Former fisheries minister Dominic LeBlanc broke conflict of interest rules earlier this year by awarding a lucrative licence to fish for Arctic surf clams to a company that was set to be run by his wife’s cousin.
In a ruling issued Wednesday morning, Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion said the plan to award the contract violated the section of the Conflict of Interest Act that bars public office holders from making decisions that would place them in a conflict as well as the section requiring officials to recuse themselves from such matters.
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“A first cousin of Mr. LeBlanc’s spouse, Mr. Gilles Thériault, could have benefitted financially from an Arctic surf clam licence being awarded to the Five Nations Clam Company,” Dion said. “Mr. Thériault would have served as the company’s general manager if the process to grant it the licence had been completed.”
Dion said that the decision by LeBlanc to pursue issuing the licence — which was announced in February 2018 — “provided an opportunity to further Mr. Thériault’s private interests.”
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The process to issue the licence, worth about $24 million dollars, was cancelled this summer, something Dion said had no bearing on his ruling.
“Mr. LeBlanc was aware of Mr. Thériault’s extensive involvement in the fishing industry. He was also aware of his family relationship to Mr. Thériault when he made the decision to pursue next steps in issuing the licence to the Five Nations Clam Company,” Dion wrote.
He continued, noting that “In fact, Mr. Thériault raised the licencing issue with Mr. LeBlanc prior to the decision and Mr. Thériault’s name appeared on the proposal submitted to Fisheries and Oceans Canada and read in full by Mr. LeBlanc.”
“I therefore found that Mr. LeBlanc contravened subsection 6(1) and section 21 of the Act.”
LeBlanc tweeted in response to the ruling, saying he accepted the findings of the report.
LeBlanc had previously argued Thériault did not meet the definition of ‘relative’ under the Conflict of Interest Act and that the process of awarding the licence was fully compliant with the rules.
He made the same argument in submissions made to Dion for the report.
“Mr. LeBlanc indicated that neither he, nor his spouse socialized with Mr. Thériault. Mr. LeBlanc added that Mr. Thériault was never invited to family gatherings attended by friends and close family members, such as Mr. LeBlanc’s wedding, birthdays, holidays or election night celebrations,” Dion wrote.
LeBlanc also had argued Thériault’s private interests would not have been furthered through the approval because he was too far removed from the decision-making process to qualify as a conflict of interest under the legislation.
“In any event, Mr. LeBlanc submitted that even if Mr. Thériault’s private interests were furthered, he did so inadvertently since he had no knowledge of Mr. Thériault’s compensation structure with the Five Nations Clam Company,” Dion noted.
Dion also said LeBlanc “knew or reasonably should have known” that Thériault would receive compensation if the licence was awarded.
“I am therefore satisfied that Mr. LeBlanc had the opportunity to further Mr. Thériault’s private interests in the matter, even though the licence was ultimately not
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Fisheries and Oceans said in announcing the cancellation that it would not issue any licence this year.
An independent third party will be evaluating bids next year to issue a licence for 2020.
LeBlanc, who represents the New Brunswick riding of Beauséjour, was shuffled out of the fisheries portfolio in July and named as the minister for intergovernmental affairs.
Initially, Conservative MP Todd Doherty had in April 2018 asked Dion to investigate the issuing of the licence.
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Doherty had alleged awarding the licence to Five Nations Clam Company furthered the interests of a brother of Liberal MP Darrell Samson because the seafood harvesting company Samson’s brother ran had partnered with the Five Nations Clam Company in the licencing proposal.
Dion said in his report Doherty’s request didn’t meet the requirements for a request.
Three days later, Dion wrote, his office learned of the link between the Five Nations Clam Company and Thériault.
At that point, Dion launched his investigation.