Liberal members of a legislature committee had the opportunity this week to throw cold water on a hot little political issue, but instead they helped fan the political flames.
The committee’s Progressive Conservative members made a pitch to have Chris LeClair, the premier’s former chief of staff, and Cynthia King, a former Liberal MLA, appear before them.
The two have shed their Liberal robes — LeClair left voluntarily, King lost to James Aylward in the last election — and are now doing some lobby work on behalf of the P.E.I. Potato Board and Cavendish Farms. They have helped to arrange meetings with provincial MLAs to lobby in favour of lifting the current moratorium on deep-water irrigation wells.
It’s only natural, at least on P.E.I., that Opposition antennae are on high alert when former Liberal sympathizers are involved in an issue, especially a hot button environmental one.
“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,” asked Opposition Leader Steven Myers. “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.”
Liberal committee member Kathleen Casey argued that calling the P.E.I. Potato Board to the committee would suffice, since the board was one of the parties that engaged LeClair. One of Casey’s colleagues, Liberal MLA Pat Murphy, accused the Tories of playing politics on an important issue.
The Tories are likely playing a bit of politics, but at least they’re doing a good job at it, unlike the Liberals MLAs. After all, it is not an unreasonable request from the Conservatives given the past backgrounds of LeClair and King, so what’s the harm in having them appear?
If they did, I suspect they would say something along these lines. They are now out of active politics and have mouths to feed, including their own. They also have private lives outside of politics that they probably feel they are entitled to live.
Also, in LeClair’s case, he likely would point out he signed a waiver upon leaving his old job in the premier’s office that compels him from using any insider-type information he might have for personal gain.
The strict definition of what is private government information can be difficult to pin down. Knowing powerful politicians on a first-name basis is likely a valuable asset, but it is hardly insider information, compared to knowing, for example, that a major development is planned in a certain location and advising clients to purchase property nearby.
After some pointed questions from committee members, I suspect the doubting Thomases in the Tory camp would have had to accept the fact, even grudgingly, that LeClair and King are just trying to earn a living in a small province where everyone knows everyone’s business — especially your past political business.
One Liberal committee MLA did get it right. Buck Watts voted to allow the two to testify, saying it was the only way to clarify their roles and not continue to polarize the committee on an important issue.
The committee’s Liberal majority won the argument, but they would have done a service to LeClair and King, along with all Islanders, by allowing the two individuals to testify and clarify their roles. Instead, the issue will simmer and fester. That doesn’t provide any answers and it isn’t smart politics.
Gary MacDougall is managing editor of The Guardian. He can be reached by telephone at (902) 629-6039; by email at email@example.com; or on Twitter @GaryGuardian.