Members of the New Brunswick Green Party passed policy resolutions at their annual general meeting in Sackville on Saturday aimed at reducing what the party calls “undue corporate influence on the New Brunswick government.”
The resolutions deal with political lobbying, the disclosure of corporate ownership, contributions to political parties and, policies designed to ensure that corporations pay what Green leader David Coon calls “their fair share” of taxes.
After the meeting, Coon, who also holds a seat in the New Brunswick legislature, said members wanted to free the provincial government from what his party calls “corporate capture.”
“There was clear direction from the membership at last year’s annual meeting that they really wanted the party to focus on corporate capture and come up with some solutions, some ideas about how to ensure our government is less malleable to corporate influence,” Coon said.
He noted that undue corporate influence on government happens everywhere, but the problem is especially acute in New Brunswick, where Irving-owned companies not only dominate the economy, but also control nearly all of the province’s newspapers giving the Irvings the power to suppress information about the hundreds of companies they own.
Resolutions passed at Saturday’s meeting promise that a Green government would:
- set up a registry of political lobbyists;
- require all corporate income and property taxes paid in New Brunswick to be disclosed on a public website;
- establish an online registry showing ownership of all corporations registered in the province;
- publish the contents and value of every government contract, loan or forgivable loan;
- change the political financing law so that only individuals could make political contributions.
Several other resolutions commit the Greens to going after corporate tax evasion and avoidance as well as ensuring that big companies don’t get special exemptions or reductions in their property taxes.
“We have no idea how big it is, but the sense is there’s a significant amount of revenue that’s not coming to the government that should, to help pay for our public services in this province,” Coon said.
“Fundamentally, it’s a question of fairness and I think most New Brunswickers feel the current situation is not fair because those in the corporate sector who have the greatest wealth are not paying their fair share.”
Panel on corporate capture
As part of its weekend get together, the Green Party sponsored a Friday evening panel discussion at Mount Allison University about the “corporate capture” of the New Brunswick government.
Panellist Emma Findlen LeBlanc, who studied “marginalized” forestry workers in northern New Brunswick for 18-months as part of her research for a PhD at Oxford University, compared the province to Syria, where she lived for five years.
Although she said she didn’t want to push the comparison too far, she did notice things in New Brunswick that reminded her of Syria.
“When I first came, I was certainly struck by the sense of fear I saw here,” she said, “fear of speaking openly, fear of challenging the political powers-that-be.”
Findlen LeBlanc added that the economic inequality she saw here also resembled the situation in Syria, as did the media landscape.
“In terms of the lack of free and independent, diverse media, you certainly didn’t see that in Syria and you don’t see much of that in New Brunswick.”
Panellist Erin Steuter also discussed the dominance of Irving-controlled media.
Steuter, a sociology professor at Mount Allison, has studied the Irving media empire extensively. She pointed out that the Irvings use their near-monopoly ownership of daily and community newspapers to promote their corporate agenda or to suppress information about the hundreds of companies they own.
“They’re not going to report on their own businesses in the type of critical way that we would expect from media in a democratic society,” she said, adding that the Irvings are involved in huge sectors of the economy from natural resources to trucking and even french fries.
Steuter said that when the Irving media do report on Irving companies they tend to be good news stories.
“They’ll often publish press releases put forward by the public relations department of their own companies and they’ll just put them in the newspaper as a news story,” she said.
Later, during an interview, she said Irving media influence may start to wane as the Internet continues to provide cheaper ways for journalists to report news, while the Irving papers are stuck behind paywalls that are inaccessible to non-subscribers.
Green Party policies passed before this weekend’s meetings pledge that a Green government would set up a trust fund to help finance independent, not-for-profit or co-operative news media outlets.
Meantime, panellist Kenneth Francis, a prominent member of the Elsipogtog First Nation, mentioned another aspect of corporate capture when he talked about the 25-year forestry deal that gives the Irvings greater control over cutting on Crown lands in New Brunswick.
“We have been trying to stop Irving and trying to get injunctions to stop and question the 25-year deal that has been allowed to continue,” he said during an interview.
“The only way we can be able to stop him is to file for aboriginal title and then claim that they have to leave the forest alone because it’s under question as to who the owner is.”
Earlier, Francis assured the audience that “you should never bring a knife to a gun fight.”
He drew laughter and applause when he said an indigenous court challenge over the ownership of Crown lands amounts to bringing a gun to a gun fight with both the provincial government and the Irvings.
Click to listen to a CHMA-FM campus radio report on the Green Party meetings.