NB Liquor “whistleblower” has “alarming” information in Hartland case, lawyer says


A former senior NB Liquor official has presented himself as a potential whistleblower to offer “alarming new information” about a lawsuit alleging “manipulation” of a lucrative contract by the company, according to court documents.

Counsel for a Hartland businessman who lost a lucrative contract for a city agency store says the information “directly contradicts” evidence filed by NB Liquor to date.

NB Liquor responded with a court record that publicly identifies the former public servant as Stacey McKinney, the crown corporation’s former chief financial officer.

McKinney was contesting his dismissal from NB Liquor before the Hartland decision was rendered. Her lawyer told the company in March that there was information on more than 34 examples of “financial, ethical and illegal irregularities.”

No whistleblower status

The company maintains that McKinney is not entitled to whistleblower status, a protection available to provincial employees, because it has not yet released any information under the Public Interest Disclosure Act.

This law, dubbed the Whistleblower Protection Act, says it exists “to facilitate the disclosure and investigation of important and serious matters in or related to the public service which are potentially illegal, dangerous to the public service. public or prejudicial to the public interest “.

McKinney was fired by NB Liquor in June 2020. She says this happened just before she finalized NB Liquor audits that would “affect the legitimacy” of its financial statements.

In a grievance, she says she was recommended for sick leave, but was instead dismissed without cause.

In March 2021, his attorney Joel Etienne told NB Liquor that McKinney attempted to report the more than 34 irregularities to the audit committee of the company’s board of directors.

They included discrepancies in financial reports, “inappropriate” expense claims and “financial control weaknesses” which pointed to possible “anomalies” in the company’s financial statements.

Etienne’s letter alleged that the “main culprits” of the financial irregularities had attempted to eliminate McKinney’s post and his department by outsourcing the work to a private accounting firm.

“As this matter is currently before the courts, we have no comment at this time,” NB Liquor spokesperson Marie-Andrée Bolduc said in an emailed statement.

McKinney is still contesting his dismissal. This court case is unrelated to the Hartland agency store lawsuit.

Information relating to the Hartland agency store case

But last week, Fredericton lawyer Erica Brown wrote to the court to say that she learned “out of the blue” that McKinney, whom she did not name, had relevant information about the case.

Brown represents Hartland businessman Peter Cook, who had the NB Liquor agency store contract in his city’s Freshmart grocery store from 2019 until spring.

Hartland’s Freshmart is located directly opposite the entrance to the Covered Bridge. A NB Liquor traffic study that measured cars driving only spots on Main Street sparked a legal battle. (Google Street View)

It was then that it was awarded in a new bidding process to a Valu Foods store and an Irving gas station.

Cook, a well-known Liberal supporter, alleges that the politically appointed NB Liquor board, led by prominent Progressive Conservative and former Irving Oil employee John Correia, influenced the rating of the appeal process offers.

“It was either manipulated on purpose, which I believe, or at the very least, it was sheer incompetence,” Cook said recently. “I was deceived.”

NB Liquor said in an affidavit that Correia’s “past or current roles with ANBL or other companies had no effect” on Cook’s lower rating and the loss of the offering.

A hearing in the Hartland franchise store case is scheduled for Tuesday morning at the Court of Queen’s Bench in Fredericton.

Hartland’s Irving station and Valufoods outlet on the outskirts of town were declared winners of the NB Liquor franchise store contract on March 17. They took over on April 1. (Google Street View)

Brown says in her Nov. 1 letter to court that she was “blocked” by NB Liquor in an attempt to get information from the company about its decision. In the motion to be heard on Tuesday, she is asking for more time to collect evidence.

The letter indicates that two lawyers representing McKinney, Etienne and Christian Michaud, will “soon” file a formalized complaint under the whistleblower law.

In a separate letter, Michaud points out that he is a former member of the NB Liquor board and says he is “gravely concerned about the lack of respect for the basic principles of governance in this matter”.

NB Liquor responded with its motion asking Brown to produce the “alarming new information” and saying that the whistleblower law did not apply to McKinney, putting his name on the public record for the first time.

Michaud declined an interview request on Monday.

The Public Interest Disclosure Act, passed in 2012, allows potential whistleblowers to report irregularities to a designated person in their own department or agency, or to the provincial ombud.

Law little used in a small province

In 2017, Ombud Charles Murray told CBC News the legislation is rarely used and speculated it’s because in a small province people fear being easily identified.

At the time, he had asked that a “blind contact” provision be added to the law to allow someone to contact his office through an intermediary so that even he would not know. who it is.

“A whistleblower in this province has to be brave enough and has to take it with faith,” he said.

Murray declined to say on Monday if he was involved in the McKinney case.

“Any whistleblower protection program has at its core protecting the identity of anyone who comes forward, and as such we never confirm or deny whether we have received or are investigating any disclosure that is made to us under PIDA, ”he said. .

About John A. Provost

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