Author by: John Chilibeck/Legislature Bureau
Photo by: John Chilibeck/Legislature Bureau
It strictly is the ‘Arseneault amendment’. It will address the gap in the legislation because the drafters of the law way back when could never have imagined such a thing would occur that a sitting member would take on a job as a lobbyist. – David Coon
FREDERICTON • New Brunswick’s Liberal government has introduced a bill to close a loophole in the conflict of interest law for MLAs, one the opposition is calling “the Donald Arseneault amendment.”
The proposed law amendment would prohibit politicians sitting in the legislature from lobbying or being employed by a business or organization that engages in lobbying.
The bill would outlaw politicians from lobbying inside or outside New Brunswick on provincial matters for a 12-month period after they vacate their seats at the legislative assembly.
Arseneault, a former Liberal MLA who now works for a labour organization in the nation’s capital, said Wednesday he supported the new bill.
“I saw the release, as I still watch question period each day despite being in Ottawa,” he wrote in an email. “As for the legislation, I’ve always said publicly that it needs to be clear for everyone which eliminates any unintended consequences. Obviously, this legislation proves once again that I did nothing wrong, people just didn’t like it!”
Arseneault raised a furor in October when he announced he would take a new job in Ottawa for a labour organization but keep his seat as a Liberal MLA for Campbellton-Dalhousie.
The politician initially said it was OK to take the job, arguing plenty of other MLAs moonlight. He also insisted the integrity commissioner had cleared him to work with the labour organization after quitting as the minister responsible for labour in September.
The ensuing public backlash led Premier Brian Gallant to give Arseneault an ultimatum: quit your seat or be expelled from the Liberal caucus. Arseneault gave up his seat Nov. 31, complaining that Liberal and opposition MLAs had treated him “like the plague.”
Attorney general Serge Rousselle, who introduced the bill, told reporters at the legislature Wednesday the Arseneault case showed the loophole had to be eliminated.
“The law was followed, but there was a grey zone. The fact that we are going to make it clear I think is to the benefit of all MLAs. Present and future MLAs will know what they can do and not do, and I think that’s quite important.”
Rousselle said his former colleague couldn’t really be blamed, as he had sought the opinion of integrity commissioner Alexandre Deschênes.
“He went to the commissioner of integrity and he followed his advice,” Rousselle said.
A former law professor, Rousselle said often when lawmakers draft bills, they don’t realize there are loopholes until later.
Progressive Conservative critic Bruce Fitch said his side was looking forward to looking at the details during debate.
Fitch, a veteran politician and former Tory cabinet minister, said he was interested in digging into how to address the notion of perceived conflicts of interest.
“If my wife is a teacher, am I in conflict if I start talking about education issues or passing an education budget? I am not in conflict, but someone might perceive it that way.”
Green party leader David Coon called the amendment essential.
“It strictly is the ‘Arseneault amendment,’ ” he told reporters. “It will address the gap in the legislation because the drafters of the law way back when could never have imagined such a thing would occur that a sitting member would take on a job as a lobbyist.”
Arseneault denies he does any lobbying at his new full-time job as government relations manager for the Canadian Building Trades Union.
Among the provisions in the bill, MLAs would be required to report to the integrity commissioner in their private disclosure statements any additional sources of employment or remuneration. The integrity commissioner would then be required to report that information to the public.