Premier Dwight Ball was not in a conflict of interest when his company, Jade Holdings, received a $400,000 forgivable loan from the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation, the commissioner for legislative standards has ruled.
The premier’s office released the report from Commissioner Bruce Chaulk Wednesday evening. The Tories had raised questions about the loan back in February, so Ball referred the issue for a second review.
Jade Holdings was one of 60 private companies and non-profit groups receiving funding for affordable housing proposals. The forgivable loan was used to create and subsidize 10 affordable housing units in Deer Lake. Ball said the transaction did not proceed until his company had been placed in a blind trust, and it was cleared by the previous commissioner for legislative standards, Victor Powers.
Then-opposition leader Paul Davis charged the premier had personally benefited from the loan, but Ball maintained the benefits went to the tenants.
Chaulk said in his report that he was presented with new evidence, but found it did not change Powers original conclusion that there was no conflict of interest under s. 32 of the House of Assembly Act.
“It was clearly apparent after reviewing the financial information that the subsidy provided to Jade Holdings Ltd. is a subsidy attributable to the tenants who would not otherwise be able to afford to reside in the new housing development but for the subsidy,” Chaulk wrote. “The tenants are paying rent in accordance with the schedule established by the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation and market rents in the same geographic area are 36% higher. Without the subsidy, the rent charged is not financially feasible.”
Clause 13.1 of the provincial contribution agreement stated that no MHA “shall be admitted to any share of any contract, agreement or commission made pursuant to this agreement or to any benefit arising therefrom.”
But Chaulk says the clause was not included in the initial RFP and was not brought to the attention of Jade Holdings.
“It was not until significant monies had been spent and the project was complete that clause 13.1 was brought to the attention of the proponent,” Chaulk wrote. “It is explicitly contemplated in the legislation that there will be situations in which a member can enter into an agreement with the province.
“Commissioner Powers determined that Premier Ball was not in conflict by virtue of s. 32(3)(b) [of the House of Assembly Act.] The additional evidence provided to me supports the view that there was no violation of s. 32 by the member. Furthermore, when clause 13.1 is viewed in light of 32(3)(b) it cannot be concluded that the actions of Premier Ball ran afoul of the spirit and intent of s. 32 of the House of Assembly Act.”
Ball released a statement of his own late Wednesday.
“Since the beginning of this process I have been proactive and transparent,” he said. “I initiated a review by the Commissioner of Legislative Standards to ensure all rules were followed. Despite the opposition parties’ intent to attack my integrity, I am pleased the commissioner has confirmed my consistent position that I acted appropriately and that the benefits of the loan agreement go directly to tenants.”