Graham cracker crumbs…

Someone asked for my thoughts on the departing Shawn Graham.  I have mixed views on the Graham government.  On the one hand, I thought a number of their initiatives would have been important contributions to renovating New Brunswick.  But they had challenges communicating their vision to the public – starting with the “Be… in this place” and moving onward.   In addition, they (as all governments in this province) had trouble going through with their proposed initiatives.  The only one they really got through in the way they wanted was the tax cut program – although they didn’t riase the HST as was recommended by Jack Mintz – the guru they brought into advise them on tax policy.

I liked the focus on immigration – they started to see immigration as more than just a patch for holes in the labour market.   I have always said we need a more strategic view of immigration and its potential role in New Brunswick.

I thought the plan to sell NB Power was a good faith attempt to address the energy situation in this province.  Conditions on the ground have changed a lot since then and the case for such a sale would be harder to make now.

I liked the ‘self-sufficiency’ concept although it seemed to be clunkily communicated as only about reducing reliance on federal government transfers (stated goal – eliminate the need for equalization payments).    McKenna’s pull ourselves up by the bootstraps maybe was a little more to the point.

I was a bit baffled by the lack of focus on economic development.  They didn’t change anything in the economic development system.   There wasn’t the kind of full court press that McKenna put on economic growth.

But the biggest influence on the Graham government was the great recession.  It hit right as they were trying to implement the agenda.  That completely diverted attention and they spent the last 18-24 months on stimulus and other issues related to recession busting.

Atcon?  Sure, there has to be learnings from that.  No question.  But every government made big bets over the years (think AV Nackawic and $70 million under the Lord government).  If they pay off (i.e. AV Nackawic) no one notices. If they tank (i.e. Bricklin and Atcon) it becomes a debacle and casts a shadow over other economic development efforts.

I have a hard time believing anyone involved in the decision making made any personal profit off Atcon.  I think they were legitimately scared about the prospect of losing 1,500 jobs in the Miramichi – an area that continues to struggle.

In the end, Graham – like Lord – will be more of a footnote in New Brunswick’s history rather than a prominent player such as LJR or McKenna.    It could have turned out different but things always seem to get in the way.

 

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15 Responses to Graham cracker crumbs…

  1. mikel says:

    I think thats a little too easy on the Atcon deal, most commenters are screaming for his head, and there certainly was more to it than simply trying to save jobs (even the usually banal investigations done on these matters said it was a conflict of interest, which is putting it mildly).
    And having watched most of McKenna’s economic interests unwind, I think Hatfield’s reign through two decades has more historical lasting power than McKenna’s two and a half terms-either your age or political leanings are showing there:)
    The most I can make of Graham is that I think his age and inexperience had him listening to Daddy and Frank a little more than he should have. Its probably a good thing that the new liberal leader has been forcibly distanced from much of the ‘old guard’ and if he can find his sea legs then perhaps NB may actually get two parties as opposed to one party that sometimes wears different colours.

  2. Paul says:

    I think David you totally underplay the Atcon scandal. I trust you read Judge Ryan’s report on the total lack of due diligence on the file. It’s a very sad state of affairs when we toss $50m out the door when all evidence to the contrary. They even brought in Purdy Crawford to sell it and he knew within weeks it was over.

    You are far to forgiving. Suspect your bias is showing, like Mikel suggests.

  3. When I criticize the Libs position on shale gas, I get emails telling me my Conservative bias is showing. It’s just as likely you folks are showing your bias. I did read the report and am perturbed about the lack of due diligence but I draw a line between politicially motivated decisions and outright corruption – there is zero proof of that.

  4. mikel says:

    I didn’t say your bias was showing over the Atcon deal, I said it was because you mentioned Robichaud and McKenna and didn’t mention Hatfield, and I could write a HUGE blog on Hatfield’s initiatives, while McKenna’s could be summed up in one sentence “he turned the NB government into a business” (which has both good and bad aspects). Your bias is towards Mckenna, something which you’ve shown before for reasons you’ve mentioned numerous times, and like me your ‘formative years’ were during McKenna’s reign, so again, thats not surprising.

