When Wade MacLauchlan won a majority government in May of 2015, he not only became Premier of the province and President of Executive Council, he also appointed himself the Minister responsible for Aboriginal Affairs; the Minister responsible for Acadian and Francophone Affairs; the Minister of Justice; AND the Attorney General of Prince Edward Island.
A Premier appointing himself the Attorney General is like a Judge telling a convicted criminal he’s able to decide his own punishment for robbing a bank! An Attorney General is supposed to prevent, expose and eradicate corruption in government. There is no confidence that the Attorney General will hold the government to account if the Attorney General is the Premier….or a Cabinet Minister only answerable to the Premier and Executive Council.
Is there evidence that Wade MacLauchlan as Premier, Minister of Justice and Attorney General failed to “hold the government to account” for illegal and corrupt activity? Most definitely!
Forced to honour his pre-election promise to investigate and “get to the bottom” of the e-gaming scandal, Premier MacLauchlan didn’t use his newly acquired powers as Minister of Justice and Attorney General to investigate the e-gaming affair, but asked the Auditor General, Jane McAdam, to investigate the matter and report her findings back to government. The problem was that he also imposed significant scope limitations and constraints on her work, making a full investigation impossible.
Premier MacLauchlan knew full-well that despite e-gaming being a government project – as the Auditor General herself stated in her report, “…government allowed this project to operate outside the normal control framework of government,” adding that McInnis Cooper law firm refused to be interviewed or provide any information or project files.
Indeed, even the government refused to cooperate with the Auditor General. The AG also noted in her report that despite asking the government for “…all relevant texts including text messaging and PINS….There were none provided by government, even though we were advised, and have evidence that some government business relevant to these files was conducted through these forms of communication.” [See: Special Assignment: Government Involvement with the E-gaming Initiative and Financial Services Platform; Appendix “A” page 4, “Scope Limitations”].
My own investigation into e-gaming, building on what the Auditor General had already uncovered and reported, showed that numerous fraudulent events occurred, including occasions of “insider trading”; misappropriation of funds; fraudulent grant applications; etc., yet absolutely nothing was done by the Premier (also Attorney General) about these illegal activities. Indeed, several of the individuals guilty of these offences (Neil Stewart; Cheryl Paynter; Billy Dow; etc. ) continue to work within government.
When opposition members of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts pressed the Auditor General on why she didn’t ensure that there were consequences for illegal activity, she had no answer for them other than to say it was the government’s place to ensure there were consequences and she didn’t know why there weren’t any:
And that’s the million dollar question: “Why didn’t government in the attorney general’s department or the department of justice recommend charges against somebody?”
The answer is obvious and clear: it appears that the Attorney General at the time (Wade MacLauchlan) was engaged in orchestrating a massive cover-up of the e-gaming scandal and his refusal to act in accordance with the expectations of the office of Attorney General can only be described with one word: “Corrupt”.
When the Premier appoints the Attorney General, there can be no confidence that office will operate independent of government in the service of justice.
As Premier, I would immediately make the selection process for the Attorney General a function of the entire Legislative Assembly through an open voting process, rather than the result of an appointment by the Premier. Never again will a Premier be allowed to appoint him or herself the Attorney General!
With a majority government, it may still be possible for the government to ‘whip’ the vote and have a certain individual declared Attorney General; however, that individual would not answer to the Premier and Executive Council, but to the entire Legislative Assembly. The Attorney General would provide regular updates to the Legislative Assembly – whether the House was sitting or not – to report on matters of concern to the province. The Attorney General would take questions from both government and opposition members on those matters. These sessions would happen in the House, with the Speaker sitting, and be recorded live, as is the case with sittings of the Legislative Assembly. A Hansard record would be produced.
An Integrity Commission for PEI?
In 2015, Premier MacLauchlan established an “Integrity and Ethics” Commission for PEI; however, as wonderful as that title and those words sound, this office does not have a mandate to effectively ensure that the government of PEI operates with “integrity and Ethics.” Like the phrase “open and transparent” – which is used and abused so frequently by the Premier that it has ceased to have any real meaning – the office of the Integrity and Ethics Commissioner does not deliver what such an office should deliver: it essentially amounts to the former Deputy Minister of Justice under Robert Ghiz, Shauna Sullivan-Curley, serving in a part-time capacity to, oversee “conflict of interest disclosure for deputy ministers and senior officials in similar positions.”
Also, like the Attorney General, the Integrity and Ethics Commissioner is appointed by Executive Council and only reports to the Premier and Executive Council, rather than the entire Legislative Assembly, which would provide at least a measure of true accountability.
Although the policy of “self-disclosure” of potential conflicts of interest by senior bureaucrats has been strengthened somewhat to now require “mandatory disclosure statements” similar to Ministers, it is not the “law,” but only government “policy,” and forcing compliance has already been an issue. Several weeks ago a senior bureaucrat refused on several occasions to provide the Commissioner with disclosure, and the Premier refused to reveal the name of the individual when questioned by the Official opposition.
If elected Premier of PEI, I would establish within my first year of office a task force to explore the feasibility of setting up a true Integrity Commission for PEI.
This endeavour would model itself on the current process just announced in Australia to set up a “Commonwealth Integrity Commission.” The following information taken verbatim from the Attorney General’s webpage on the Australian government website summarizes what such a Commission would entail:
On 13 December 2018, the Australian Government announced that it will establish a Commonwealth Integrity Commission (CIC) to strengthen integrity arrangements across the federal public sector.
The CIC will be a centralised, specialist centre for the investigation of corruption in the public sector. It will also work with agencies to build resilience to corruption and bolster agency capability to detect, deter and investigate corrupt conduct.
The CIC will be established as an independent statutory agency, led by a commissioner and two deputy commissioners. The CIC will comprise:
A law enforcement integrity division – this will have the same functions and powers as the current Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity, but with a broader jurisdiction;
A public sector integrity division – this will investigate alleged criminal corruption involving government departments and their staff, parliamentarians and their staff, the staff of federal judicial officers, and in appropriate circumstances, recipients of Commonwealth funds.
I believe the “smallness” of Prince Edward Island and the prevalence of intimate (and often inappropriate) relationships among politicians, lawyers, & business owners makes the establishment of a true Integrity commission necessary if we are ever to put an end to the perennial favouritism, cronyism and corruption that has plagued our government and turned PEI into a National embarrassment for so long.
As Premier, I will immediately establish a task force to produce a “white paper” on the establishment of an Integrity Commission; followed by a public consultation process. I would expect that such an office will be established before the end of my first term.