The federal ethics commissioner says cabinet minister Dominic LeBlanc was in a conflict of interest when he approved an Arctic surf clam licence to a company owned by a number of First Nation communities that employed a family member.
Commissioner Mario Dion found Leblanc was prohibited from making a decision that would put him in a conflict of interest.
“A first cousin of Mr. LeBlanc’s spouse, Mr. Gilles Thériault, could have benefitted financially from an Arctic surf clam licence being awarded to the Five Nations Clam Company,” said Dion in a statement. “Mr. Thériault would have served as the company’s general manager if the process to grant it the licence had been completed.”
The Liberal government announced in August that it had cancelled the licence and restarted the process, but gave no reason for the decision.
LeBlanc was shuffled out of his fisheries portfolio over the summer.
“As Minister, Mr. LeBlanc was exercising an official power when he decided to pursue issuing the licence to the Five Nations Clam Company, and his decision provided an opportunity to further Mr. Thériault’s private interests,” Dion said.
Five Nations Clam Company is made up of two Innu and three Mi’kmaq communities. The conflict of interest complaint was made by the Conservatives and was a focus of a Nation to Nation episode in May.
The president of Five Nations is Aaron Sock of Elsipogtog First Nation and also involved former Liberal MP Todd Russell.
In Atlantic Canada, Arctic surf clams have long been harvested and processed by the Halifax-based company Clearwater Seafoods.
The department of Fisheries and Oceans took away 25 per cent of the Clearwater’s monopoly in February and awarded it to Five Nations.
The license was meant to be an act of reconciliation through an economic development opportunity.
On Feb. 21, LeBlanc said Five Nations had won a competition for the licence because the company met criteria that called for an Indigenous entity located in the Atlantic region with majority Canadian ownership.
LeBlanc also said the company included partners from five First Nations in the region and Quebec, though he could name only one at the time: eastern New Brunswick’s Elsipogtog First Nation near Rexton.
The remaining partners were revealed two weeks later, but not before LeBlanc had confirmed the original proposal from Five Nations had only included “reserved spots” for other Indigenous partners.
The Conservatives are also asking the federal Ethics commissioner to reconsider his decision not to investigate the Liberal ties to deal.
The Arctic surf clam fishery generated $90 million in sales in 2016 and mainly supplies the Asian sushi and sashimi market.
The fishing grounds for Arctic surf clams are located off Nova Scotia and eastern Newfoundland, and the current catch-limit is about 38,000 tonnes.
– With files from The Canadian Press