    As for ‘corruption’ it really depends on how you define it. For a good percentage of New Brunswickers, simply the fact that Graham hired a lawyer at the taxpayer’s expense for $72 grand is ‘corrupt’. And for what? Heck, over at Charles’ Leblanc’s blog he is routinely chastised (often by me) for having the gall to criticize Bernard Richard’s report when he refused to talk to Richard without having a lawyer present. So it seems ‘the common folk’ are not allowed legal representation during investigations resulting from aggression AGAINST them by government, but elected officials who are the TARGET of such investigations can bill the province almost three quarters of a hundred grand! If thats not clear, poor victims of government aggression don’t get legal representation, already wealthy (respectively)and crooked (possibly)politicians do.

    And having your father being a consultant AND sitting on the Board of Directors of company x and sitting in a Cabinet room deciding against all evidence to hand over a huge chunk of cash to a company very clearly going under-well YOU may think that is ‘zero proof’, but I can’t remember the last time a sitting or ex politician was actually FINED for conduct during office. Heck, even Mayor Rob Ford has never had to do THAT. The fact that he was fined for ‘conflict of interest’ certainly counts as proof for SOMETHING. What we can’t measure without a criminal investigation is the INTENT and what people said behind the scenes.

    We can IMAGINE though, and from what we DO know, ‘outright corruption’ is not a far stretch. I suspect your bias may be showing a bit more and your line between ‘politically motivated decisions’ and ‘outright corruption’ may be pretty thin. For one thing, in economic development wouldn’t you agree that NO financial decisions involving taxpayer money should be made on ‘political grounds’ but rather economic ones? I thought that has been your theme for YEARS.

    Its worth pointing out that this is hardly unique since almost ANY economic development deal has political aspects, and in fact the Caissie Populaire fiasco of several years ago seemed to be SO sensitive that BOTH political parties quickly buried it without investigation.

    And I have to say that I haven’t even read the report yet, I’ve noticed that often these reports are quite whitewashed, like Bernard Richard underplaying that Fredericton police told the IP company they were investigating Charles Leblanc for child pornography when it was a libel case against one of their officers. These things are often HUGE, but when written by lawyers and politicians they sound almost banal.

    Irregardless, OUR point was simply that you mention Atcon simply as another economic development deal in a blog about Graham ‘crumbs’, which kind of seems to be like talking about crumbs and missing the cookie.

  5. Paul says:

    No one got rich here except some bankruptcy lawyers and accountants. It’s not corruption, closer to incompetence.

  6. Paul says:

    And what evidence is there that Atcon ever had 1,500 people on their payroll in Miramichi? That was never the case as far as I can tell.

  7. mikel says:

    I”m just scanning the report, and since the media is usually so poor at evaluating these things, its worth pointing out some main points. I disagree about the incompetence point, and I agree with David that the INTENT may have been no different than with any large company that needs money. I can remember back in the day when Elizabeth Weir said the government should recall all its loans from Irving, now, why they would be loaning money to Irving is beyond me, however, no government can be blind to a large employer, heck, I’ve known guys with as few as EIGHT employees who have gotten the governments ear.

    “Normally, Business New Brunswick did “not assist with
    construction contract financing or performance bonding.” (Exhibit 118 Privileged) Here, it did.”

    “Alan Graham was a Director of Vanerply AB for
    approximately nine or ten years resigning in May
    2009. He was never a shareholder. I had no
    knowledge of my father’s responsibilities or his
    remuneration.”

    Which means he resigned just as things were going south for Atcon-which seems ‘convenient’. It’s also ‘interesting’ that Shawn Graham KNOWS that his father was never a shareholder in the company, but doesn’t know what he was paid or what he did. That’s some pretty selective conversations going on there.

