By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
OTTAWA–Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Peter Penashue released a letter Thursday asking the federal ethics commissioner to re-examine his file for any potential conflicts arising from his former role as a Labrador Innu treaty negotiator and an agreement guaranteeing the Innu businesses contracts from a multi-billion dollar hydroelectric development in Labrador.
Penashue was a lead negotiator in the New Dawn agreement between the Innu Nation in Labrador, Ottawa and the Newfoundland and Labrador government. The agreement was signed while Penashue was in cabinet and it was a crucial step in pushing the Lower Churchill project forward, which includes the $7.4 billion Muskrat Falls development.
The New Dawn agreement included an impact benefit agreement giving the Innu millions of dollars in royalties and guaranteed contracts for their businesses from the Lower Churchill project. Construction of the Muskrat Falls dam is the first phase of the project.
The agreement also included an agreement-in-principle on self-government and compensation for loss of hunting grounds due to flooding from the 1969 Upper Churchill River hydroelectric project.
In his Nov. 29 dated letter, Penashue wrote that he initially sought guidance from Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson when he was first appointed to the Harper government cabinet to ensure he met the requirements under the Conflict of Interest Act and the Conflict of Interest Code. Penashue wrote that he was cleared of any potential conflict.
“You provided a ruling indicating that no additional measure was required at the time beyond disclosure to your official of my prior involvement with the Labrador Innu Treaty negotiations,” wrote Penashue.
The minister, however, wrote that he wanted the commissioner to re-examine the issue.
“I appreciate your direction on this matter. Should additional information be required or should you wish to follow up directly, I am available to you or your office,” wrote Penashue.
The Harper government is currently contemplating whether to issue a loan guarantee to the Newfoundland and Labrador government for the Muskrat Falls project, which is being lead by the province’s public utility. The loan guarantee could cut millions of dollars from the province’s borrowing costs.
Liberal Newfoundland MP Scott Andrews said recently the ethics commissioner should investigate Penashue’s links to the Muskrat Falls project.
“If you have a company or an interest in a company that is going to bid on a contract, you have to remove yourself from the discussion,” said federal Liberal Newfoundland MP Scott Andrews, who is his party’s ethics critic. “It is something the Ethics Commissioner should look into it.”
There is no straight line between Penashue and the Muskrat Falls project, but the winding path begins with his filings to the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner and flows through a company headed by his wife and a separate firm headed by two senior executives with Newfoundland and Labrador firm Pennacon.
Pennacon is in a business partnership with Penashue’s brother Max Penashue and their firm, Liannu LLP, is actively pursuing and landing contracts from the Muskrat Falls project.