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Lawyer asks to question fired N.B. Liquor director during review of agency store decision

Lawyer Erica Brown argued Wednesday she should be allowed to question a former N.B. Liquor employee about discrepancies between what she told her in a meeting two years ago and what she wrote in an affidavit a year later. (Jacques Poitras/CBC - image credit)
Lawyer Erica Brown argued Wednesday she should be allowed to question a former N.B. Liquor employee about discrepancies between what she told her in a meeting two years ago and what she wrote in an affidavit a year later. (Jacques Poitras/CBC - image credit)

A lawyer wants a second chance at getting information from a former N.B. Liquor employee who allegedly made statements indicating the Crown corporation didn't follow proper procedure when granting agency store licences.

Stacey McKinney, a former finance director at N.B. Liquor, allegedly disclosed information to Hartland business owner  Peter Cook and his lawyer Erica Brown in 2021, detailing how political affiliations have something to do with the lucrative agency store contracts that N.B. Liquor awards through a request-for-proposals process.

McKinney, who'd been fired by N.B. Liquor in 2020, appeared willing to testify for Cook as part of a judicial review into the Crown corporation's decision in 2021 to grant an agency store licence to Valu Foods, a grocery store just a kilometre up the road from his in Hartland.

But a year later, McKinney filed an affidavit distancing herself from Cook's case, saying she didn't have any information relevant to it.

Hartland businessperson and Liberal supporter Peter Cook alleges N.B. Liqour   manipulated the scoring of his bid and is asking for a judicial review of the decision.
Hartland businessperson and Liberal supporter Peter Cook alleges N.B. Liqour manipulated the scoring of his bid and is asking for a judicial review of the decision.

Hartland business owner Peter Cook alleges N.B. Liquor manipulated the scoring of his bid and is asking for a judicial review of the decision. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

On Wednesday, Brown argued before Court of King's Bench Justice Terrence Morrison that she should be allowed to examine McKinney because of "contradictions" between what McKinney told her and Cook in 2021 and what she said in her affidavit.

"So this particular affidavit, in view of the information she provided to us, necessitates further examination clarifying and reconciling her discrepancies as well," Brown said.

"Without this evidence in the facts of the context of this case, we submit that the court can't do justice to the merits of the judicial review application."

The information McKinney allegedly disclosed to Cook and Brown is contained in an affidavit by Cook. It says McKinney approached them offering information about what she described as politically motivated decisions driven by N.B. Liquor board chair John Correia, a supporter of Premier Blaine Higgs.

Cook, a well-known Liberal supporter, alleges that N.B. Liquor's politically appointed board of directors headed by Correia, influenced the scoring of the bidding process, resulting in the Hartland agency store contract being awarded to a grocery store next to an Irving gas station.

At the time she spoke to Cook and Brown, McKinney had planned to claim whistleblower status and ask the Labour and Employment Board to rule on her firing, according to her lawyer at the time.

But McKinney abruptly withdrew her complaint against N.B. Liquor last fall, according to the labour board.

Hartland's Irving station and Valufoods outlet at the edge of town was declared the winner of NB Liquor's agency store contract on March 17. It took over on April 1st.
Hartland's Irving station and Valufoods outlet at the edge of town was declared the winner of NB Liquor's agency store contract on March 17. It took over on April 1st.

Hartland's Irving station and Valufoods outlet at the edge of town won N.B. Liquor's agency store contract on March 17, 2021. (Google Street view)

In an affidavit filed in Court of King's Bench on Nov. 1, 2022, McKinney said she had no information contradicting N.B. Liquor's arguments in the lawsuit by Cook.

Her affidavit does not say whether she reached a settlement with the liquor corporation.

None of the allegations detailed in Cook's affidavit have been tested in court.

Defence sees 'conspiracy theories'

Clarence Bennett, lawyer for N.B. Liquor, objected to the motion by Brown, saying there's nothing about McKinney's affidavit that contradicts what she allegedly told Cook.

"Mr. Cook filed an affidavit saying, 'These are all the things Ms. McKinney told me in a meeting', which isn't the greatest evidence, but even if you accepted that all those things are true … there's absolutely nothing in there that has anything to do with the awarding of the Hartland agency store," Bennett said.

"It talks about all kinds of things, historically this, that the other thing. All kinds of conspiracy theories … but there's nothing in there where Ms. McKinney is contradicting herself."

Brown also filed a motion seeking to cross-examine McKinney on the affidavit she provided, and to compel N.B. Liquor to provide more information about the awarding of the agency store contract.

Morrison reserved his decision on the three motions, saying only that he hopes to provide a decision as soon as he possibly can.

A hearing on the merits of the judicial review itself, meanwhile, is scheduled to go ahead on April 10, 2024.