    “I verily believe the Premier knew or reasonably should
    have known that his decisions to use New Brunswick tax dollars directly advanced the financial and business interests of his father
    [Alan] Graham”

    This is the crux of the issue, and the report agrees. I don’t believe that’s ‘incompetence’, but I do believe its ‘corruption’, although some pretty lighthearted stuff. Only the future really says, all these ex liberals seem to show up on the boards of all kinds of resource companies, we’ll see what kind of ‘payback’ is in Shawn Graham’s future. I sympathize with him, from what I’ve heard he seems to have been NB’s George Bush (complete with tax breaks for the rich but fortunately never invaded PEI), a nice guy who really didn’t have the brains or political acumen to do the job. And now if he goes back into teaching, people will say its political favouring, and probably the ONLY other job he can get is like Bernard Lord, some kind of political job in another province, because in NB it will also be seen as favouritism.

    “The evidence shows that the diligent employees of Business New Brunswick were hampered in every way in trying to get current information from Atcon…The situation was so ridiculous that there was not even a proper application for the guarantees by Atcon.”

    “My demands to inspect the documents were vigorously defended by way of argument and the filing of briefs.” -here was that $72 grand of your tax dollars at work. Interesting that MANY pages of the report were legal arguments simply to GET these documents.

    “In the case of one high ranking New Brunswick employee..the
    employee was given a summons and promptly deleted the e-mails.”

    THAT is ‘corruption’ right there.

    “[53] After 56 years as a litigator, lecturer, trial justice, appeal court justice and conflict of interest commissioner my experience is that the deputy minister, in so testifying, did not feel any sense of wrong doing, having persuaded himself that he was doing it in a good cause. He was wrong ”

    Anybody who HASN”T read the report should download it just to read the squirming politician who is being interviewed above.

    “[62] April 23, 2009, Cabinet including Premier Graham who chaired the meeting met and amended the offer of financial assistance by deleting the words “portion of a revolving operating” as they appear in paragraph 3 of Order in Council 2009-130 replacing it with a
    $20 million dollar guarantee of a 4-year term loan.”

    “[71] During the month of June 2009, Atcon prepared a document entitled Certificate of Pending Litigation which showed millions of dollars in litigation against Atcon companies. Should Business New Brunswick’s “due diligence” not have exposed this financial cancer before any monies had even been paid? ”

    Actually, thats some pretty heady stuff but only goes to HALFWAY through the report. But like Bernard Richard’s report, it will probably be quickly forgotten, even though there is LOTS of pretty important stuff in there. Like the fact that cabinet meetings have no minutes recorded and there is no record of votes taken when decisions are made. Since Cabinet is in effect ‘the government’, the idea that these men meet in secret meetings which are closed to everyone and have ZERO transparancy, pretty much makes a mockery of this thing we sometimes call ‘democracy’.

  8. Oliver D says:

    @mikel Hiring a lawyer is hardly corruption even if it is ultimately the taxpayers that pay for it. I certainly don’t like the fact that we as taxpayers had to pay $72k but at the same time, I can understand it. The charge brought against him was due to something he did because he was an “employee” so to speak of the province. If you screw up at work and there is a legal issue, there’s no question that your employer would pay for the legal representation. This is pretty much the same thing.

  9. mikel says:

    I don’t think that aspect is corruption either, I said A LOT of NBers think so (pretty sure thats what I said, thats certainly what I meant). It’s technically not ‘corruption’ IF the system is meant to work that way. Its not ‘corrupt’, but to my mind its FAR FAR FAR worse that a man like Charles Leblanc who has been victimized by the government (legitimately or not) doesn’t even get a lawyer on charges that could send him to prison, but a guy who earns close to 100 grand DOES.

    Moreover, after reading half of the report it seems clear that HE didn’t need a lawyer. The commissioner said quite clearly that he thought Graham was pretty forthcoming-on his own. Cop shows are usually pretty fictional, but I still remember one line from somewhere: “if you are innocent, tell the truth-if you are guilty, get a lawyer”.

