NB election: Provincial candidates quizzed about Irving influence

Local candidates in Memramcook-Tantramar. (L-R) Megan Mitton (Green), Hélène Boudreau (NDP), Bernard LeBlanc (Liberal), Etienne Gaudet (PC)

One of the normally invisible elephants in New Brunswick politics ambled out from behind the curtains Thursday night at Mount Allison University where the four provincial candidates in the Memramcook-Tantramar riding were debating a wide range of issues including access to abortion and support for post-secondary students.

The all-candidates’ debate, sponsored by the Mt. A students’ union, was nearing its end when Jonathan Wood, who is studying philosophy, politics and economics, asked this question from the floor:

“Just wondering, what do the candidates think about the role of the Irvings’ group of companies in both the New Brunswick economy as well as in politics?” Wood asked.

“I don’t know what would happen if we didn’t have the Irvings,” Liberal candidate Bernard LeBlanc, who has represented the riding for the last four years, replied.

He went on to describe the Irvings as “very, very, precious to New Brunswick,” pointing out that their companies employ “over 30 to 35-thousand people.”

“They give good salaries and they’re a company that keeps New Brunswick going,” LeBlanc added. “They’re located across the province and also, they have many stores such as the Big Stop that you see here in Aulac…and it creates a lot of work for people in those areas.”

As for their role in politics, LeBlanc said that the Irvings “decide for themselves what they want to do and how they apply their politics themselves.”

He suggested that as far as government grants go, the Irvings, like other big employers, apply for grants that usually enable them to get work done and that it makes sense for governments to help them “so that they can push further and do some type of work or initiative that they’re required to do.”

Green response

Green Party candidate Megan Mitton, who was the next to speak, paused for thought before giving an answer that generated applause.

“The Irvings, yes they’re a big employer, but I think they shouldn’t get such special treatment and that they do have too much power,” Mitton said.

She called for scrapping the forestry deal struck by the PC government and kept in place by the present Liberal one.

“We also need to stop paying them to spray glyphosate on our province,” Mitton said. “It’s really damaging our habitats and as I’ve been going door to door, especially in more rural areas, folks are talking about how the habitats have (been) wrecked, they don’t even hear songbirds.”

The Green candidate also said the province needs to stop clearcutting and look out for the interests of private woodlot owners.

Mitton was greeted with more applause when she mentioned the Green Party platform plank that calls for legislating a 40 per cent cap on the concentration of print media ownership.

“We need to make sure there’s not a monopoly on our media because this is a really major threat to our democracy,” Mitton said adding, “and while we’re at it, let’s increase the royalties on our natural resources like our forestry products.”

PC ‘echo’

“I’ll echo some of the comments Bernard (LeBlanc) made about the Irving group of companies and the people behind them, the Irving family,” said PC candidate Etienne Gaudet.

“They are a success story here in New Brunswick, admired throughout the world for what they have been able to accomplish,” he added.

“Again, as Bernard stated, they employ many, many thousands of people,” Gaudet said.

“These people pay taxes, it keeps our communities and our economy going, so they (the Irvings) need to be applauded for what they, over the last 70, 80 years, what they’ve accomplished,” Gaudet said, adding, however, that a PC government would review and update the Crown Lands and Forestry Act of 1982.

“That will address many of the concerns that have been raised here and other places about how our forests are managed,” the PC candidate said. “We’re very proud that we will have the courage to open that Act after 35 years,” he concluded.

 ‘Monopoly on everything’

“Of course New Brunswickers appreciate that they (the Irvings) have created jobs,” said NDP candidate Hélène Boudreau. “I don’t think [New Brunswickers] appreciate that they have a monopoly on everything,” she added.

Boudreau pointed out that K.C. Irving started out in oil, then diversified his holdings to create a business empire.

She suggested that governments in western Canada were willing to step in when Asians were buying up too much property, but doubted whether Liberal or Conservative governments here would have the audacity to rein in the Irving monopolies which, she said, are not good for New Brunswickers.

“It limits us in our innovation; it limits us (in) creation of new jobs and to diversify,” Boudreau added. “The only thing we’ve done in the past 10 years, that we can kind of say, is that we’ve been the hub of call centres.”

She promised that if she’s elected to the legislature, she would speak up to get a discussion going about the economic clout of the Irvings.

Dependence on big corporations

Mt. A politics student Jonathan Wood asked the candidates about the Irvings’ economic and political influence

After the debate, politics student Jonathan Woods said he wasn’t surprised by how the candidates answered his question about Irving economic and political influence.

