In The Media

Defence industry insiders raise concerns over LeBlanc's ties to Irvings

by Amanda Connolly (feat. David Perry)

August 19, 2016

Some defence industry sources are expressing concern over the news that interim fisheries minister and former government House leader Dominic LeBlanc apparently will be staying on in the cabinet post, given his close ties to the powerful Irving family.

Speaking on background, one senior industry source told iPolitics there’s concern in the sector over how LeBlanc’s personal ties to the Irving family could affect future choices on Canadian Coast Guard contracts, and the influence those ties might lead him to exert in cabinet.

LeBlanc’s friendship with James D. Irving,  the head of Irving Shipbuilding Inc., prompted ethics commissioner Mary Dawson to warn LeBlanc earlier this year to stay away from any decisions involving the firm.

LeBlanc’s father Romeo LeBlanc was also minister of fisheries under Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.

However, defence experts have said repeatedly over the course of the summer it could be next to impossible for LeBlanc to steer clear of the file, given that procurement for the Canadian Coast Guard is part of the National Shipbuilding Strategy (NSS) and that the portfolio will be responsible for oversight of Coast Guard activities.

Irving Shipyards built the Coast Guard’s nine new patrol ships, which have been the subject of performance issue claims since they were delivered in 2012.

As iPolitics reported last fall, James D. Irving sent a letter to cabinet asking ministers not to sign off on a deal for a $700-million interim supply ship deal with Quebec’s Chantier Davie, which has been a vocal opponent of Irving and Vancouver’s Seaspan Shipyards after losing a bid to secure two major contracts under the NSS.

The letter asked that Irving’s proposal for a supply ship be re-evaluted.

The former Conservative government formalized the sole-sourced deal with Davie using a new mechanism introduced to allow for government sole-sourcing in urgent and interim cases.

The deal included a $89 million penalty to be paid to the firm if the deal wasn’t signed by November 30, 2016.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government did eventually sign the deal, but not before news of the letter and reports of the government’s hesitation prompted an uproar from Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard and Nova Scotia government officials.

It’s also not clear whether LeBlanc will take over former fisheries minister Hunter Tootoo’s position on the cabinet committee on defence procurement.

Tootoo, who resigned from cabinet and the Liberal caucus in May before entering rehab for alcohol addiction and admitting last month to having an inappropriate relationship with a staff member, was listed initially as a committee member in February.

But as of May 31, 2016 — the day Tootoo announced his resignation — the list of cabinet committee members included neither his name nor LeBlanc’s, who was named interim minister shortly after.

“There’s a bit of distance because they aren’t dealing with the CCG files, but, all the shipbuilding projects are interrelated, really,” said Dave Perry, a defence expert with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

“I think it would be difficult for (LeBlanc) to function effectively on the cabinet procurement committee if he had to recuse himself from any discussion involving shipbuilding, because even if they deal with separate projects, they’re part of the same program.”

iPolitics has reached out to the Prime Minister’s Office asking for clarification on that matter.

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