLA.
* MLA Arseneault’s controversial new job provokes plan to toughen conflict law
Integrity Commissioner Alexandre Deschênes said it`s possible the list of business interests of interests of MLAs may not be complete. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)
But an examination by CBC News of 2016 public conflict-of-interest disclosure forms by all 49 members of the New Brunswick legislature reveals Arseneault had a point.
Thirteen of those MLAs list other “business or financial interests” on their disclosures, including four current or recent cabinet ministers who were granted exemptions from sections of the Member’s Conflict of Interest Act.
Under Section 14(1) of law, ministers can’t “carry on business through a partnership or sole proprietorship” or “hold or trade in securities, stocks, futures or commodities.”
But Section 14(2) says they can get an exemption if they disclose the facts to the integrity commissioner, the commissioner is satisfied it won’t “create a conflict between the member’s private interest and public duty,” and the commissioner gives permission in writing.
Kenny’s many exemptions
Education Minister Brian Kenny, the MLA for Bathurst West-Beresford, has one of the most extensive exemptions under Section 14(2).
Kenny is allowed to hold shares in four companies listed on the form — three numbered companies as well as Squire Green Inc.
Integrity commissioner Alexandre Deschênes has given him an exemption from the ban but says he must “continue to refrain from engaging in other activities” prohibited under the same section, including running or managing the businesses.
Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development Brian Kenny has an extensive exemption allowing him to hold shares in four companies. (Kirk Pennell/CBC)
The form notes three relatives of Mr. Kenny also own shares in the companies. Two other businesses belonging to the minister, Residence D.M. Boudreau (2013) Ltee. and another numbered company, are in blind trusts.
“I am satisfied that the permitted activity will not create a conflict between the private interest of the Minister and his public duties,” Deschênes writes.
Landry, Melanson, Doherty also exempt
Economic Development Minister Francine Landry also has an exemption from the same subsection of the act, allowing her to keep shares in VPJ Martin Inc.
Like Kenny, she is also required to avoid “engaging in other activities” banned under the act, such as running or managing the business. Landry co-owns the business with her husband.
Treasury Board Minister Roger Melanson lists a financial interest in Dr. Lise Babin C.P. Inc. and also has an exemption. Babin, a medical doctor, is Melanson’s spouse
Saint John Harbour MLA Ed Doherty, a cabinet minister at the time of his last declaration, also had an exemption for a non-voting membership in an organization called “Greenback Investment Club.”
Kenny, Landry, Melanson, and Doherty did not respond to requests from CBC News to discuss their disclosures.
MLAs can hold second jobs
MLAs who aren’t in cabinet don’t need exemptions because the law allows them to have second jobs or interests.
Green party leader David Coon has called for an MLA code of conduct that would clarify that when someone is elected to the legislature, that is their job.
“It is a full-time job, more than a full-time job” Coon said, “so for the most part, it is hard to see how someone could hold another job of any kind and do their job as MLA effectively.”
But Progressive Conservative MLA Pam Lynch, who lists two businesses on her disclosure, says MLAs “should be able to have outside business interests as long as it does not include lobbying.”
Only six MLAs respond
CBC News contacted all 13 MLAs who disclosed a business or financial interest by email, asking them to describe the interest and how much money they make from it. Three responded by email and three others explained when asked in person.
Lynch said P. Lynch Enterprises is a court reporting company that employs one or two people. It has no contracts and is run by her husband. The other company on her disclosure, P.C.I. Consulting, “has been inactive for years” and belongs entirely to her husband, she said.
MLA Ted Flemming says he’s never received any income or dividends from a private holding company his father started. (CBC)
Rothesay PC MLA Ted Flemming said Aberdeen Investment Company Ltd., listed on his form, was a private holding company set up by his father. He said his father gave him and his two siblings shares in the 1980s but he’s never received any income or dividend from it.
He called a ban on secondary jobs or financial interests “a bad idea” because “you shouldn’t have to be poor to run for public office.”
Carleton PC MLA Stewart Fairgrieve said Howard Brook Development Inc., listed on his form, is an apartment rental company co-owned by him and an old friend. He said he has made no income from the company because all proceeds are re-invested.
Kings Centre PC MLA Bill Oliver lists a one-third ownership in a real estate agency and property management company. He said the company is his wife’s and it is being dissolved.
Moncton East Liberal MLA Monique LeBlanc lists her physiotherapy company, which she said was a routine incorporation of her practice.
Restigouche-Chaleur Liberal MLA Daniel Guitard lists an investment in West End Sports, a retailer in Beresford he used to own.
He said the current owner, Guy Haché, asked him to re-invest in the company in 2014, an investment eligible for the provincial government’s Small Business Investor Tax Credit. That credit was worth 30 per cent of the investment at the time.
Haché said Guitard’s investment is for four years and the MLA is receiving no profit from the company, only the tax credit. He said he’ll buy out Guitard’s stake and those of two other investors after four years.
Other MLA interests
The other MLAs who listed financial interests in 2016 who did not respond to the emailed questions from CBC News:
Albert PC MLA Brian Kierstead says he is a real estate agent with Kellar Williams Capital Realty.
Besides the shingle company and the apartment rentals, Kirk MacDonald also lists several properties he owns on his disclosure, including Valley View Living Inc.
Tory MLA Kirk MacDonald lists several properties he owns on his disclosure along with businesses. (CBC)
Moncton Northwest PC MLA Ernie Steeves owns a numbered company, 615452 N.B. Inc.
Based on an email from Deschênes earlier this week, it’s possible that that this list is not complete. Some MLAs may have interests not disclosed on the forms.
Deschênes confirmed that Arseneault told then-conflict commissioner Patrick Ryan that he was doing paid work for the Atlantic Canada Regional Council of Carpenter, Millright and Allied Workers from 2010 to 2014, when he was an opposition MLA.
That job does not appear on Arseneault’s disclosure forms for those years. Deschênes said “there would be no obligation to refer to the outside employment in the public disclosure statement.”