For a second day, Premier Dwight Ball was fielding questions about his chief of staff’s lobbying activities.
Before Greg Mercer became Ball’s chief of staff, he was a lobbyist for several companies, including Tata Steel, Quest Rare Minerals Ltd. and a company that wanted to dump radioactive waste in Labrador.
According to a report by business news website AllNewfoundlandAndLabrador.com, Mercer is owed nearly $40,000 by Quest Rare Minerals for his lobbying work, but it’s not clear whether he’ll ever get the money because the company is now involved in bankruptcy proceedings.
All this became an issue when Tory leadership candidate Ches Crosbie issued a news release on Monday, raising concerns about Mercer’s potential conflict of interest, and saying the rules around lobbying need to be changed.
Crosbie said he hasn’t worked out the specifics of what needs to be changed, but he mused about a possible cooling-off period for lobbyists before taking a job in government.
Crosbie said he couldn’t give an opinion on whether Mercer had broken the law at any point.
“James, you put me in a difficult position, because as you noted, I’m a lawyer. So I don’t want to be giving a legal opinion or what some people might take as a legal opinion of a lawyer,” he said in a phone interview Monday.
But Ball, unencumbered by formal legal training, emphatically assured the media that Mercer has broken no rules.
“Mr. Mercer followed every single rule,” Ball told reporters at Confederation Building.
Ball said with Tata Steel, Mercer couldn’t be in a conflict of interest because he was no longer employed by the company and therefore no longer had a financial interest in the company.
As for the matter of the $40,000, Ball simply said he wasn’t worried about it.
“That doesn’t concern me at all,” Ball said.
“All I can tell you is Mr. Mercer is chief of staff right now. That’s a different space in his life.”
Ball said he doesn’t think there’s a need to revisit the lobbying rules right now, and he’s not too concerned because lobbyists don’t affect him.
“I guarantee that I’m not someone that’s influenced by someone coming in here,” Ball said. “I will guarantee you that the decisions that we make are evidence-based.”