Premier Dwight Ball said a conflict of interest committee is being asked to review chief of staff Greg Mercer’s transition from private lobbyist to key Liberal government staff member.
The move comes in response to a CBC News story Thursday and subsequent questions in the House focused on Mercer’s past interaction with the province’s registry of lobbyists.
On Thursday, CBC reported Mercer — before taking on a role with the premier’s office — did not follow the rules for private lobbyists, as described in the Lobbyist Registration Act.
The story described a failure to file required information to the lobbyists’ registrar within 30 days of his completing work for Tata Steel, and instead taking six months to file.
Asked about Mercer’s history as a private lobbyist back in early November, the premier made a clear statement in support.
Ball says chief of staff broke no rules in lobbying role
“Mr. Mercer followed every single rule,” Ball said at the time.
After the latest report, Ball told reporters he still had confidence in Mercer not having benefitted inappropriately from his work.
“This is really clearly an administrative error that was done and he’s acknowledged this, and he’s been very apologetic,” Ball said.
“But I think to get some public confidence in this, to just validate the process that we’ve put in place, what I’ve said and mentioned (in the House) was there’s a conflict of interest committee that is chaired by the Public Service Commission and so, right now, we will take it to that step, just to put in place and give assurance to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador that everything is done appropriately, right now.”
Progressive Conservative Leader Paul Davis said he has a problem with it all, given the premier ultimately has said one thing one day — the comment about Mercer having followed all of the rules — and now the same is not being said.
“When you have an issue, with the premier saying one thing and then several weeks later we find something else … then it’s worthwhile to have a look at it,” Davis said.
When asked if he considers a delayed filing to the registry as a serious concern, Davis said it depends.
“That’s the kind of thing an investigation could look at,” he said.
Earlier this year, news outlet AllNewfoundlandAndLabrador.com reported Mercer was still owed money from the mining company Quest Rare Minerals from past work as a private lobbyist. Following the report, PC leadership candidate Ches Crosbie issued a news release questioning a potential conflict of interest.
Crosbie suggested changes be considered for the rules applied to lobbyists operating in the province, floating a possible cooling off period before employment with government.