FREDERICTON -- Former New Brunswick premier Shawn Graham, once considered a rising star among the province's political establishment, abruptly announced he was leaving public life altogether Friday after he became entangled in a conflict of interest scandal.
Graham was chastised in a report released earlier this week by the province's conflict of interest commissioner over his involvement in a cabinet decision to provide financial help to a construction company that had ties to his father.
"There was an error in judgment on my part," said Graham, who turned 45 on Friday.
"I apologize for that and accept full responsibility, but I also take pride that we were trying to do the right thing."
In his report, Patrick Ryan concluded that Graham broke provincial conflict of interest laws when his Liberal government gave a $50 million loan guarantee four years ago to Atcon, a now defunct construction firm.
Ryan said Graham should have removed himself from cabinet discussions in March 2009 over the loan guarantee because his father, Alan, was a director of Vanerply -- a Swedish subsidiary of Atcon -- and a paid consultant of Vanerply and other Atcon companies.
"The last few weeks have been difficult for my family and for me and for a number of people, but that being said, we recognize that this was in the best interest," said Graham, who will continue to represent the eastern New Brunswick riding of Kent until March 11.
His departure marks the end of a once brilliant political career.
Graham was first elected to the provincial legislature at the age of 30 in a 1998 byelection to take over the seat his father vacated. Buoyed by his youth and political lineage, he swiftly ascended through the party ranks, becoming Liberal leader in 2002.
He was elected premier in 2006 but lost the 2010 election to the Progressive Conservatives, stung by a torrent of public criticism after his failed bid to sell NB Power, the province's debt-laden Crown utility company, to Hydro-Quebec. His was the first one-term government in the province's history and he stepped down as party leader six weeks later.
Liberal Leader Brian Gallant said the caucus agreed it was in the party's best interests for Graham to leave at a time when it is trying to rebuild.
"Everyone understands that this is the right thing to do," Gallant said.
-- The Canadian Press