“I kind of predicted it would happen that both the Conservatives and the Liberals would take a very similar line on ‘oh, you know, Irvings are great, it’s OK that they have a monopoly on everything.'”

He added it was interesting that both parties downplayed the Irvings’ political influence.

He also said it was good to see that the other parties, and especially the Greens, were willing to stand up to the Irvings.

Wood said big corporations have a lot of influence with governments which beg for corporate investments to make the economy run and to keep voters happy and in return, they give the corporations government subsidies and low taxes.

“That’s just the status quo for so many political situations in Canada and the United States, in Europe and a lot of countries right now, and we should be thinking of ways to get out of that rather than be dependent on a single, rich family for running the economy,” Wood added.

Note: In 2017, Bruce Livesay made history by becoming the first online-only journalist to win a National Newspaper Award. Livesay, who writes for the online National Observer, won in the business category for his 2016 series on Irving influence in New Brunswick.

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15 Responses to NB election: Provincial candidates quizzed about Irving influence

  1. tuxemal says:

    After seeing the anti big business push by both Mr.Wood and the Green Party Candidate I would like to share this Dragons Den segment with you.
    Here is a group of young entrepreneurs who lost their business investment from private business investors due to what appears to be an academics way of thinking.
    The professor whom they trusted to provide them with economic understanding turned on the private big business investors which caused the private business investors to pull there $200,000.
    I wonder if young entrepreneurs next step was to turn to taxpayer funded grants to help them further their business idea?
    This leads me to question how Mr. Wood and Ms. Mitton would pull apart big business in our province to supposedly reduce capitalism to a potential state run business approach?

  2. marilyn lerch says:

    The debate last night was the total opposite of that farce that took place in Fredericton. Is it any wonder that people are willing to entertain change away from the Liberals and Conservatives in this province and that the Green Party in our riding is winning people over day by day. We need governing parties, not ruling parties. This is a very important election and my hope is that people take it that way. We live in a time when either we change or suffer the catastrophic consequences. marilyn lerch, sackville

  3. Gervais Warren says:

    The dead hand of the Irving monopoly- they have worked over the years with the two traditional parties to create a very unlevel playing field that discourages competition and innovation. Businesses are leary of moving here as they know Irving controls most things. Sure they pay good wages but I seem to remember a bit of a discussion about how much tax their companies pay. As my late father-in-law used to say ‘the Irving’s have never lost an NB election yet.’

  4. Jim Throop says:

    Hmmm now wasn’t it awful big business paid 30,000,000 to the Wallace McCain student centre ? NOT !

    • tuxemal says:

      Very good point Jim. Let’s not forget as well that the Green candidate currently a town councilor who is against big business in favor of small business voted against allowing a local small business to expand its operations with a drive-thru.
      As well the Green candidate voted to pay a big business engineering firm another $105,000 of taxpayers money to fix a problem the firm created when it did the job wrong the first time.
      So much for supporting small business over big business and making sure big business doesn’t get all the money.

      • marilyn lerch says:

        Irving conglomerates always hand out $ and get tax breaks. Ask Saint John what they could do if Irvings would pay their share of taxes. The big picture in this provincial election is this: neither the PC nor the Liberals have put forth any vision for even beginning to think about climate change. Nada! Fortunately local governments including Sackville’s are taking the catastrophe we are IN seriously and the Green Party candidate has been in the forefront of helping do so. My point being that local governments in some cases are far ahead of the provincial rulers and if we can begin to send local representatives such as Megan Mitton to the legislature, then a more sensible vision and action can begin. If David Suzuki had come here to support the Liberals, or (no chance) the PC, my, wouldn’t we have heard how wonderful that was. Of course, his integrity brings him here
        to support the Green Candidate. marilyn lerch

        Note from Bruce Wark: The Greens have announced that David Suzuki, the well-known CBC science broadcaster and environmentalist, is coming to Sackville on Friday, September 21 to support Megan Mitton. Suzuki will be appearing in the R.P. Bell Library at Mount Allison University from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

      • Louis says:

        I’m with you on this one tuxemal. I see lots of words that sound nice from the Green candidate, but to me, her actions as you describe them above on Town Council speak much louder than words and that’s what people really should look to, as opposed to what they hear.

        Someone might want to ask her how much Council spent in court fighting to punish me for my testimony and to hide the $47,000 Lordon Report. Granted, it all started before she was elected, but she would have been aware of the issue going in, and was a part of
        the new Council that chose to continue the fight. But never mind that. Just ask her what the amount spent was, and see if she answers. If she does, I’d have a much higher opinion. If she doesn’t, ask yourself why we don’t have a right to know. Here’s a hint: it’ll
        be much more than the $105,000 spent on the engineers. (My guess is that you’ll probably get an answer along the lines of how that can’t be disclosed. But ask yourself WHY that is the case, and “According to whom?”. Do report back if you can!

