The whiff of conflict surrounding Jim Kenyon, Archie Lang and Peter Jenkins has been blown off by the Yukon’s conflict commissioner following a snap, seven-day probe.
After talking with the three men, David Jones cleared them of any hanky-panky surrounding amendments to the liquor act.
While they were ministers, Lang and Jenkins owned Yukon hotels with valid liquor licences.
One of the first things the Yukon Party government did after its election in 2002 was to suspend amendments to the ancient liquor act. The changes would have allowed pubs to compete with hotels that held liquor licences.
After taking over the liquor portfolio in 2004, Kenyon brought back the amendments.
The wrinkle was the discussions Kenyon had about the amendments with Lang and Jenkins and Yukon Party campaign manager Craig Tuton, who also owns a hotel.
In late March, Kenyon said he’d had the amendments vetted by his hotel-owning cabinet colleagues.
Last summer, Lang sold his three Watson Lake hotels.
Despite Kenyon’s public statements about his off-the-cuff consultations, there was no evidence of conflict, wrote Jones in his nine-page decision.
Once the possibility of a conflict surfaced, Kenyon denied the discussions took place while he was a minister.
The early candour was the result of muddle-headedness, he said.
Jones accepted that.
The last couple of weeks have been weird.
Kenyon was appointed minister of the Yukon Liquor Corporation on July 12, 2004.
Not long after, he spoke with Lang and Jenkins about changing the Yukon Liquor Act, said Kenyon initially.
Those talks occurred “when I first inherited the portfolio and we started looking at it,” Kenyon told a CHON FM reporter on March 27th.
“The main reason that nothing could be done at that point, in my mind, was the fact that we had done nothing about the overall drinking problem,” said Kenyon.
“But the criticism was levied by the opposition that we were dragging our feet because of Archie and Peter owning hotels.
“So I asked them. And I asked (Yukon Party campaign manager) Craig Tuton; I asked others in town —‘Is there any objection?’
“And not one person objected.”
Those conversations put Jenkins and Lang in a tricky spot, said David Jones, the Yukon’s conflict commissioner.
“If the alleged discussion took place while Mr. Lang and Mr. Jenkins were ministers, it would give rise to the possibility of a conflict of interest under section 2 of the Conflict of Interests Act,” wrote Jones in a nine-page letter to Premier Dennis Fentie faxed on Tuesday.
After the opposition raised concerns about Kenyon’s discussions with Lang and Jenkins, Fentie wrote Jones for clarification.
But he asked Jones to examine if Kenyon was in a conflict.
It was the wrong question.
“Although your letter initially refers to an allegation of conflict of interest against Minister Jim Kenyon, on reflection it is apparent that Mr. Kenyon’s remarks do not give rise to any allegation that he might be the one in a conflict of interest,” wrote Jones.
“Rather, the alleged conflict of interest is that two other ministers (Mr. Lang and Mr. Jenkins) who owned hotels with liquor licenses, while they were ministers, were involved in discussions with Mr. Kenyon while Mr. Kenyon was the minister responsible for the liquor act, about possible amendments to that legislation.”
The only way Lang and Jenkins would be cleared is if those discussions took place before they became ministers in 2002, wrote Jones.
On March 27th, Kenyon discussed the issue twice — once in the legislature, once with CHON FM.
Both times, he admitted he “spoke with two ministers who owned hotels.”
“For the record, there were two ministers who owned hotels. I spoke at length with both of them and both had no objections to continuing to review the act and look at the good work of the consultation in 2001 and that the act be amended,” he said in the legislature.
“We did, over time, come up with a proposal that was acceptable to the many others.
“As I say, I have spoken with our two ministers who owned hotels and many other people who have owned hotels, and to their credit, not one had a concern about changing this legislation. That was not the problem.”
After question period, he told CHON FM, these discussions took place “when I first inherited the portfolio” in 2004.
“If consulting stakeholders is a conflict of interest then we’re in trouble,” added Kenyon.
But talking with stakeholders who are bar-owning ministers is, quite possibly, a conflict of interest, wrote Jones.
Four days later, on March 31st, Kenyon changed his story.
Now, the discussions occurred prior to the 2001 election, not after Kenyon was appointed minister.
“The discussions did occur … during the consultations done by the government of the day in 2001,” said Kenyon in question period.
“I would remind the member that we were not elected at that time.”
“Unfortunately, Mr. Kenyon’s response creates an uncertainty about when the discussions in question took place,” wrote Jones in his letter.
“If his reference to ‘when I first inherited the portfolio,’ is taken literally and refers to the date when he became the responsible minister (July 12, 2004), then one might conclude the alleged discussions would have taken place after Mr. Lang and Mr. Jenkins were cabinet ministers.
“Some of Mr. Kenyon’s other statements to the media might be interpreted the same way.”
So, Jones called Lang, Jenkins and Kenyon to sort out the inconsistencies.
All three assured him the discussions had taken place before they were ministers, said Jones.
“Mr. Lang is categorical and adamant that he has had no involvement whatever about any aspect of the liquor legislation since he was elected in the November 2002 election,” wrote Jones.
And when asked about his original remarks during question period and to CHON FM on March 27th, Kenyon explained he “was not prepared for an interview,” wrote Jones.
“Although he used the word ‘I’ (in his statement ‘when I first inherited the portfolio’), he says he was not referring to his becoming the responsible minister in July 2004,” wrote Jones.
“He meant to refer to the discussions prior to the November 2002 election.
“Accordingly, there is no evidence that either Mr. Lang or Mr. Jenkins have been in a conflict of interest,” wrote Jones.
“We accept the decision rendered by the conflicts commissioner,” said tight-lipped Liberal Leader Arthur Mitchell.
“It’s the only proper thing for us to do.”