Adam Lightstone stepped aside as Finance and Human Resources minister on March 28 after Nunavut’s integrity commissioner concluded an investigation that found he was embroiled in a perceived conflict of interest.
Katherine Peterson, who oversees ethics on behalf of the Legislative Assembly, has recommended that legislators reprimand Lightstone and that the MLA publicly acknowledge his conduct.
The minister wound up at the centre of controversy when former premier Joe Savikataaq and former Finance minister George Hickes asked a series of questions in the House about a minister — unnamed at the time — appointing an acting deputy minister from within his own household. Savikataaq and Hickes said that would raise the spectre of a conflict of interest.
It turns out it was Lightstone who approved the appointment of his spouse as acting deputy minister of Human Resources for five days.
Premier P.J. Akeeagok responded to the questioning in the House by stating on March 8 that he would refer the matter to Peterson, whose 17-page report was turned over to the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly on March 24.
Lightstone’s spouse was employed as the director of employee relations and job evaluation for the Department of Human Resources when he appointed her acting deputy minister. Although Lightstone’s spouse had tendered her resignation, she was still to remain in that position until late January, well after the Dec. 16 to 21 period that she served as acting deputy minister.
Peterson noted some discrepancies in the way Lightstone and Akeeagok recalled whether Lightstone mentioned that his spouse was serving in a senior position in the Department of Human Resources at the time of the Nov. 17 leadership forum, when portfolios were being assigned.
“Suffice it to say that at the time the acting deputy minister appointment was approved by Minister Lightstone and brought to the attention of the premier, the premier was aware of the relationship and the perception of conflict of interest in the matter,” Peterson wrote.
The integrity commissioner pointed out that Lightstone attended a standard briefing on integrity provided to MLAs and was issued a handbook, but when Peterson offered to meet individually with MLAs to help them better understand the Integrity Act, 20 of 22 MLAs took her up on that — Lightstone wasn’t one of them.
She stated that he failed to advise any senior staff in the Department of Executive and Intergovernmental Affairs of his spouse’s senior role in the Department of Human Resources because he indicated that “everyone knew.”
Outside of the appointment of his spouse as acting deputy minister, the overlap of Lightstone serving as Human Resources minister and his spouse’s key role within the department already posed complications because human resources concerns brought to MLAs couldn’t be relayed to Lightstone if his spouse was involved, the integrity commissioner stated.
The appointment of Lightstone’s spouse as acting deputy minister, Peterson noted, was recommended by the deputy minister, who was going on vacation. The integrity commissioner described the Human Resources department as “chronically understaffed” and there were several vacancies within the senior management level. Other candidates were approached to act as deputy minister, but they declined.
“However, there was no canvas of other departments to determine whether a senior staff member could fill this role,” Peterson wrote.
‘Error in judgment’
The deputy minister concluded that Lightstone’s spouse was best suited to fill in for her due to her “strong skills, knowledge and experience.” The deputy minister devised an alternate reporting hierarchy to avoid Lightstone’s spouse being in direct contact with Lightstone regarding work issues.
Peterson stated that Lightstone initially had concerns regarding the appointment but he accepted the deputy minister’s advice and gave his signed approval.
“He did not give thoughtful and timely consideration of the possible conflicts of interest associated with his spouse being employed in the department over which he had oversight, nor with respect to the acting appointment of his spouse as deputy minister,” Peterson wrote. “In addition, although I am able to find that Minister Lightstone made an error in judgment made in good faith, and on the basis of advice received at the time … I wish to point out that there is no evidence of any collusion, corruption, inappropriate benefit nor nefarious actions or directions associated with these circumstances. There was no evidence of the advancement of a private interest of the minister, his spouse, or other person.”
Akeeagok was later alerted to the conflict by a senior manager and he instructed that another person be found to take on the responsibility. The deputy minister was ultimately forced to cut short her vacation and resume her duties earlier than expected.
Akeeagok thanked the integrity commissioner last week for reviewing the matter promptly.
“Minister Lightstone has stepped aside until such time as the Legislative Assembly has the opportunity to formally resolve this matter in accordance with the provision of the Integrity Act,” the premier said.
Lorne Kusugak has assumed the Finance portfolio while Margaret Nakashuk has taken on responsibility for Human Resources as well as Workers’ Safety and Compensation Commision board.
The integrity commissioner’s’s report is expected to arise within the first 10 days of the spring sitting of the Legislative Assembly, which is scheduled for May 27 to June 10.
Lightstone did not reply to a request for comment prior to publication deadline.