    However, only being halfway through convinces me that its ‘corruption’ very clearly, but maybe people have too grand a view of that word. To corrupt a process is simply to alter it in a negative way. I would have to agree that its NOT the corruption a lot of CBC commenters think-in that I doubt very much that the reasoning behind it was for Graham to try to help daddy, a guy who very clearly needs no help.

    BUT the point is that it is POSSIBLE. Without a criminal investigation we simply don’t know. Graham senior could have called his son and said that he gets paid 200 grand as a consultant and really needs that cash. I DOUBT it, but its possible and given politics in this day and age, its hardly a stretch of the imagination. If you really do need to stretch your imagination then you are pretty politically (and economically!) naive.

    What the first half does show any reader is just how lousy our government actually usually operates. The biggest complaint from most citizens is that there are one set of rules for the rest of us, and a different (if any) set of rules for those with power. This VERY clearly shows that-it shows that virtually ALL the negative things people believe about their political system is true, and thats a HUGE issue. For one thing it perfectly explains who so many are so vehement against shale gas-it shows that you can pump your chest and say you’ve got all kinds of rules and regulations, but in the end the most important decisions are made in a secret room with a cabinet that makes decisions which not only can you not disagree with, but you can’t even KNOW.

    PS-IF we are the employer here your theory isn’t really that sound because if you embezzle money from your employer its not too many employers who are going to foot the bill (not that I’m saying he’s an embezzler, but X tax dollars DID go to Atcon, and some of that money could have gone virtually anywhere).

  10. 4themargins says:

    This round clearly goes to Mikel

  11. richard says:

    “and I could write a HUGE blog on Hatfield’s initiatives”

    Hatfield’s initiatives were fairly modest. He solidified the gains made by Acadians under LJR – largely by refusing to listen to the many members of his Party who wanted some of those gains reversed.

    Hatfield was prominent on the national stage, but that was largely image – I don’t believe he had a great deal of influence – although perhaps he did do something for pot legalization. His economic achievements were also fairly modest. Perhaps McKenna’s are unwinding, but Hatfield did not leave much behind to unwind. More of a friendly, congenial caretaker that help keep tensions down.

    BTW I thought the funniest part of the Ryan transcripts was where he told DM Levesque to speak up ‘I can barely hear you, Mr Levesque’.

    “our government”?

  12. mikel says:

    A little bit of xenophobia RIchard? Yeah, OUR government. I’m more active in NB politics than most of my friends living in NB- just because a person is forced to leave the province to find work doesn’t make them any less an NBer. Its worth noting that people who have left Switzerland permanently get to vote in ALL levels of swiss elections permanently. Perhaps if the people who HAD to leave NB could actually vote then some policies would actually get advanced that create some opportunities. So yeah, OUR government, wanna fight about it?

    Hatfield’s accomplishments make McKenna look like an amateur. Do you really think history is going to look back and say “well, Hatfield was more influential on the national stage..”. Who cares at what stage they are? Hatfield took on the auto pact in trying to get Bricklin going, what did McKenna EVER put his neck on the line for? In fact he was so gutless that he let bureacrats kill his home care initiatives, about the only thing he was noted for besides getting other provinces upset at NB by visiting and trying to steal their jobs. He was most famous for being one of the first politicians to start waging war on the poor.

    And who cares if Hatfield went against the wishes of the rednecks of his party in establishing equal language rights? That makes it all the more honourable. Frank barely managed to change anything with EVERY SINGLE seat in the parliament which essentially gave him dictatorial powers. The fact is that Hatfield got it, and got it put in the charter. He also went up against both white racists and native men in getting women’s indigenous rights established in the charter, something nobody else gave a rats ass about. All Frank ever did was follow on his coattails and get them enshrined by the Supreme Court.

    I can go on some more, but some of us have to work to pay for those transfer payments that pay a third of YOUR budget so that you can question other people’s heritage.

