The successful recipient of a new licence for the lucrative Arctic surf clam industry is led by the brother of a Nova Scotia MP who has donated nearly $5,500 to the Liberal party since 2006.
The federal Fisheries Department announced Thursday that the new fourth licence would be issued to the Five Nations Clam Company, which is comprised of First Nations from Quebec, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick in partnership with Premium Seafoods. Premium will harvest, process and market the catch.
The Five Nations Clam Company beat out eight other groups that applied for the licence, including Clearwater Seafoods, which for decades has had a monopoly on the $60 million per year industry, holding all three of the other existing licences.
Clearwater announced Thursday it would take legal action against the government following its unsuccessful bid, which involved partnering with 13 Mi’kmaq bands in Nova Scotia.
Premium Seafoods is owned by Edgar Samson, the brother of Sackville-Preston-Chezzetcook MP Darrell Samson. Elections Canada political financing records show Edgar Samson donated a total of $5,424.61 to the Liberal party in seven large donations since 2006, including to his brother’s 2015 campaign and to the campaign of his MP Rodger Cuzner.
Speaking with The Chronicle Herald, Edgar Samson was adamant his relation to the MP played no part in the licence award, and said his brother is not involved and holds no shares in the company whatsoever.
“I think myself and the First Nations did a good job putting the proposal together and meeting what DFO was looking for,” Samson told The Chronicle Herald.
He added that his company, based in Arichat, had been pursuing a surf clam licence since 2007 — long before his brother first ran for office in 2015 — and that his company was approached by the First Nations groups to be part of the bid, not the other way around.
“It would be unfair if the First Nations and Premium Seafoods and Premium’s employees were excluded from this type of proposal because there’s a relation to one of the MPs,” he said.
Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch and adjunct professor of law and political science at the University of Ottawa, said while the award to Premium Seafoods may be bad optics, it doesn’t appear to violate any federal regulations or conflict of interest codes.
“This is common around the world. You can’t say to families you can do all these things now because one of your relatives has become a politician, so what you do is you set up what the politician is allowed to do in the decision-making processes to safeguard that they are not advantaging private interests of their family members or themselves,” he said.
Canada’s laws surrounding this sort of thing, Conacher said, are relatively weak. So long as Darrell Samson did not directly involve himself in lobbying on behalf of his brother’s business or involve himself in any decision-making in the licence award, there’s no funny business at play.
The MP told The Chronicle Herald he did no such thing.
“It was all DFO. I don’t even know how the process went, have no information on that,” he said.
"I think myself and the First Nations did a good job putting the proposal together and meeting what DFO was looking for." — Edgar Samson
Moreover, Darrell Samson does not sit on any committees that would have been involved in the decision to create a third licence, or to award it, nor were there any votes on the topic he would have been involved in.
As far as Edgar Samson’s substantial past donations to the Liberal party in light of Thursday’s announcement, Conacher said according to the rules, that’s also all perfectly above board.
A political donation is, according to elections and conflict laws, a gift that is outside the threshold of corruption concern, Conacher said, as the limit of $1,575 per individual per year to each registered party is set low enough to not be any real influence.
“In my point of view, the federal elections rules still amount to a system of legalized bribery because most Canadians could not afford to give ($1,575) to anyone, even with the tax deductions,” he said.
With fundraisers, however, it gets murky.
In fact, Conacher said the fact that Clearwater raised nearly $100,000 for Justin Trudeau’s campaign in 2014 might have helped deter the government from awarding them the fourth Arctic surf clam licence.
Coincidentally, Democracy Watch submitted a complaint to the Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying in March 2017 about a $1,000-a-head fundraising event for the national Liberal party in August 2014 hosted by Clearwater Seafoods co-founder, board member and major shareholder Mickey MacDonald at his home and attended by Trudeau.
Conacher alleges by lobbying several federal government institutions including the Prime Minister’s Office in the two years following Trudeau’s election, Clearwater broke Rule 9 of the lobbyist code preventing them from engaging in lobbying activities for a period of five years following any activities “on behalf of a person which could reasonably be seen to create a sense of obligation.”
Conacher said that complaint has yet to be addressed by the commissioner.
Edgar Samson, however, says he did not do any fundraising for his brother’s campaign nor are there any entries in the lobbying registry with his company name.
Responding to a media request from The Chronicle Herald, a spokesperson from the Fisheries Department said in an emailed statement that the licence award decision was informed by the proposals received in the eight-week Expressions of Interest period in the fall.
“We assessed eligible proposals received in the context of the proposed direct and significant benefits that will be generated for Indigenous communities in the applicant’s geographic area including shore-based employment, skills training and other community benefits,” the statement reads.
“(The Five Nations Clam Company) proposal was selected based on its benefit for Indigenous communities across the Atlantic provinces and Quebec.”