Premier Dwight Ball is not denying his company, Jade Holdings, was awarded funding under a joint federal-provincial program for affordable housing projects announced in 2015.
The premier — elected as a member of the House of Assembly in 2007 — said he did not allow the transaction to proceed until he had established a blind trust for his business interests.
He said the case was also put to the commissioner for legislative standards for review and he was issued an opinion around conflict of interest.
However, with fresh questions, Ball said he will see it reviewed again to assure the public that he did not violate any conflict of interest rules.
Jade Holdings was one of 60 private companies and non-profit groups receiving funding for their affordable housing proposals at the time. Ball’s company was specifically — as per a news release at the time — awarded a forgivable loan of $400,000.
That amount was in line with most other project awards.
The money for Jade Holdings was to support the creation and subsidization of 10 new units of affordable housing, for at least the next decade.
In the House of Assembly Tuesday, Progressive Conservative Leader Paul Davis began question period on the funding, leap-frogging off a report from allNewfoundlandLabrador.com (the online news outlet is subscription only and does not allow other media to view its contents).
“Was it actually the premier who applied for that grant?” Davis asked, highlighting what he described as Ball’s personal interest in the award, given the property continues to be owned by Jade Holdings. Davis emphasized the loan is forgivable as long as the company provides 10 years of subsidized rentals.
Davis acknowledged Ball disclosed the business interest and his shareholding, and placed it in a blind trust under third-party management, but the Opposition leader gave little credit, insisting the personal interest remains.
“It’s still his,” Davis said.
The original approval for the funding actually came under Davis’s time as premier, under the Progressive Conservative administration. Asked why it would have been approved, Davis said he didn’t know.
“There’s a lot of things that goes to government that the premier’s not aware of, that happens in departments, decisions and so on,” he said. “But I can tell you, what happened here was, the money did not flow, the contract was not signed, until he was in the premier’s office.”
The Telegram contacted the current commissioner for legislative standards, Bruce Chaulk, shortly after the exchange in the House. Chaulk said he is not permitted to confirm or deny any review.
At the same time, in describing the process, he said a formal review could be undertaken at any time, at the request of any member of the House.
“The way the act is structured is that if there’s a conflict of interest or they perceive there’s a conflict of interest, then they file that with me and say why they think the person is in a conflict of interest. Once I receive something like that, then I review their complaint,” Chaulk said.
Davis said he had not triggered a formal investigation and the PCs would take the responses from question period and consider their options, including if the matter should be put to the auditor general.
The premier’s office issued notice later the same afternoon that Ball has officially filed his own request for a review.
Press release — Housing funding awards (2015)