Opposition Leader Ches Crosbie is calling for an investigation into the conduct of Transportation and Works Minister Steve Crocker after Crocker allegedly misled the House of Assembly multiple times during the last sitting.
The call comes after documents obtained through access to information legislation appear to contradict Crocker’s statements regarding his knowledge of an attempted sale of land to 80521 Newfoundland and Labrador Inc. in November 2017.
On Nov. 13, Crocker was asked by Tory critic Barry Petten if he was aware of any directive to sell a parcel of land near Mews Place for $1.
“I have never seen anything in the department with reference to a parcel of land on Mews Place,” Crocker said at the time.
Crocker made similar statements denying any knowledge of interest in the Mews Place land on Nov. 14, and 15, and on Dec. 5.
Documents obtained by the Tories and released to the media on Thursday show a letter from the lawyers representing 80521 Newfoundland and Labrador Inc. addressed specifically to Crocker, inquiring about the parcel of land.
Crosbie says there’s a “crooked scheme” afoot in relation to 80521 Newfoundland and Labrador Inc. to “fatten the back of Liberal insiders.”
“I say that because the Department of Transportation officials were ordered, directed from above – who exactly gave the order is not disclosed in the documents – to sell the Mews Place land,” said Crosbie.
An email from Mike Nolan, an official in the Department of Transportation and Works, states he was directed to sell the land in a matter of three days, but stated the sale was “not possible.”
Crosbie alleges the sale was meant to be for $1, but did not supply evidence of that figure, only to say he has “good information” about the sale price.
Ultimately the land was not sold for any price to 80521 Newfoundland and Labrador Inc., as the parcel of land is meant to be a catch basin for the Team Gushue Highway. The sale appears to have been stopped by the public servants in the department, according to the documents.
Crocker denies any misleading statements to the House of Assembly with regard to the order to sell the land.
“On November the 13th, when the question was asked, I did go back after that day to, this was a year ago, remember. There’s a lot of letters that hit my desk and a lot of letters that get corresponded to,” said Crocker.
“The reality is that I did not direct or the premier, or anybody, direct anybody to sell this land.”
Crocker says he did not make any order to sell the land, nor did the Premier’s Office, suggesting that senior employees with the Department of Transportation attempted to sell the land to 80521 Newfoundland and Labrador Inc. on their own.
“The letter itself would have created a situation in the lands division. I guess a superior or somebody in more of a manager position would have said ‘prepare this land," said Crocker.
Regardless of the status of the sale, Crosbie says the documents appear to show Crocker making untrue statements, for which there should be an investigation.
“We have documentary proof that was not true. So, either he deliberately misled the House and the public, or he’s not in charge of the department,” said Crosbie. “Either way, if that’s the case, he’s incompetent. If the former, he’s being dishonest. Mr. Ball needs to take a hard look as to whether this man should be in cabinet."
Auditor General Julia Mullaley is reviewing a request by Crosbie to investigate the circumstances surrounding the Canopy Growth contract, with meetings scheduled for January.
The question about the potential Mews Place land sale is related to a yet-to-be-fully-answered question about who the shareholders of 80521 Newfoundland and Labrador Inc. are.
The company now owns land near East White Hills Road – the future site of the St. John’s Canopy Growth facility – which it purchased for about $2.7 million in June 2017 from Baine Johnston Properties, a company directed by Chris Collingwood Jr., Chris Collingwood Sr. and Gregory Dickie. The purchase took place just over two months after it was announced the land would be the future site of the Canopy Growth facility.
“We have documentary proof that was not true. So, either he deliberately misled the House and the public, or he’s not in charge of the department. Either way, if that’s the case, he’s incompetent. If the former, he’s being dishonest. Mr. Ball needs to take a hard look as to whether this man should be in cabinet ."
— Ches Crosbie
Baine Johnston Corp. donated $3,750 to the Liberal party in 2016.
CBC’s Rob Antle, in a story published Dec. 3, reported 80521 Newfoundland and Labrador Inc. lists a home address the same as a number of companies owned by prominent Liberal supporter Dean MacDonald. MacDonald declined to run for the Liberal leadership in 2013, instead endorsing former finance minister Cathy Bennett.
Macdonald neither confirmed nor denied his involvement with 80521 Newfoundland and Labrador Inc. in Antle’s story.
The shareholders of 80521 Newfoundland and Labrador Inc. are in line to receive a share of $5 million in annual rent payments from Canopy Growth for the next five years. The original contract agreed to between the provincial government and Canopy Growth stated that Canopy Growth would have to purchase the land, but the contract was later amended to say it could lease the land from another company.
With information of the shareholders of 80521 Newfoundland and Labrador Inc. slowly becoming more clear, politicians denying any knowledge of the company, and now a cabinet minister accused of making misleading statements regarding the sale of land to the same numbered company, there are many questions left to be answered about the ownership of the company and its connection to the government.