POLITICS

New Brunswick Opposition leader calls for shuffle of energy minister

01/27/2012 01:36 EST | Updated 03/28/2012 05:12 EDT
FREDERICTON - New Brunswick's energy minister should be shuffled out of his portfolio because he can no longer do his job properly, the province's Opposition Liberal leader says.

Victor Boudreau's demand for a cabinet shuffle came Friday after the minister, Craig Leonard, said he would no longer comment on the province's natural gas industry because it could be perceived as a conflict of interest. Earlier this month, Leonard's sister Angie became a lobbyist for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

Before that, she was a civil servant helping the province develop regulations for a relatively new and controversial branch of the industry that involves extraction of natural gas from shale deposits through hydraulic fracturing.

"If the minister of energy cannot be commenting on one of the major issues on his desk, then maybe he cannot be minister of energy anymore," Boudreau said. "Maybe he should be minister of tourism."

Boudreau said shale gas development is expected to be a major issue in 2012 and New Brunswickers will want answers from the ministers involved.

"If the minister of energy is not able to answer questions to the public, the Opposition or to the media on one of the key files of his department, then the minister of energy can no longer perform his job."

A spokesman for Premier David Alward said he was not available to comment, but added that Leonard is not in a conflict as energy minister.

"Minister Leonard has removed himself from the government's natural gas steering committee to avoid any potential for the appearance of a conflict of interest," said Jesse Robichaud, Alward's press secretary.

Robichaud said Natural Resources Minister Bruce Northrup has been, and will continue to be, the lead on the shale gas file.

When Angie Leonard took her new job, Northrup said she would not be allowed to talk with him, her brother, the minister of the environment or their deputy ministers about shale gas development.

Boudreau said until there is a lobbyist registry in the province, there is no guarantee that those conversations won't occur.