Call for lobbyists to testify at committee

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A fiery meeting of MLAs on the contentious issue of deep-water irrigation wells ended Wednesday with a majority vote against calling two politically connected lobbyists to testify.

Opposition MLAs on the Standing Committee on Agriculture, Environment, Energy and Forestry wanted premier’s former chief of staff Chris LeClair and former Liberal MLA Cynthia King, who are now lobbyists, to appear to clear up their role.

Opposition MLA Colin LaVie wanted the Standing Committee on Agriculture, Environment, Energy and Forestry to call the premier’s former chief of staff, Chris LeClair, and former Liberal MLA Cynthia King to appear.

The two have been hired by the Potato Board and Cavendish Farms to co-ordinate meetings with as many provincial MLAs as possible to lobby in favour of lifting the current moratorium on irrigation wells.

LaVie’s request led to a heated exchange between government and Opposition MLAs Wednesday, especially when it came to light LeClair did not attend meetings with the Tory caucus or with Independent MLA Olive Crane, but did attend meetings with Liberal MLAs.

“They didn’t see fit to attend our (meeting). Why?” said Opposition MLA James Aylward.

“I think this committee, Islanders in general, deserve to know what these lobbyists are doing, what their agenda is.”

Liberal backbencher Kathleen Casey argued calling the P.E.I. Potato Board to the committee would suffice, since the board was one of the parties that engaged LeClair.

Liberal MLA Pat Murphy accused the Tories of playing politics on the issue of deep-water wells, which he said is a “very important issue to the province.”

But Opposition Leader Steven Myers frequently interrupted them.

“He was the premier’s right-hand-man, he’s lobbying on behalf of the potato industry, let’s have him here,” he said.

“Does having Chris LeClair involved with this give whoever it is that’s lobbying for deep water wells… a direct line to the decision maker of this province. That’s the question.

“It just screams political interference. I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to know if someone is trying to directly influence the premier.”

The only Liberal MLA who supported the idea of calling the two to testify was Buck Watts, who said he felt it was the only way they could clarify their roles and not continue to polarize the committee.

“After hearing the way this meeting is starting out, I think we should bring Cynthia King and Chris LeClair in to clear their name and find out exactly what they were doing, why they were doing it… who were they hired by, who were they paid by, what’s their reason for doing it,” Watts said.

“We’re going to be into a bloody mess all through if we don’t get this straightened out off the bat, get this cleaned up, get this off the plate.”

But in the end, the request was denied in a vote of 4-3, with Watts voting with LaVie and Aylward. Casey, Murphy, Bush Dumville and Hal Perry defeated the motion.

After the meeting, LaVie said he believes the Liberals on the committee were the ones playing politics.

“It’s another sign they’ve got something to hide,” he said.

“They’re making a political issue out of it, and they said in the meeting they didn’t want to make it political – then put them at the table. Let us hear it.”

The committee did, however agree to LaVie’s request to call Environment Minister Janice Sherry to appear. The committee will further be delving into the hot-button issue of deep well irrigation for the next two months, with weekly meetings planned until the end of March.

After that, public consultations will be held to ensure all Islanders have the chance to voice their opinions.

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