BY KEVIN ARSENAULT
When the federal government makes a major investment in P.E.I., there’s always full transparency: a major announcement is made at a well-attended public event, with multiple media interviews reporting all the details.
This happened just a few days ago with the announcement of a $5.4 million federal investment in ADL Dairies Ltd., a company owned by 165 family dairy farms on P.E.I. Premier Wade MacLauchlan attended this event, appearing proudly beside the federal Minister of Agriculture, Lawrence MacAulay, in a photo accompanying the news story (Guardian, April 10, 2018).
It’s an entirely different story when the provincial government approves loans to Island businesses: there’s no public announcement, the information is buried in a few lines in an Order in Council, and details are sketchy.
I suspect most Islanders would be shocked to learn that Premier MacLauchlan and his cabinet approved just five loans to Island businesses so far in 2018, totalling $13, 997,935 and that all that money went to just two well-known Liberal families. Here's the details.
On February 21, cabinet approved a loan for $600,000 to Great George Properties Ltd, owned by Kevin Murphy; and another $2,140,000.00 loan to the Prince Edward Island Brewing Company Ltd., also owned by Kevin Murphy.
On Feb. 27, cabinet approved a loan for $4,000,000 to a numbered company (#102163 P.E.I. Inc.) having a single director and shareholder, Paul William Murphy, Kevin Murphy’s nephew. Although the Order in Council didn’t indicate what this loan was for, apparently it was for the purchase of the Loyalist Inn in Summerside.
On April 3, cabinet approved a $2,007,935 loan to another numbered company (#102154 P.E.I. Inc.), owned by Austin and Ramona Roberts. (Ramona Roberts was the Liberal candidate who lost to Jamie Fox in District 19 Borden-Kinkora) in the last provincial election. This loan was “... to purchase and renovate a vacant property in DeSable along the Trans-Canada Highway.”
On April 3, cabinet approved a loan for $5,250,000 to RWL Holdings Ltd., for a second line at its potato pre-processing and wash facility located at Travellers Rest. The president of RWL Holdings is Austin Roberts, and one of the three shareholders of RWL Holdings is Kinkora Holdings Inc., owned by Austin and Ramona Roberts.
To be clear, I'm in no way calling into question the integrity of either the Murphy or Roberts families; they are clearly shrewd and successful business people. What I am questioning is the vision, strategy and lending policy of the provincial government. Both the Murphys and Roberts families are already well-established businesses, owning or having shares in multiple companies. I believe the provincial government should be doing far more to encourage and support other Islanders to start businesses by offering more and smaller loans.
Just imagine what a program offering $100,000 low-interest loans could do to support well-vetted business proposals (perhaps with a dragons-den style panel of experts hearing pitches) especially in rural P.E.I. The $14 million which the Liberal government just doled out to two families could have potentially launched 140 new businesses.
Islanders are aching for a government with the economic vision and political will to abandon the petty, partisan and preferential policies that perpetually promote both privilege and poverty in our mighty (for some, but not for most) Island.
- Kevin J Arsenault lives in Ft. Augustus and obtained his PhD in ethics from McGill University.