  13. mikel says:

    Here’s some more on Richard Hatfield-

    Economically, it was his government that built Point Lepreau. True,Mckenna had the confederation bridge, but that was a private deal with mostly federal funding. Hatfield was also responsible for funding and building Market Square in Saint John. Mckenna twinned a highway, but more highways have been twinned since he’s been gone.

    Hatfield also reformed most of the important financing legislation, and brought in the Access to Information Act as well as most human rights legislation.

    Most of the city hospitals were built under his watch, and much of the expansion of the universities. McKenna, well, I guess you could say he’s most famous for reminding everyone that they are poor and should act like it.

    And ask any old artist about Hatfield and they will tell you that unlike McKenna, who only travelled to try to bring short term jobs, Hatfield was a tireless salesman for artists in NB, most of whom most NBers wouldn’t recognize on the street, but who have (had) worldwide audiences and could stay and live in the province permanently thanks to him.

    That’s probably being way too hard on Frank McKenna, but ‘history’ is most likely to remember him for his economic initiatives, which have been short lived, and others, like legalizing gambling long before other provinces, and impoverishing the poor even more, his ‘workfare’ program which forced welfare recipients to gather brush and do other menial jobs (rather than be given an education), but which went on to become popular with most right wing governments in the 90’s.

    Hatfield’s list of ‘endowments’ are extensive, from recognition from native groups, all universities, and numerous artists organizations. Frank, well, frankly given his history SINCE being Premier it puts all his globe trotting into another perspective and he makes a lucrative living sitting on boards for various corporations. Hatfield was in for 17 years, longer than any NB Premier, McKenna’s popularity went increasingly downward and he mostly survived because conservatives were divided into two parties.

    Oh yeah, McKenna is also well known for sicing the RCMP’s dogs onto women and children who were protesting education cuts. While I can understand why those in economic development may be keen on him, like I said, history has a long memory – well, not anymore, so it may well be true that most of the next generations won’t have any idea who ANY Premiers were (or who the current ones are).

    If anything I’d say Hatfield was simply before his time. A gay pot smoking Premier? Man, if ONLY we could come up with modern politicians HALF as interesting.

  14. richard says:

    “A little bit of xenophobia RIchard? Yeah, OUR government. I’m more active in NB politics than most of my friends living in NB-”

    Sensitive aren’t we? Fact is, you don’t live here or vote here. So it isn’t your government. You are free to comment, but your statement referring to ‘our government’ is not correct. Heritage has got nothing to do with it, neither does the number of comments on websites. Your govt is in TO.

    I am not sure why you are obsessed with McKenna. But Hatfield’s accomplishments like McKenna’s are few and far between. Certainly in comparison to LJR’s. Hatfield was basically a caretaker – he helped settle things down after LJR’s revolutionary changes. He was a decent man and meant well, but he did not really achieve all that much.

  15. @David Campbell
    There is certainly a stinking trail here David (re: outright corruption). When you look at the outright stupid moves made on contracts during this time frame, one must stand back and say “is there really no one watching these people, or is there motivation to this insanity?”.

    You must also take into consideration the contract with Umoe Solar. I know for a fact that Umoe had no intention of ever setting up a facility in Miramichi and only wanted rights to the perks that came along with the property. They made a pretty penny selling the scrap and assets on the site, buying time until they could announce that things have changed and there would be no facility.

    I received information about this through my international connections who did not know I was actually a Miramichier. Essentially, that contract gave them lots of assets and a money back guarantee. NB gov owes them millions, as it was promised to be paid to them on the occasion that the project doesn’t go forward. Umoe lost nothing, as they made a profit from dismantling the sale-able assets that were there.

    During the same time frame you have the whole Atcon thing going on. Did you look at the secured creditors list for those companies? You may find it interesting…. it is public information.
    You can secure your own shareholder loan, ensuring you are paid back first (after the CRA) and possibly before your bank (but banks usually require first charge placement). Secured creditors are paid before anyone on the Accounts Payable listing.

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