Newfoundland and Labrador’s opposition PC is questioning Andrew Furey’s judgment of the Prime Minister’s stay in a luxury lodge owned by the billionaire behind a controversial hydrogen plant proposal in western Newfoundland.
As online news organization allNewfoundlandLabrador first reported, Furey and his father – Senate Speaker George Furey – stayed at Rifflin’ Hitch Lodge as part of a posh fishing trip in July 2021 .
The complex is owned by John Risley, a friend of the prime minister and chairman of World Energy GH2, a company seeking to set up a hydrogen-ammonia wind power plant on the Port-au-Port peninsula.
Another of Furey’s personal friends, Brendan Paddick, is also a director of the company.
The project, which is now in the environmental assessment stage, includes 164 wind turbines and could not have proceeded without the province lifting its moratorium on onshore wind energy.
It happened in April, but in the House of Assembly on Wednesday, Acting Opposition Leader Barry Petten said documents obtained through access to information laws show discussions of the Lifting of the moratorium began in September 2021 – a few months after Furey’s visit to Risley’s lodge.
According to AllNewfoundlandLabrador’s report, Risley was there for part of Furey’s visit.
“The Prime Minister is spending days with a billionaire donor who runs a wind development project in a luxury cabin, and he expects the people of the province to believe that wind power did not just appear once Three months later, officials are starting to talk about removing the wind moratorium in our province,” Petten said during Question Period.
“Was this where the deal was made or is this the biggest coincidence in Newfoundland and Labrador history?” he said.
Speaking to reporters later, Furey asked where the line lay between his personal and public life.
“Everyone criticized me from day one,” he said. “First about my charity work, then about my practice of medicine, and now about what I do on my holidays. Like, we have to – we have to have some respect for the public figures here during their time personal.”
He also defended his trip, saying he paid for it himself, and that the subject of wind farms and hydrogen power stations was not brought up during his stay at Risley’s lodge.
“I never hid the friends I have,” he said. “Some of them are very successful, and I’m very lucky to have those friendships. But I don’t discuss confidential government business with them, and I’ve taken the extra step of having put up ethical walls.”
Those ethical walls, Furey said, mean Industry, Energy and Technology Minister Andrew Parsons is handling the file.
Furey said no project-related decisions would fall on his desk.
Petten says it’s a matter of perception.
“Unfortunately, with his work, it’s about choices and decisions. The optics – and we live in a world of optics – and I just think it was the wrong choice.”
Parsons, who answered all but one of the House’s questions instead of Furey, said he “didn’t know where the favoritism was in that conversation.”
“No one has been approved for absolutely anything at this point,” he said.
The Port au Port proposal is the only project currently in the environmental assessment stage. Parsons said the government had received 31 land bid proposals so far. By December 15, he said the government would identify the areas it wanted to open and the bidding process would begin early next year.
Last week, while speaking to CBC News about offering $10 million to Port-au-Port communities if the project goes ahead, Risley said he doesn’t “think it’s matter that the project obtains approval”.