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Federal minister plays down contacts with Irving before suspending rival's deal


OTTAWA — Treasury Board President Scott Brison has played down his ties to Irving Shipbuilding, saying his only contact with the company before spearheading efforts to pause a rival shipbuilder's project was a letter sent to him and several other ministers.

The federal minister's relationship with Irving has been under scrutiny since Vice-Admiral Mark Norman's lawyers accused Brison in court filings last week of being close to the Irving family and being a frequent target of their company's lobby efforts.

The suggestion, since picked up by the opposition Conservatives, is that Brison acted inappropriately by leading an effort in November 2015 to suspend a $668-million contract with Irving-rival Davie Shipbuilding for an interim naval support ship.

Norman was charged in March with one count of breach of trust for allegedly leaking government secrets to Davie after the interim supply-ship project was paused. He has denied any wrongdoing and is scheduled to stand trial next year.

Brison, who is from Nova Scotia, has previously admitted to leading efforts to pause the Davie project, but insists he was only doing his job as the minister responsible for managing the federal purse by ensuring the initiative represented value for taxpayers.

In the face of continued Conservative attacks in the House of Commons on Tuesday, Brison sought to distance himself further from the company.

"The only engagement I had with Irving Shipbuilding during the period in question was being copied on a letter sent to two other ministers," he said during question period.

"My job as Treasury Board president includes expenditure review and due diligence to ensure the integrity of government contracting. And that's exactly what I did: my job."

Filed in court by the RCMP last year, the letter from Irving co-CEO James D. Irving was addressed to Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and then-procurement minister Judy Foote, with Brison and Finance Minister Bill Morneau copied.

Dated Nov. 17, 2015, it asks the new Liberal government to revisit the Davie contract and consider its own proposal. Liberal cabinet ministers agreed two days later to suspend the Davie project.

In their court filings, Norman's legal team alleges that Brison was "behind the effort to delay and potentially terminate the Davie agreement," that he "appears to be close to the Irvings," and has been "frequently lobbied" by James Irving.

Norman's lawyers do not provide any explanation for why they believe the minister appears to be close to the family, which owns several successful businesses throughout Atlantic Canada.

A review of the Lobbying Commissioner's website shows that Brison has been lobbied more than a dozen times by Irving Shipbuilding, though there are no records of lobbying activity in 2015.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

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