Mitchell in NDP crosshairs over private holdings

In another pre-election shot at the Grits, the NDP are challenging Arthur Mitchell to explain how he will serve the public interest while owning…

In another pre-election shot at the Grits, the NDP are challenging Arthur Mitchell to explain how he will serve the public interest while owning “significant” private investments.

An NDP government would bar cabinet ministers and premiers from owning private interests that could cloud their public decisions, said acting NDP leader Steve Cardiff on Wednesday.

“Period, full stop, that’s it,” said Cardiff.

He produced MLA disclosure statements for himself and NDP members Todd Hardy and Lorraine Peter.

Because Peter owns two shares in Air North — worth $10,000 — she would not be given a cabinet portfolio that could interfere with those investments, said Cardiff.

Or she could sell the shares.

“She would have a choice to make,” he said.

Cardiff pointed to Community Services Minister Glenn Hart, who excused himself from cabinet discussions recently over a residential development near the Meadow Lakes golf course, in which he owns shares.

Though Hart “did the right thing,” cabinet ministers should not be constantly excusing themselves from their public duties, said Cardiff.

“That cannot be allowed to happen.”

After examining Mitchell’s 2005 MLA disclosure statement, Cardiff is worried Mitchell would have to excuse himself a lot.

He noted Mitchell and his wife own a large amount of real estate — and shares in a company that owns a hotel and is likely buying another, and which is also pursuing waterfront developments in Whitehorse.

Spousal investments are part of MLA disclosure statements.

“We’re not questioning Mr. Mitchell’s disclosure statement,” said Cardiff.

“However, we believe if he continues to own these private interests, he would not be able to perform his public duties fully if he becomes premier or minister of Finance.

“In both those capacities he’s going to be required to make decisions that could affect his private interests — especially land use, housing, economic development and even liquor licensing,” he said.

“How could a premier, or a Finance minister, do his or her job without being part of those decisions? I believe the answer is they could not.”

Asked if Mitchell should sell his private interests, Cardiff was clear: “If you’re going to be the premier and be making decisions about things that could affect your private interests, then yeah.”

The NDP is not demanding Mitchell sell his investments before the election, explained NDP organizer Ken Bolton.

“Obviously that would be the ideal solution, but we’re not asking him to divest his holdings before the election,” said Bolton.

“We’re talking about changing the rules.”

In his disclosure statement for the 2005 fiscal year, Mitchell listed several companies and investments.

His sources of income included Re-Max, Rental Inc., Goldman Sachs, Nesbbitt Burns and stocks.

Mitchell had investments in Northern Vision Development Ltd, Waterfront Place Developments Ltd, 31828 Yukon Inc., 32868 Yukon Inc., and 1091309 Alberta Ltd.

Though it doesn’t appear on his statement, Mitchell owns Wal-Mart stock, and was a founding member of Northern Vision, though he resigned from the board before running for office in 2005.

He is adamant he will follow the advice of Yukon conflicts commissioner David Jones if elected to office, and appreciates that the NDP is worried he will become premier.

“The first thing I’m going to do is, I’m going to ask for advice from the conflicts commissioner,” Mitchell said on Wednesday.

But Yukon Party members who own private investments have used similar lines, and Mitchell knows Yukoners are pushing for more.

“Not everybody has always followed that advice,” he explained. “The public will judge how I act from that point forward.”

Mitchell spoke to Jones this winter regarding his holdings and “went beyond the letter of the law” with his disclosure, he said.

He has instructed his stockbroker not to buy mining company shares, he added.

“I’ve gone beyond anything I’ve been asked to do.”

During his discussions with Jones, the question of selling his investments came up, said Mitchell.

Jones informed him that he doesn’t have to sell his investments, but rather should discuss how they’re held and how he conducts himself, said Mitchell.

Cardiff’s charge that he will not be able to make decisions is “ridiculous,” said Mitchell.

He noted Cardiff’s accusation that he may not be able to oversee liquor-licensing discussions as being sourced from Northern Development’s recent purchase of the Gold Rush Inn, in Whitehorse.

“The fraction of one per cent of ownership in a drinking establishment that my units would beneficially provide to me really has no impact,” he said.

“It’s a big company of which I am a small shareholder at this point.”

Mitchell has spent most of his life in the private sector.

He doesn’t have a pension plan other than his private investments, he said.

Yukon MLAs receive a pension after six years. Mitchell was elected in 2005.

“You’re not in a conflict of interest to own something,” he explained.

“You’re in a conflict of interest if you don’t disclose that potential conflict and take concrete steps to avoid putting yourself in a position of making a pecuniary gain based on your private holdings, while conducting the private interest.”

Mitchell noted that Cardiff is a former union leader and current member of a union.

“Does that mean, as a member of a union, that he can never take part in a government that actually has to negotiate with a union?

“It’s ridiculous.”