Call for lobbyists to testify leads to fiery debate

Teresa Wright
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Opposition MLAs on the Standing Committee on Agriculture, Environment, Energy and Forestry wanted the premier’s former chief of staff, former Liberal MLA to appear

Opposition MLAs on the Standing Committee on Agriculture, Environment, Energy and Forestry wanted premier’s former chief of staff Chris LeClair and former Liberal MLA Cynthia King, who are now lobbyists, to appear to clear up their role.

A fiery meeting of MLAs on the contentious issue of deep-water irrigation wells ended Wednesday with a majority vote against calling two politically connected lobbyists to testify.

Opposition MLA Colin LaVie wanted the Standing Committee on Agriculture, Environment, Energy and Forestry to call the premier’s former chief of staff, Chris LeClair, and former Liberal MLA Cynthia King to appear.

The two have been hired by the Potato Board and Cavendish Farms to co-ordinate meetings with as many provincial MLAs as possible to lobby in favour of lifting the current moratorium on irrigation wells.

LaVie’s request led to a heated exchange between government and Opposition MLAs Wednesday, especially when it came to light LeClair did not attend meetings with the Tory caucus or with Independent MLA Olive Crane, but did attend meetings with Liberal MLAs.

“They didn’t see fit to attend our (meeting). Why?” said Opposition MLA James Aylward.

“I think this committee, Islanders in general, deserve to know what these lobbyists are doing, what their agenda is.”

Liberal backbencher Kathleen Casey argued calling the P.E.I. Potato Board to the committee would suffice, since the board was one of the parties that engaged LeClair.

Liberal MLA Pat Murphy accused the Tories of playing politics on the issue of deep-water wells, which he said is a “very important issue to the province.”

But Opposition Leader Steven Myers frequently interrupted them.

“He was the premier’s right-hand-man, he’s lobbying on behalf of the potato industry, let’s have him here,” he said.

“Does having Chris LeClair involved with this give whoever it is that’s lobbying for deep water wells… a direct line to the decision maker of this province. That’s the question.

“It just screams political interference. I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to know if someone is trying to directly influence the premier.”

The only Liberal MLA who supported the idea of calling the two to testify was Buck Watts, who said he felt it was the only way they could clarify their roles and not continue to polarize the committee.

“After hearing the way this meeting is starting out, I think we should bring Cynthia King and Chris LeClair in to clear their name and find out exactly what they were doing, why they were doing it… who were they hired by, who were they paid by, what’s their reason for doing it,” Watts said.

“We’re going to be into a bloody mess all through if we don’t get this straightened out off the bat, get this cleaned up, get this off the plate.”

But in the end, the request was denied in a vote of 4-3, with Watts voting with LaVie and Aylward. Casey, Murphy, Bush Dumville and Hal Perry defeated the motion.

After the meeting, LaVie said he believes the Liberals on the committee were the ones playing politics.

“It’s another sign they’ve got something to hide,” he said.

“They’re making a political issue out of it, and they said in the meeting they didn’t want to make it political – then put them at the table. Let us hear it.”

The committee did, however agree to LaVie’s request to call Environment Minister Janice Sherry to appear. The committee will further be delving into the hot-button issue of deep well irrigation for the next two months, with weekly meetings planned until the end of March.

After that, public consultations will be held to ensure all Islanders have the chance to voice their opinions.

 

twright@theguardian.pe.ca

Twitter.com/GuardianTeresa

Organizations: Standing Committee on Agriculture, Tory, P.E.I. Potato Board

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Recent comments

  • water wrights
    February 06, 2014 - 16:45

    The only thing that a lobbyist is interested in is their pay check not the good of the public. We can't live without water, we can live without potatoes.

  • Graham M
    February 06, 2014 - 13:46

    I am completely opposed to expanding deep water wells, whether for big agriculture, municipal water supplies, or anyone else for that matter. Just like I am also opposed to allowing the continued sale and use of ammonium nitrate and other chemical fertilizers, not to mention chemical pesticides - these should all be banned outright. And I am extremely concerned about the lack of accountability amongst lobbyists in this province - I worry that politically-connected individuals like Mr. LeClair are unduly influencing our elected representatives. This is wrong. This is an important issue and the current government elected by the voters of this province in 2011 did not include this issue in their party platform at that time Thus they do not have the moral authority to relax the current moratorium. I am worried that by having an ineffective opposition with Myers, Aylward & LaVie, this issue will be railroaded through by Ghiz, Lac Megantic style.

  • don
    February 06, 2014 - 10:44

    again he liberals are hiding something. what about ghiz and his OPEN GOVERNMENT more lies. will it ever stop?

  • Andrew Lush
    February 06, 2014 - 08:05

    These paid lobbyists should get no special audience with anyone. They should only use the usual channels that the rest of us have access to, such as the Standing Committee and their own MLAs. This issue is too important to allow money and big business to override environmental and health issues.

  • Losing Hope
    February 06, 2014 - 06:39

    I am so disheartened with what's happening to our beautiful Island. It's becoming overwhelming, the amount of disregard for the environment and disrespect for the needs of Islanders, that our elected officials have. Minister Sherry is a disgrace to the Island. She doesn't even bother to attend the meeting on the most important issue on the table right now and it's her that has to make the decision??? Is she not the least bit embarrassed to show her face to islanders? Unbelievable! We need every islander to speak up on this one. It's wrong to let them take our water and use it for profit when our water is in the condition its in because of what the industry has done to it. It's not bad enough that they put all the small farmers out of business ruined our beautiful soil and changed the island forever? I love the farmers, but Cavendish and McCain's are not farmers. They are industry. Industry with one purpose and that's to make a profit and any cost. I'm beginning to wonder if the plan is to get everyone to move away so the island can be handed over to the potato industry.

  • candrayo
    February 05, 2014 - 20:45

    Farmers and Politicians are soon going to find out if this is going to be the straw that breaks Islander's backs. If attacking our water supply isn't enough to light a fire under some Island asses…I don't know what will……I wonder……I hope!

  • intobed
    February 05, 2014 - 20:29

    The PEI Federation of Agriculture doesn't care if they cause more harm to PEI by endorsing industrial potato farmers using deep water wells. The only thing driving potato farming CEO's is maximizing profits. They don't give a damn about Islanders. I don't trust anything any lobbyist says that they hired either.