Why did Andrew Parsons quit his legislative role? PAC meeting holds the key

Eddy Kennedy/CBC

Justice Minister Andrew Parsons stepped down from his role as government House leader in the wake of a unanimous public accounts committee vote on an issue that could prove embarrassing to him for years to come: a potential investigation into the wetland capping of Muskrat Falls.

Parsons's decision to resign as the House leader — a legislative role in which he guided Liberal bills through the House of Assembly — leaked to the media on Oct. 29. Premier Dwight Ball confirmed it later that evening.

But Parsons had actually tendered his resignation in the role — but not as justice and public safety minister — seven days earlier, on Oct. 22.

CBC News has learned that Parsons stepped down soon after a vote at the public accounts committee over why the provincial government failed to spend about $30 million that had been earmarked for capping the wetlands near the massive hydroelectric dam at Muskrat Falls, on Labrador's Churchill River.

The public accounts committee met Oct. 17 to discuss the issue.

PC Leader Ches Crosbie revealed in a statement the following day that the PAC vote to refer the wetland capping issue to Auditor General Julia Mullaley was unanimous.

Eddy Kennedy/CBC

Parsons was minister of the environment when the wetland capping controversy happened.

Wetland capping is considered an important issue because it could have helped mitigate environmental damage caused by flooding the land that became the Muskrat Falls reservoir, including a potential increase in methylmercury. 

Trimper played persuasive role at meeting

CBC News has learned that Lake Melville MHA Perry Trimper played a persuasive role in the PAC vote. Ordinarily, the Liberals have a one-member advantage at PAC meetings, but in the Oct. 17 meeting, the Liberals and Tories had three seats apiece. Liberal Derek Bennett did not attend.

Watch: Here & Now's Anthony Germain breaks down the timeline leading up to Andrew Parsons's decision to step down as House leader: 

Investigating the wetland capping issue could play well in Trimper's district, which includes Muskrat Falls.

CBC News has also learned that Sarah Stoodley, the rookie Liberal MHA who represents the St. John's district of Mount Scio, wanted to vote against it, but Trimper leaned on her to change her mind because the optics of a 3-3 tie would look bad.

Premier Dwight Ball's office issued this statement soon after news leaked that Andrew Parsons was no longer government House leader: 

The other Liberal who attended the meeting was Pam Parsons, who represents Harbour Grace-Port de Grave.

Andrew Parsons has not commented about his decision to quit as government House Leader.

In a statement posted to Twitter on Oct. 29, Ball said Parsons made the "decision to step down as leader of the House to spend more time with his family."

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