Opposition parties united to accuse Fisheries Minister Sterling Belliveau of a conflict of interest yesterday, while the NDP says it’s nothing more than a cheap smear campaign.
At issue is the close to $600,000 sale of Belliveau’s boat, gear and lobster licence. The fisherman who bought them from him received a grant from the Fisheries and Aquaculture Loan Board.
“(Belliveau) received from the Fisheries and Aquaculture Loan Board, which he oversees, over $600,000 of taxpayers’ money. We want to know how much he had to do with it,” said Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil.
But the NDP says Belliveau, a 38-year fishing veteran, did nothing wrong. Belliveau sent a letter to conflict of interest commissioner Merlin Nunn on June 22, the first business day after he was appointed fisheries minister, asking whether there was a conflict.
Nunn wrote back advising Belliveau not to get involved in any way with the grant application. Nunn told him to delegate all decision-making in the matter to someone else.
Belliveau said he deferred the matter to his deputy minister. The opposition was quick to point out there’s no written proof Belliveau washed his hands of the matter, and said Premier Darrell Dexter should have removed the board completely from Belliveau’s control.
The NDP says there’s no evidence of wrongdoing and the sale never even went before the deputy minister (a minister would typically only become involved if a sale is over $1 million.)
“I’m completely satisfied,” Dexter said. “I know right from the beginning the minister made every effort that he could to ensure that due process was followed. He, I think, has been very forthright about this; he disclosed all these things very early on.”
Two of the board members who approved the loan were appointed by Belliveau. Dexter said they were just routine reappointments.