Conflict of interest at Nalcor came up in the legislature Tuesday, after The Telegram reported that just months after stepping down as chairwoman of the Nalcor board, Liberal MHA Cathy Bennett became a partner in a company that did millions of dollars’ worth of work with the Crown energy company.
The Liberals didn’t bring it up, and the Tories — who appointed Bennett to the Nalcor board — didn’t mention it either until New Democrat Leader Lorraine Michael got her turn to speak in question period.
“There has been discussion in the media regarding whether or not Nalcor has appropriate conflict-of-interest rules in place to regulate actions of its board of directors,” Michael said.
“I ask the premier: can he tell us if Nalcor has rules governing conflict-of-interest, and when were they brought in?”
Premier Tom Marshall said that it’s up to the Nalcor board to decide what sorts of conflict of interest rules it needs.
“I would expect that the board of directors, if they felt that there was anything lacking in course of conduct or in business practices or in governance, that they would, given the resources that they have, given their access to the best legal advice in the country, I would expect the board of directors to undertake that work to ensure that the board is reaching the highest standards of governance,” he said.
Bennett started negotiating to buy shares in a company that does business with Nalcor while she was still on the energy corporation’s board of directors.
She said she recused herself from all meetings where the other company — Sunny Corner Enterprises — came up. Four months after resigning her position at Nalcor, she became a partner in Sunny Corner.
When Bennett spoke to The Telegram last week, she said that when she was chair at Nalcor, there were no conflict-of-interest rules.
It turns out that isn’t true. After the story was published, current Nalcor chairman Ken Marshall contacted The Telegram and sent over copies of the Nalcor conflict-of-interest policy and code of conduct, which were adopted in 2008 when Bennett was on the Nalcor board.
After question period, Bennett spoke to The Telegram and explained that what she meant was that the company needed to improve what it had.
“I mean, it was 2008 and the code of conduct and the conflict-of-interest pieces that we approved as a board needed to be reviewed and updated on an annual basis,” she said.
“The best way to protect the employees and the best way to protect the taxpayers’ money is to have the company operating in a way that it has systems and processes that are best in class, and you can only do that by constantly re-evaluating and changing.”
Specifically, Bennett said she believes that Nalcor as a company should have a mandatory disclosure policy for people in senior positions, so they have to present their potential conflicts up front.
She said that way they can be scrutinized and audited.
Bennett said she spoke to the premier’s office back in 2012 when Kathy Dunderdale was in charge about this, around the same time she was resigning from the board. She said there was no appetite for tougher rules then.
The premier has said that he would like to see stronger policies in place, and Bennett said she’s happy to hear that.
“For me, when I went into the premier’s office having resigned as chair of Nalcor and you know, laid my concerns out around governance and enhancing and improving issues relating to conflict,” she said.
“I’m glad today that premier Marshall recognizes that it needs to be a priority. Nalcor is responsible for billions and billions of dollars.”