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MLA faces conflict of interest complaint

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services
Monday, August 6, 2007

YELLOWKNIFE - Tu Nedhe MLA Bobby Villeneuve has been slapped with a conflict of interest complaint over indications he may have improperly received an accommodation allowance from the Legislative assembly.

If the complaint is found to be justified by the conflict of interest commissioner, Villeneuve could be required to pay restitution or even be kicked out of his seat in the Legislative assembly.

The complaint was announced Friday by Legislative assembly Speaker Paul Delorey, as he released a draft report on regular MLAs' residency by the GNWT Audit Bureau.

"In the 1,316 days since Mr. Villeneuve was elected, it would appear that he spent only 162 of those days in Fort Resolution," Delorey said. "In contrast, it would appear that the member spent 638 days in Yellowknife when the house was not in session or holding committee meetings."

Delorey said that raises serious questions about Villeneuve's claim of permanent residence in Fort Resolution and his eligibility for about $28,000 per year in Yellowknife accommodation allowances.

MLAs sign statutory declarations on where they reside.

Villeneuve denies any wrongdoing.

"I don't think I contravened any regulations they had in place for residency requirements," he said.

The MLA said he lived in Fort Resolution up to October of last year, when he moved to Yellowknife. At that time, he informed the Legislative assembly of the move.

Villeneuve has concerns about the way the numbers in the draft report were gathered.

"The audit itself is a very incomprehensive report," he said, adding it is largely based on cell phone usage and information from the clerk's office, and a lot of information is missing. "They haven't interviewed any of the members."

The draft report looked at nine regular members who claimed permanent residency more than 80 kilometres from Yellowknife.

It is the result of over 850 hours of data collection and analysis by eight auditors. When possible, it identifies the whereabouts of MLAs during the 15th Legislative assembly.

The auditors analyzed MLA expense claims, travel records, newsletters, attendance records for assembly sessions and committee meetings, and cellular and legislative telephone records.

The report categorizes when MLAs were in their constituencies, in the capital for sessions or committee meetings, in Yellowknife at other times and in other locations. It also tallies "unassigned days" where no data was available to confirm a member's whereabouts.

Villeneuve said he is "irked" he has been singled out for a conflict of interest complaint.

"When I reviewed the audit, there's nothing that makes me stand out from the other members," he said.

However, Delorey said it appears no other MLAs will face conflict of interest complaints.

"At the moment, not," he said.

The speaker has asked all regular MLAs to provide him with details of their whereabouts during their unassigned days by Aug. 14. The Board of Management will review that information on Aug. 21.

The board will decide whether complaints will be made against other MLAs.

The Audit Bureau's final report, which was requested by the Board of Management, will be tabled in the Legislative assembly on Aug. 22.

That report will include recommendations on the administration of the capital accommodation allowance and an action plan to implement recommendations.

The conflict of interest commissioner may dismiss the complaint against Villeneuve or refer it to a hearing before a sole adjudicator. If the adjudicator finds he contravened the Legislative assembly and Executive Council Act, a wide variety of penalties may be recommended, including financial restitution or a declaration his Legislative assembly seat be deemed vacated.

Villeneuve said he is leaning towards running again in October's general election, and thinks the conflict of interest complaint may have an effect on the vote.

"It might," he said. "I can't say for sure that it will."