Fredericton — An ancient Chinese proverb suggests that, “In conflict, be fair and generous.” But, apparently this advice was lost on Progressive Conservative MLA Jake Stewart.
On Monday, Stewart launched a conflict of interest complaint against Premier Brian Gallant. The root of the complaint is a consultant who worked for both the government and Enbridge Gas at the same time while settlement negotiations were ongoing with the company.
However, the consultant in question never worked on the file for the government side at all during these negotiations. And, the legislation under which the complaint was filed does not apply to consultants. The dissonance between the complaint and the events has left many questioning why there is a conflict or even why there is interest.
“It doesn’t pass the smell test for us,” says Stewart. “That’s a real legal thing, by the way. We took everything we had on this, put both pages in a box, shook it up, opened the box up, and took a big whiff. After about 20 minutes of sniffing, we were getting kind of woozy from the printer toner. But, we suddenly had the idea to file the complaint against the premier! The ‘smell test’ never lies!”
Stewart is questioning why the Liberals acted as they did. “They could have easily started over. They didn’t. Why didn’t they? Was there something to gain? Well, there must have been.”
Political scientist Malcolm Richardson thinks he knows the answer. “Umm, they didn’t start over because they didn’t need to? Because they didn’t want to get rid of lower natural gas prices, they just wanted to get rid of the $820 million lawsuit against the government? Stewart’s government created the legal mess in the first place by just ripping something up. You don’t settle disputes and solve problems by just ripping things up.”
New Brunswick’s Conflict of Interest Act applies to deputy ministers, ministerial executive assistants, and Crown corporation CEOs. However, it does not apply to outside consultants or MLAs. A second law, the Members Conflict of Interest Act, applies to elected members of the Legislature including Premier Gallant. For the premier to be in conflict, it would need to be shown that his private interests benefited from government actions.
Stewart says he’s “not exactly certain” how the alleged conflict would have benefited Gallant’s private interest. “But I mean, why would he do it?” Stewart asked. “We just want to see if we’re onto something, to see if we’re right.”
“Right about what?” asked the political scientist. “Stewart doesn’t have any evidence that the law was broken, he filed a complaint for reasons that he can’t articulate, and he’s trying to use a law that doesn’t apply to the consultant in question. So he’s throwing shade at the premier, even though no one — including Stewart — can conceive of a way that the premier’s private interests benefited. But by all means, let’s just do it because it smells weird.”
Richardson concluded, “Look, these things cost taxpayer dollars, and they don’t exist just for someone’s morbid curiosity or perverse pleasure. People need to at least be able to say what they are alleging if they want to start investigating someone. Stewart either doesn’t get it, or he’s just playing dumb to attempt to score some cheap political points.
“That weird smell he’s smelling just might be total bullshit.”