        To me, true openness in government is worth a lot more than the specific positions especially when coming from a party that clearly won’t get a majority. I’d happily vote for a candidate that won’t be a part of the governing party, even if I totally disagree with their
        platforms, if I knew that they’d “spill the beans” on what’s going on for the common benefit. But I don’t see that happening here. And that’s the real use of “third party” types when they get elected.

  5. Rima Azar says:

    I took the time to read this article, all the comments (+ video from Tuxemal), and watched to the video about the debate posted on the MASU FB page (thanks for making it public). Excellent job MASU (+ Yana), Dr. Lévesque (moderator), all our candidates, and the audience and students’ questions, including the good one reported here on the Irvings role in the Economy and the politics.

    This being said, I think all the candidates are right in their reply to this question. The reality lies somewhere in between or in all these answers, including the one by Ms. Mitton as well as the comments by Jim Throop and Tuxemal about philanthropy (we can see the latter here indeed. We can see it on the UNB Saint John campus too—I like their nice library– or in parcs such as in Bouctouche, etc). How do we get rid of the monopoly without shooting our economy in the foot (or head!)? For me, this is the question. The Irvings’ success is also ours (NB and Canadian economy). We can perhaps get rid of their monopoly not by trying to reduce the Irving group but rather by encouraging economic competition in our province (more entrepreneurs!). For instance, we can perhaps take concrete and serious measures (policies, incentives, etc.) to support new small and medium entrepreneurs. In other terms, we get rid of this monopoly by opening our market for competition (in all sectors, including the media).

    Ms. Mitton said in the debate that the monopoly on media is not good for the democracy. True! However, we should also be careful not to replace it one day with another monopoly. Related to this, I feel like adding let’s not self-impose a sort of monopoly on our personal preference of media (i.e., reading one source of information only; boycotting other sources because we do not agree with them, etc.)… That could harm our critical sense. We can become brainwashed without realizing it at first.

    Now, this being said, it is fun to see Marlyn Lerch’s passion in her comment 😊. My only question is about Mr. Bruce Wark’s reply to her concerning the visit of Dr. David Suzuki to Sackville. Why is he visiting the university campus (library) to support Ms. Mitton? Why isn’t he appearing in another public location in town that would bring some business to our local entrepreneurs? For instance, Ms. Boudreau is having a public pizza-chat event at Goya’s pizza this Sunday, I believe (I read a poster about it in my building at work). I find this a great idea for local economy.

    Mind you, I wrote the above comment and I still do not know for whom to vote… or not to vote. I am enjoying educating myself about the candidates and their party’s platform. I am just very careful before elections, in general. I find that words can be empty (as they are cheap). I prefer actions. Concrete actions (our past actions can speak volumes….but we can always re-invent ourselves). Of course, the ideal scenario is when words match actions. To conclude my comment, all our candidates are doing well so far, I find. Best wishes to all.

    • tuxemal says:

      Very well said Rima. A balanced approach is so important and one persons perspective, view or beliefs really is no more important then anyone else’s.
      My fear is that when one perspective becomes entrenched it brings about rebellion. I see what has happen with the election of Trump and the recent election of Rob Ford in Ontario.
      Good people obviously felt cornered, felt there was no balance and one perspective was outweighing that of others. They looked for balance but only saw one way or the other. They chose to be defiant to show that they had have enough. They ended up getting more then they bargained for and are now looking to find balance again.
      I’m concerned for Sackville and it’s lack of balance. How one perspective has become what people see when they look at Sackville.
      We WERE a community of both blue collar, white collar and academia. We always didn’t see eye to eye but respected each other.
      Families flourished, contributed to community and helped each other.
      I was born and raised here. Lived some years away but was happy to return.
      Raised a child here, volunteered my time, gave back in other ways however I no longer feel I’m a part of this town that has been home for generations to my mothers family, family who were both blue collar and white collar and respected academia and what it provided us as a small community.
      My feeling of not belonging centers on there being no balance.. Although Ms Lerch feels our local governments approach is showing leadership to other levels of government I believe it is creating division.
      I have actually considered moving away from Sackville a place that is near and dear to me.
      I look just across the border in Amherst and I see balance. I see what Sackville use to be and where I commuted there for years to work it made sense.
      As my working years draw to a close ( I hope lol) I sometime wonder if my needs as a person would be better served in Amherst then in Sackville.
      Food for thought, I only hope that Sackville soon returns to balance before a rebellion takes place. However my fear is it will not happen in my lifetime.

