Wednesday, March 18, 2015

"Tricky Vic's" conflict of interest? The controversy continues .....

Vic Toews met with Peguis lawyer about Kapyong settlement: Court documents
Toews resigned from cabinet and federal politics in July 2013

By Joanne Levasseur and Sean Kavanagh
Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Within months of leaving cabinet, former Treasury Board President Vic Toews met with a lawyer representing Peguis First Nation on several occasions regarding a settlement of the Kapyong lands, according to court documents. (CBC)

Within months of leaving cabinet, former treasury board president Vic Toews met with with a lawyer representing Peguis First Nation on several occasions regarding a settlement of the Kapyong lands, according to court documents.

"I think there are reasonable grounds to investigate this situation as a possible violation of the federal conflict of interest law," said Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch and visiting professor at the University of Ottawa.

Conacher said federal conflict of interest rules prohibit former cabinet ministers from giving advice on or consulting about confidential information they found out while in government.

“It's impossible for them to give advice without knowing what they learned as a cabinet minister,“ said Conacher.

Toews resigned from cabinet and federal politics in July 2013.

According to invoices from Jeff Rath, a lawyer for Peguis First Nation, Toews met him several times and they spoke on the phone on one occasion between September 25 and November 7, 2013.

Rath’s detailed billing statements include the meetings and phone call with Toews under the heading 'Kapyong Matter.'

An entry dated October 2 reads “meet Vic Toews re:Kapyong settlement hearing.”

At the time, Rath and other representatives of Manitoba First Nations were meeting with federal officials to discuss the future of the Kapyong lands, a former armed forces base that First Nations lay claim to under treaty land entitlements.

The first meeting Rath noted with Toews was on September 25, 2013.

Peguis Chief Glenn Hudson and businessman Daren Jorgenson were also in attendance, according to the invoice.

Jorgenson was involved for years in health care ventures with First Nations in Manitoba.

"I offered to Jeff [Rath] and Glenn [Hudson] that perhaps Vic Toews would be free for a coffee or drink,”said Jorgenson.

“They said ‘that's great! If you can set up a meeting with Vic Toews, make it happen.’"

Jorgenson said they discussed a few topics, including efforts for a development between Peguis First Nation and the Manitoba Jockey Club at Assiniboia Downs.

"There was conversation on Kapyong, but I would deem it to be more, just in general fluff. Not really advice," said Jorgenson.

He said at one point Toews declared he could not help with Kapyong.

"Vic specifically told all of us that he can't do any consulting on the Kapyong file and he specifically referred us to meet with...suggested we meet with [Winnipeg South Conservative MP] Rod Bruinooge and/or [St. Boniface Conservative MP] Shelly Glover," he said.

"Because with him [Toews] leaving those are the most senior Conservative politicians federally in Manitoba."

Jorgenson was shown Jeff Rath's invoice to Peguis First Nation for what appeared to be subsequent meetings and a phone call with Toews on Kapyong.

He said he "wasn't aware of that or party to it," and suggested the document might not be correct.

Peguis Chief Glenn Hudson wouldn’t comment about the documented meeting or Rath’s invoices, but in a statement he said “Peguis First Nation never hired Vic Toews, nor his common law spouse, for any work on any matter at any time.”

As a minister, Toews had repeated involvement with Peguis First Nation over flooding issues and the Kapyong lands.

He was president of the federal treasury board in 2007, when the department turned Kapyong over to the Canada Lands Corporation to oversee the land's redevelopment and resale.

Toews was named in subsequent lawsuits and appeals of that decision by a group of First Nations that included Peguis as late as 2013.

In several cases, judges ruled the government failed to consult the First Nations, or even communicate properly with them on the sale of the former Canadian Forces base.

It has now been more than a year and a half and the decision on the latest appeal has still not been rendered.

“There are ongoing proceedings that Mr. Toews was involved in and you can't switch sides,” said Conacher, adding the ban on sharing information and giving advice using that information applies whether you are paid or unpaid.

Jorgenson said he's not sure if anyone at the meeting asked Toews directly to work on the Kapyong file, but he said the former cabinet minister was clear that he could not assist.

Toews did entertain the possibility of working on Peguis’s bid to enter a joint venture to purchase and develop the Assiniboia Downs racetrack, recalled Jorgenson.

New hotel, retail space planned for Assiniboia Downs

Toews was registered as a provincial lobbyist in Manitoba for four months starting at the end of October 2013.

Filings showed he was registered to lobby the province about gaming and lotteries issues on behalf of Rath when he was employed as a lobbyist by his spouse’s company.

Jorgenson said he had numerous emails with Rath about a meeting with Conservative MP Rod Bruinooge on the Kapyong file and never once was Toews copied on the emails or mentioned when he and Rath spoke about it.

The invoice to Peguis did include notations about meeting Bruinooge.

Rath’s invoices were submitted as part of an application for an assessment of a lawyer’s bill Peguis First Nation filed against Rath in Manitoba’s Court of Queen’s Bench last December.

In a written statement, Peguis First Nation said Rath billed approximately $3.2 million over three and a half years ending in fall 2014.

Peguis terminated Rath last fall and the First Nation seeks to “negate any contingency arrangements currently in effect,” according to a written statement issued by Peguis First Nation.

Rath, Toews and Hudson's responses

CBC News repeatedly asked Rath to confirm the accuracy of the billing statements.

He said he cannot comment because they are subject to solicitor-client privilege.

A court official sent an email on behalf of Toews.

”‎As a sitting judge, it would not be appropriate for Justice Toews to comment on your inquiry. Furthermore, your question relates specifically to the subject of ongoing litigation,” it said.

Toews was appointed judge of the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench in March 2014.

Conacher said it is not surprising to see situations like this arise since the federal conflict of interest rules carry no penalty.

“The ethics commissioner is essentially a lap dog in many cases,” he said, adding she is not watching and auditing former government officials to see if they are following conflict of interest rules.

Excerpts from Jeff Rath invoice to Peguis First Nation

9/25/2013 Attend at settlement meetings; meeting Vic Toews; Darren (sic) Jorgenson and Chief Hudson

10/01/2013 Prepare settlement proposal; meeting with Vic Toews re: same

10/02/2013 Meet Vic Toews re: Kapyong settlement hearing; prepare settlement proposal

11/6/2013 Draft email to Rod B, meeting Vic Toews re: settlement; review and revise settlement agreement

11/7/2013 Calls to Darren Jorgensen (sic), Vic Toews re: settlement, revise treaty settlement docs


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