Shale gas opponents question Leonard's conflict10/2/2012
Opponents of shale gas development in New Brunswick say they're confused by the Alward government's recent cabinet shuffle, which involves Craig Leonard overseeing the industry again, despite his sister's role as a lobbyist.
Leonard had been Premier David Alward's first energy minister, but was sent to the Department of Government Services earlier this year after his sister, Angie Leonard, became a senior natural gas advisor for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.
Alward has said his Energy and Mines minister is no longer at risk of a conflict of interest.
"Staff have told me that will no longer be an issue," the premier said when he announced his recent cabinet shuffle.
But Will Dickeson, who lives outside of Fredericton, said he isn't convinced by the premier's assurances.
"As a voter, I'm interested to hear how he expects that this conflict of interest has a finite end period," Dickeson said.
The Alward government contends there's no conflict of interest because Leonard and other government officials are banned from meeting with Angie Leonard. The ban has been in place since her hiring, they said.
But Stephanie Merrill, of the New Brunswick Conservation Council, argues that raises other questions.
"If there's no interaction between her and decision makers, why is she working here in the province?"
The petroleum association maintains Angie Leonard's job was never to lobby government, but rather to work with communities on the shale gas issue.
"I mean we're almost a year down the road now and I haven't seen any problem with her in the way she does her job," said association spokesman Travis Davies.
"She's done a fantastic job in New Brunswick, she knows natural gas, and we're certainly happy to have her. I don't anticipate any problems going forward," he said.
Angie Leonard was previously one of the provincial government's senior advisors on shale gas policy. She was part of a working group made up of civil servants that was developing a regulatory framework to deal with the shale gas industry.
The oil-and-gas lobby group said at the time she was selected based on her skills and not her connections.
Government officials said she would not have access to ministers, deputy ministers, or other senior officials dealing with the shale gas issue, due to the "perceived appearance of a conflict."