      • Rima Azar says:

        Dear Tuxemal (or tuxemal?):

        I am very moved by your note. Thank you for sharing. Thank you for your kind words too and your trust. I am happy you have shared it through the New Wark Times; not only with me but generously with all of us. Food for thought for sure… at least for me.

        Here (as always), I would like to thank Mr. Bruce Wark for uniting us on this platform and for allowing us to have our own voices (each one of us). I totally agree with you… As you wrote: “one persons perspective, view or beliefs really is no more important then anyone else’s”. Indeed, no one should think they have monopoly on the truth. We surely all have a part of our own truth, if you see what I mean (although Marika’s comment may be too raw or many would be allergic to it around here, it has some truth in it too whether we like it or not). Monopoly of ideas is indeed scary; any idea pushed to the extreme, without room for any discussion, can lose track of reality; it can become an ideology. It can become absurd. It can suffocate too. I am not talking politics or science or business here. I am just trying to talk about what I think may be common sense.

        I also think what you are describing is also reflected in Azi’s comment. In dictatorships, we literally kill those moderate dissident voices. I agree with you: In the United States and elsewhere, people have felt left out of the beautiful yet empty *blahblahblah* (talks without walks, etc.) of their leaders or candidates, etc. People want jobs. People want to eat and live in dignity. Period. It is the same everywhere. When you are in the Middle East, you also add *in peace* to the list above. Yes, this is probably how they got (and we got with them) Mr. Trump. I wrote this, recognizing that half of the voters chose him. I guess for some, he is their hero. I may be wrong but I heard somewhere that some parts of the United States are on the way of becoming prosperous again (after extreme poverty and lack of jobs). If that is the case, I am happy for these people. I just hope that we (in Sackville, in the Maritimes especially, and in every corner of our beautiful Canada) will be/remain/become more and more prosperous!

        This being said, to come back to your comment, I am afraid like you that we are not immune to this phenomenon that we are seeing worldwide that you talked about— extremism can breed extremism, sadly (especially when the moderate voices remain silent). Even if we think we have a truth of some sort, let’s not take ourselves too seriously. Perhaps it comes down to that—as simple as that. Perhaps then tolerance becomes easier.

        Just to make you smile whilst trying to explain what I mean here, I do not mind sharing a personal and silly story— my spouse and I are of different faith, so to speak, or from a different background that supposedly should be hating each other… Well, when we started dating 16 years ago, I took a paper, divided it in two halves, and I wrote down what we have in common VERSUS our differences to kind of predict our chances together (my own unscientific science, if you wish 😊)—well, I admit that I perhaps cheated then by writing in the column of common points as # 1: *Human beings* (I meant: We are both human beings; so one extra point in the good column).

        I would like to use this stupid example above to say that it would be so constructive maybe if we can focus on what unites us whilst embracing our different views. Perhaps what unite us here is being simply *Sackville citizens who love our town/province*. It would matter less then if some of brains are totally coloured in one sort of painting only—regardless of that colour—or not. It become secondary to the *common love* sort to speak… or this love will serve to bring people together again and again (even when their perspectives diverge). I may be too romantic here, you may say but I do think this is what may be keeping Lebanon in peace, as we speak (despite its deep issues).

        From the bottom of my heart, I hope that we will be lucky to keep having you here in your *OWN* Sackville…. I say this, despite my love for Amherst. Wherever you will decide to reside and whomever you are, Tuxemal… I wish you all the best! I also wish to keep *hearing* your voice on the Warktimes and in other online platforms or… in real life 😊.

      • Louis says:

        The problem is that good people *are* cornered, exactly as you describe.

        There’s no knowledge of “how the other half” lives. By way of example, I hear people in academia going on at length about (real? perceived? it hardly matters) “discrimination” in their environment, against women/minorities/etc. Unbelievable “efforts” are made to find ways to justify “victim status”. But…

        If this discrimination existed AS STATED in their environment (which I’m not willing to concede, but just to make the point), it absolutely pales in comparison to:

        (a) The massive gap between full-time tenure-track people and others in the academic environment; and
        (b) The massive socio-economic gap between the “cognitive elites” at the university and the “regular people” in town.

        Those are the real gaps, and nobody talks much about them. They dwarf, by orders of magnitude, what gets all the discussion time. They exist in two separate worlds and the lack of awareness of the “other half” is truly shocking. Or, put another way, it’s the difference between having (a) organic oranges, (b) “regular” oranges, or (c) no oranges at all. (a) and (b) are, at that point, so similar as to be indistinguishable in comparison to (c).

