N.B. MLA Donald Arseneault resigns seat amid conflict of interest controversy
Longtime New Brunswick MLA Donald Arseneault has decided to resign his seat, after an ultimatum from the premier regarding a perceived conflict of interest.
On Thursday, Premier Brian Gallant had called on Arseneault to either leave his new role with Canada’s Building Trades Unions (CBTU) or the Liberal Party.
In his public statement on Friday morning, Arseneault says his resignation is effective Nov. 30, and he will not be participating in any caucus activities leading up to that date.
The MLA for Campbellton-Dalhousie and former cabinet minister says his resignation was “a difficult decision for me.”
“My decision to accept a position of employment while serving as a Member of the Legislative Assembly, although completely within the existing rules, has become an unfortunate distraction for a government I have been proud to serve with,” he said in his statement.
Arseneault recently accepted a position with CBTU, which prompted an outcry from the opposition.
But Arseneault told reporters that after advising the premier he didn’t intend to seek re-election in 2018, he also checked with the province’s conflict of interest commissioner and was certain his new job followed the rules.
“The [conflict of interest) commissioner told me I was able to pursue this opportunity but with conditions that there are certain things you can and cannot do, which is lobbying,” he said on Oct. 27.
However, Gallant told reporters on Thursday that Arseneault’s decision stops short of what his caucus members must strive for, which is to avoid even the perception of a conflict of interest.
“He has to act and make a decision between being a Liberal MLA and having the job that is perceived to be containing lobbying in its description,” Gallant told reporters.
In his statement on Friday, Arseneault maintains he is in the right.
“Many members currently receive a secondary income from a second employment, revenue from a private business venture, or a public or private pension,” he said.
“In my opinion, I felt that my situation transitioning in private life was no different than many of those members. However, it was never my intention to place my colleagues in a difficult position or cause the premier and my fellow caucus members any anguish or distress.”
Premier, Opposition react to Arseneault’s resignation
Gallant addressed Arseneault’s resignation at the legislature on Friday.
“He will be remembered as a giant within the Liberal Party and he certainly will be remembered by all of us as a friend and we wish him well Mr. Speaker,” Gallant said.
However, Opposition Leader Blaine Higgs says he is still taken aback by the situation and would like to see changes enacted to ensure MLAs are held to a higher standard.
“That’s why the political system gets abused because people get this sense of entitlement because they feel the voters will vote for them anyway and it’s sad, it is absolutely sad,” Higgs said.
Arseneault agrees changes are necessary, and told reporters on Friday that clarifications should be made in the rules.
“This whole debate about the conflict of interest legislation obviously tells me it’s not clear,” he said. “Let’s make it clear…if there are changes needed to be made.”
Arseneault was first elected as an MLA in 2003. Among his roles, he has served as minister of natural resources, minister of post-secondary education, training and labour, deputy premier, and deputy house leader.
No announcement has been made on when a by-election for the riding of Campbellton-Dalhousie will take place.
With files from Jeremy Keefe
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