Incoming premier promising by-the-book conduct
In accepting the mantle of premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, Frank Coleman has agreed to no longer be a businessman — at least not the same businessman he has been to this point.
Under the standing conflict-of-interest rules, according to the House of Assembly Act, he will give up leadership roles at the companies he has fostered and managed for years, including the Coleman Group of Cos., Humber Valley Paving and Humber Valley Aggregates and Asphalt.
Transition has started
Coleman has already begun the transition, The Telegram has confirmed, making changes in the private business world and preparing to begin public service.
According to records on file with the province’s registry of companies, Coleman stepped down from the board of directors for both Humber Valley Paving and Humber Valley Aggregates and Asphalt, effective March 10.
In terms of his new role, any interest in Humber Valley Paving would be of particular interest for the public, given that company’s steady success in competition for government contracts in recent years.
Since 2007, Humber Valley Paving has completed $151 million in road work for the provincial government, including $86 million for work on the Trans-Labrador Highway, awarded through public tenders.
It is far from the majority of the total of $1.2 billion spent for road improvements in the same period, but not an insignificant haul.
“The Department of Transportation and Works has had a long-standing relationship with Humber Valley Paving that dates back to 1996. In 2007, the company changed ownership and was purchased by a number of investors, which included Mr. Frank Coleman,” noted a spokesman for the department, in response to questions Tuesday.
“It is our understanding that Mr. Coleman has recently sold his shares and is no longer a shareholder.”
Unlike other MHAs with well-known business interests who have moved into the world of provincial politics in recent years — namely Liberal MHA Cathy Bennett and Liberal Leader Dwight Ball — Coleman will step directly into a ministerial role. This places additional restrictions on his private business interests, to protect against potential conflicts.
The law does not dictate he must give up any or all of his business interests.
While the rules state a minister shall not “carry on business” or “hold an office or directorship other than in a social club, service club, religious organization or political party,” there is also an exception when the business activities are not likely to run afoul of the minister’s duties and decision-making.
The golden rule is Coleman will not be able to issue orders while in office resulting in direct and personal financial benefit.
As always, the devil can be in the details. In consideration of this, at the end of a PC leadership convention July 4-5, Coleman will have 60 days to file a detailed disclosure statement to Vic Powers, the province’s Commissioner for Legislative Standards.
According to the act, the detailed disclosure statement includes an audited financial statement for any corporation or partnership in which the new member or member’s family — defined as essentially their spouse, child, or dependent relative — holds 10 per cent of more of shares.
A public version of the statement is created and, while not including exact figures on shares for privacy reasons, can state the level of interest held in a company as “nominal,” “significant” or “controlling.”
From there, Powers said, he reviews the detailed disclosure and can make recommendations on any further measures to be taken, such as the placing of business and property interests in trust.
“There’s no requirement under the act for anyone to put anything in a trust, but I can recommend it, depending on the circumstances,” he said, speaking about the approach taken for any new provincial representative.
Having been more than a name on a list of directors, Coleman has more work to do in the interim. While not available for an interview Tuesday, a spokeswoman for his leadership campaign said the work in placing his private affairs in order is continuing.
“There was a period of time that he would have had and still has before he becomes premier,” said spokeswoman Carmel Turpin.
“He will certainly abide by all that is required of him when he becomes premier.”