  6. Marika says:

    I must say, I think that NB has a problem with the Irvings controlling too much of the economy and essentially being self-perpetuating as a result. It leads to broader rot, in that the resulting influence ends up being against overall growth (which raises wages, etc). It’s not that I have a problem with the Irvings being successful, or with the Irvings being rich – far from it: I wish them all the best. I’d just like it better if they were a bit bigger elsewhere, and a bit smaller as a part of the NB economy, which would limit the distortion effect. It’s best to have multiple competing economic interest groups.

    What I have a problem with is a situation where *any* group becomes of such influence that they “never lose an election”. The same way that it was a good idea in the USA to do the “anti-trust” thing to break up Standard Oil, we may have a somewhat similar situation in NB. Not that as harsh a remedy is required – minor adjustments, such as legislation avoiding more than (say) 70-80% of any public resource being “farmed out” to the same group, and similar restrictions, would probably be sufficient to ensure that there’s enough competition to “keep them honest”. That would be my goal. I have no desire to do them any damage, only to avoid their dominance doing damage to others.

    Now, what does bother me a LOT more is the monopoly of IDEAS that is so common in “proper society”. The Green Party’s “ideas”, the CBC, Suzuki, and the whole rest of that left-liberal PC’ish lot have a much bigger monopoly over the BRAINS of some segments of the population (especially the university-affiliated in any manner) than the Irvings have over the economy of NB. To me, while both are worrisome, the monopoly of IDEAS is of much greater consequence. For example, it’s NOT a given that “global warming” is such a concern. Human-generated climate change, if it’s even controllable, may be insignificant in comparison to naturally-occurring climate change. There *is* another side to these issues. Pipelines aren’t bad: they’d allow for Alberta oil to flow east, lowering dependence on U.S. export markets (i.e., producing higher prices for Alberta oil), while lowering the East’s dependence on imported oil. They’re also safer than shipping oil by train. Ask the people of Lac Megantic which they’d rather have. There are natives out there that WELCOME pipelines, for the jobs that they bring. But you’ll never see those natives on the CBC… And so on.

    That such questions aren’t debated shows the degree of monopoly of IDEAS that the left forces onto society. I’ll take the Irvings, warts and all, over THAT any day. Much less scary.

  7. Azi says:

    If only people read and paid attention to history so many mistakes would not happen again and again in history. In fact history would not repeat itself. Many countries in the world tried to “change” things just because they were not happy or satisfied with the present. But look at the results of their “change”. Most are in worst condition than before.
    I learned what always matters is what people do ..what they did in practice ..not said ..specially what they said to attract voters…
    indeed actions speak way too loud …
    In my experience also, the fact that a well known person supports somebody or more so a group doesnot mean anything if you are looking to change things for better.

  8. Tony Seed says:

    Much needed murmurs in the echo chamber, er Potemkin Village.

    • Rima Azar says:

      Nice to *hear* your voice, Louis. I totally agree with a and b. What can be possible solutions?!

      I happen to also agree on the acute victimization trend in our society….of people/groups/categories. I find this dangerous… despite any noble intention behind this trend as it can defeat the purpose of fairness that is being claimed to be defending. I personally prefer the word *empowerment* to *victim*. Let’s also not forget that an attitude of a victim can breed malignant power or narcissism sometimes even by real victims (I have seen it elsewhere on this planet; we can also see it sadly in families with history of abuses… ).

      I worry about younger generations (including women)… I say this because I am an older one. I can discern things (at least, I hope or ask for help if I cannot); I can decide to refuse to be considered a victim because I am a woman OR an immigrant of some sort or whatever I happen to be or not to be (through the lens society sees me with). I hope people will keep their critical sense and their openness to other perspectives. We can do this even when we are passionate. It is not because we do not agree that we should be called traitor of some sort (racist, sexist, islamophobic, etc.— the list is too long to remember 🙂 or just stupid. There are inter-individual differences within groups also in statistics/science. Let’s not forget about that. Of course, I say this whilst being against racism, sexism, islamphobia, homophobia,etc. (P.S: I am not saying this to be politically correct or just polite).

      I feel like adding: What is this? A sort of competition of suffering? To give a concrete personal example to highlight this point… I can say oh poor me I went through adversity of this or that (who hasn’t or who wouldn’t in a lifetime?)… so I am a victim then. No, I am not, sorry. I prefer to accept things I cannot change in my life or to take responsibility for whatever I can change when things come up (sometimes adjusting one’s attitude is all what it takes to face a personal crisis such as a diagnosis of cancer or personal silent losses such as lost dreams… or whatever else in someone’s life, etc.).

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