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Arctic surf clams, with their rosy flesh and sweet taste, are big in Japan. Though they are fished off our Atlantic coast, virtually the entire catch is shipped to Asia.

This exotic creature is now at the heart of a very Canadian scandal. It has been playing out for months, but important questions about the federal government’s conduct in the affair remain unanswered.

The issue centres on the government’s process for awarding a lucrative licence to fish surf clams off the coasts of Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia worth tens of millions of dollars to its holder.

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Last year, Ottawa announced that it would give 25 per cent of the industry’s annual quota to an Indigenous company as a gesture of reconciliation.

The Liberals' good intentions spoiled quickly. The company that won the bid, Five Nations Clam Company, turned out to be only a quarter Indigenous-owned, but deeply tied to the Liberal Party.

Most of the firm was held by Premium Seafoods, whose chief executive was the brother of sitting Liberal MP Darrell Samson. One of Five Nations' Indigenous partners, meanwhile, was headed by former Liberal MP Todd Russell. And Five Nations itself was originally led by Gilles Thériault, a cousin-in-law of then-Fisheries minister Dominic LeBlanc.

If those connections seem convoluted, the process by which Five Nations won the quota also raises questions. Conservative Fisheries critic Todd Doherty alleges that the group was not incorporated and did not have a fishing vessel at the time it prevailed over six competitors.

Mr. LeBlanc has denied that family or party ties played a role in his department’s decision. But his successor at Fisheries, Jonathan Wilkinson, announced the cancellation of the Five Nations license shortly after taking over the post this summer. He refuses to explain why, citing confidentiality.

Maybe a continuing Ethics Commissioner probe of Mr. LeBlanc for his role in awarding the quota will shed light on what happened here. In the meantime, this looks an awful lot like the Liberals at their worst: using politics as a smokescreen for a questionable contract.

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