Ministers accountable to legislature, not public, says minister

·3 min read

A New Brunswick cabinet minister is standing by a colleague who wrote a letter to the Energy and Utilities Board that opposition MLAs are calling inappropriate.

Irving Oil is seeking an increase to wholesale petroleum prices that could cost New Brunswickers $60 million more per year.

Mike Holland, the minister of natural resources and energy development, wrote a letter to the EUB saying it should act quickly on the matter.

"It has been suggested that the current margin in New Brunswick is not enough to guarantee continuity of supply in the challenging COVID-19 global environment," Holland wrote.

"As a result I am supporting the application to review evidence in an expedited fashion and, if warranted, an interim order to increase the wholesale margin. If an interim order is warranted, I feel the severity of a possible supply issue means it should be issued at the earliest opportunity."

The letter provoked calls for Holland's resignation, since cabinet ministers don't normally involve themselves in matters before the EUB, an arms-length regulatory body.

Accountable to whom?

Justice Minister Ted Flemming said in the end cabinet ministers are accountable to the legislature, not the people of the province.

"In law the minister is accountable to the legislature," said Flemming.

"If you want to say 'I think it's public or I think it's [to the] premier,' you can have that opinion. But in law, he's accountable to the legislature,"

Liberal MLA Robert McKee said the letter was inappropriate and may constitute an ethics violation and pointed to the premier's past career with Irving Oil.

"We have some serious questions that we feel should be investigated and answered … with respect to the premier's direct involvement in this," said McKee.

CBC
CBC

"It's no secret that he's a former Irving Oil executive. So we feel that there's an issue of conflict of interest that could arise in this with the premier being involved. Did he have communications with Irving Oil about this?"

McKee said he wants the integrity commissioner to review the incident.

CBC
CBC

Flemming took issue with the characterization of the premier, adding no one would claim Flemming himself was a fan of the Irving family.

"K.C. Irving did everything in his power to get my grandfather [former Premier Hugh John Flemming] out of office in 1960 because he wouldn't toe the Irving line," said Flemming.

"I'm no poster boy for the Irvings here."

'It was inappropriate'

Green party Leader David Coon said the minister abused his power when he wrote a letter to the EUB because he holds all the cards when it comes to the board's future

"Underlying all of this, of course, is [the board] recognizing that the minister and the government has the opportunity to change the legislation under which they act," said Coon.

Jacques Poitras/CBC News file photo
Jacques Poitras/CBC News file photo

"The not too subtle implication would be 'If you don't hurry up your process, then you may just see your legislation changed so that there are new constraints on you in terms of the time available to render your decisions.' That's one of the underlying messages."

People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin said the minister and the government will essentially be accountable to the people in the next election.

Gary Moore/CBC
Gary Moore/CBC

"I think most of the public in this case is looking at this and saying here is a government that's clearly putting industry over people," said Austin.

"It was inappropriate. And, you know, I think it tipped the government's hand on who they're really fighting for."