Education Minister Clyde Jackman brushed aside allegations Tuesday that a private lobby group was pressured to buy tickets to a PC Party fundraiser in order to get a meeting with him.
He said that interest groups come to party functions all the time, and it often leads to meetings with him, but that doesn’t mean he’s pushing people to do it.
“It’s up to individuals what tickets they buy and what events they go to,” Jackman said. “I’ve been to numerous events where people have approached and discussed certain issues, and we’ve set up meetings afterwards, Mr. Speaker, and I will do this with this group as I’ve done with many other groups.”
During question period, opposition politicians were incredulous following a report by The Telegram about school bus operators who say their lobbying efforts with government have stalled.
“All this seems very suspicious: a former PC party president hired on the advice of a senior PC cabinet minister to lobby his own government all through the use of public funds provided by the minister of education,” Liberal MHA Dale Kirby said. “So I ask the minister: how do you justify using your department’s funds to pay a high-level PC Party member to lobby you about school transportation?”
Jackman countered that the government only gave a $10,000 grant, but the Newfoundland and Labrador School Bus Operators racked up $36,000 in lobbying fees, so the taxpayers didn’t cover all of it.
Also, Jackman said, he’s worked hard to find solutions to a thorny problem when it comes to school busing.
“As I said previously, I believe I met with this group more than I met with any group since I’ve come into government, and that is about trying to find a solution to this annual problem, Mr. Speaker. We have sat with them. We have found solutions to many of the issues,” he said.
“I am more than willing to sit with anyone, and if we can come up with a solution here, I am more than willing to support that.”
New Democrat Leader Lorraine Michael also wanted answers.
“I ask the minister, why not put effort into coming up with a solution rather than, Mr. Speaker, contributing money to a lobbying process forced on the school bus association,” she said. “Does he think that encouraging operators to buy $100-a-plate dinner tickets to get a chance to talk to politicians is an open and transparent process?”
Jackman said that the main sticking point when it comes to the private bus operators’ grievances has to do with contracts that have been publicly tendered, so it’s not like the government can unilaterally make a change.
“We have sat with them. We have found solutions to many of the issues. But, Mr. Speaker, the one that we are grappling with is the requirement seeking more money,” Jackman said. “We cannot simply open up tenders after the fact.”