POLITICS

Ex-premier unaware of alleged tampering with guest lists to New Brunswick lodge

02/17/2015 11:06 EST | Updated 04/19/2015 05:59 EDT
MONCTON, N.B. - Former New Brunswick premier David Alward says he was never aware of anyone asking to have names removed from the guest list of a provincially owned fishing lodge after questions were raised about a trip taken in 2013 by an editor at a newspaper in Moncton.

Alward said the first he had heard of an allegation that two editors with the Times and Transcript in Moncton sought to have the guest list at Larry's Gulch altered was when he read it in the newspaper Monday.

"I know absolutely nothing about it," he said Tuesday evening.

On Monday, the ombudswoman for the newspaper chain that includes the Times and Transcript alleged in a column that one editor visited the lodge and then, along with another editor, tried to get the list altered to remove his name before it became public.

Ombudswoman Patricia Graham says Murray Guy, assistant managing editor at the Times and Transcript in Moncton, has resigned and Al Hogan, the paper's managing editor, is no longer employed by Brunswick News.

Graham says John Wishart, who was the editor-in-chief for Brunswick News in 2013, is now editor of the Telegraph-Journal's editorial and opinion pages after serving as the paper's editor.

The changes come after an investigation alleged Guy went to Larry's Gulch in 2013 as a guest of Danny Allain, then-president and CEO of NB Liquor, says Graham.

Graham alleges that Guy misled the company by insisting he had not gone to the lodge, and that Guy and Hogan tried to have a deputy minister of communications in Alward's government change the guest list before releasing it to the media.

Alward said he's unaware if that actually happened.

"The only thing I know about the story is what I read yesterday in the paper," Alward said. "That's the first I heard of it."

Wishart and Guy did not respond to requests for interviews. A telephone number could not be found for Hogan.

Earlier in the day, Trevor Holder, who served as tourism minister in Alward's cabinet, said he was not approached or pressured to deviate from a policy of making guest lists to the fishing lodge available to the public.

Holder said he directed a change in policy while he was minister from 2010 to 2014 to have guests of Larry's Gulch sign a consent form allowing their names to be made public if guest lists were requested after the Right to Information and Protection of Privacy Act became law.

The policy requiring guests to sign the consent form went into effect for the 2013 fishing season.

"I can state unequivocally that I was not pressured or approached with a request to deviate from or not to follow the policy implemented under my direction, and I did not deviate from the policy," Holder, a Progressive Conservative member of the legislature, said Tuesday in a statement.

"I am therefore very concerned by any suggestion of impropriety, and I, as much as anybody else, am very interested to know whether there were any requests or pressure to deviate from the policy, and specifically whether anybody altered lists or withheld names from lists that were presented to me, as minister, for public release."

Brunswick News publishes the Telegraph-Journal based in Saint John, the Fredericton Daily Gleaner, the Times and Transcript and several smaller newspapers.

The recent investigation, led by Brunswick News editor-in-chief Patrick Brethour, was prompted after media outlet Canadaland asked whether Guy had visited the lodge, the paper was aware of it and suppressed a story.

Graham says it was learned that Shawn Berry, a reporter for the Telegraph-Journal at the time, obtained a copy of a guest list for Larry's Gulch in October 2013. The paper had published six stories between 1999 and 2013 on such lists.

Berry, who is now press secretary to Premier Brian Gallant, told Wishart that Guy's name was on the list, Graham says. Berry could not be reached for comment.

Wishart emailed Hogan to ask him to look into whether Guy had gone to the lodge, saying "attending such a trip would have been ethically problematic" and that Guy was not assigned to go to the fishing lodge in 2013 for work, Graham writes.

It is against journalistic standards to accept gifts from government or government agencies as it calls into question journalistic impartiality when it comes to covering either NB Liquor or the government, Graham says.

She says Hogan told Wishart that Guy's inclusion on the list "was a mistake and he had not in fact gone to the lodge." But Graham says Berry discovered that he had gone to the lodge and had signed a waiver consenting to the release of information saying so.

Graham says the information was passed from Berry to Wishart and then onto Jamie Irving, the vice-president and publisher of Brunswick News. They discussed discipline and whether to write a story.

Wishart decided not to write a story and told Hogan to discipline Guy, says Graham, adding that Wishart assumed that had been done, but Hogan said he received no such instruction.

Graham says the paper should have done a story on Guy's presence at the lodge, particularly since Brunswick News had fought in 2012 to force the government to release the list.

Brunswick News is continuing to make inquiries and has asked for additional guest lists from the government.

"Mr. Guy says that he visited the lodge once before, in 2008, and he understood he had the blessing of the senior management at the time," says Graham. "This has not yet been confirmed. We don't yet have all the guest lists from years past or for 2014, but we will be endeavouring to get them."

Guy Gallant, director of communications for premier Gallant, says the province is reviewing the accuracy of guest lists for Larry's Gulch and looking at privacy concerns before releasing them.

Serge Rouselle, the province's attorney general, wouldn't commit to releasing the findings of the review. He said he would have to see the results first and then determine if there is any legislation that would prevent some or all the findings from being made public.