02/17/2015 04:55 EST | Updated 04/19/2015 05:59 EDT

Nova Scotia cabinet minister cleared in conflict case over ferry funding

HALIFAX - Nova Scotia's conflict of interest commissioner has cleared a cabinet minister of any wrongdoing for not disclosing funding information to the media last month about the ferry service between Yarmouth and Maine.

Progressive Conservative Chris d'Entremont wrote to Merlin Nunn, asking him to look into comments made by Economic Development Minister Michel Samson.

D'Entremont alleged Samson violated the Conflict of Interest Act because he was "not truthful or forthright to the public" when he told reporters on Jan. 15 that the government had not given ferry operator Nova Star Cruises more than $26 million in public funds that had already been disclosed.

Under Section 18 of the act, ministers are required to be "truthful and forthright and not deceive or knowingly mislead the house of assembly or the public."

Samson disclosed on Jan. 18 that he had known about $2.5 million in additional funding since Dec. 23.

In his five-page ruling, Nunn says the implication that Samson should have revealed to the media that the additional money was given "really has no merit" because it was up to the minister to decide when to make it public.

Nunn says the legal requirement for the disclosure comes under the Economic Development Assistance Act, which gives the minister 30 days. That obligation was met with the new release on Jan. 18 that announced the additional spending, he says.

"Unfortunately, the events giving rise to your letter and significant media coverage occurred before the 30-day period, the result of a particular and unusual chain of events," Nunn wrote to d'Entremont.

Nunn also backs Samson's handling of the media after meeting with him for more than two hours to get an explanation of what happened.

"He responded to media questions with all they were entitled to know at the time and doing so does not violate Section 18 of the Conflict of Interest Act," Nunn says.

Samson has said he planned to publicly disclose the spending but not until he could make an announcement that included good news about the ferry's pending operating schedule, which happened on Feb. 4.

Nunn's ruling and his reply to d'Entremont was issued Tuesday in a news release from the Liberal caucus office.

D'Entremont said he hadn't received a copy from Nunn but he was disappointed by the ruling based on what the Liberals released.

"Apparently it's OK for a minister to have discretion on when he or she releases information," he said. "But it's still my assertion that when asked direct questions that a minister or any legislator should be truthful in their answers."