For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. [Matthew 25:29]
A shorter, more polished version of this article was published in the Eastern Graphic and Guardian papers as a Guest Opinion It was subsequently brought to my attention that the Guardian had removed the article from its online site – for reasons I’m not privy to – as well as from its archives. Although you can still find this article in a google search, when you click on those search results, it indicates that the page cannot be located. I’ve uploaded an “image” of the article to my website, which you can access by clicking here.
On September 11, Wade MacLauchlan appointed Neil Stewart Deputy Minister of Finance, which pretty much proves the maxim “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Why was this an extremely bad decision?
When the previous Auditor General, Colin Younker, investigated the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) back in 2009, he reported that Neil Stewart – who was the Executive Director of Island Investment Development Inc. (IIDI) and running the PNP at the time – made a number of changes to the Program without the approval of the IIDI Board. As Younker noted: “A review of the minutes of the meetings of the Board of Directors confirmed that Program changes, policies, and approvals were not discussed or approved at the Board level.” Younker later told members of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts that, “In some cases Neil might make the change. Sometimes instruction might come from the Deputy.” And the Deputy at the time (Neil’s boss) was Brooke MacMillan.
One such change was to allow “bed and breakfast” businesses to access PNP funds. Brooke MacMillan happened to own a bed and breakfast, so immediately after the rule was changed he applied for (and got) PNP money. Brooke eventually had to repay that money, as well as the PNP money his wife received.
As the person responsible for running the PNP, Neil should never have allowed Brooke to use the program for personal gain – he should have confronted his boss and explained that he couldn’t turn a blind eye to unethical dealings, or at least he should have informed the IIDI board members what was going on…he did neither. And rather than suffer any negative consequences for his complicit actions, Neil was shortly thereafter promoted to CEO of IIDI and became Chair of the IIDI Board.
Fast forward to 2011. Michael Mayne had replaced Brooke as Deputy Minister of the Department of Innovation and was now Neil’s new boss. When the e-gaming file became public, it was learned that Neil was one of three senior government officials who had signed off on an extremely problematic $950,000 loan to the Mi’kmaq Confederacy of P.E.I. – Michael Mayne and Doug Clow (an IIDI board member at the time) were the other two individuals. The Minister of the Department at the time – Hon. Alan Roach – claims he was never informed about the loan by Neil or anyone else, nor was the loan approved by Treasury Board.
With virtually no security for the loan (the entire amount was “written off” just last year) it’s now clear to anyone with a grade 4 education and a calculator that the loan should never have been approved in the first place. It was a foolhardy endeavour and negligent waste of nearly a million dollars of taxpayer’s money. When the details of this loan became known to opposition members, Progressive Conservative MLAs and Green Leader Peter Bevan-Baker unanimously called for Neil to be either “reprimanded or suspended.” But rather than dish out any disciplinary action, Wade has, for reasons which are baffling to say the least, promoted Neil to what is perhaps the most powerful and important job in government, totally ignoring his previous dubious financial dealings and blunders, and giving him a great deal more control of our money with a master key to PEI’s public purse.
When Premier MacLauchlan came into power he almost immediately removed Brooke MacMillan from his position as CEO of the PEI Liquor Control Commission while simultaneously appointing an “Ethics Commissioner,” saying:
“It is in the public interest to maintain and strengthen public confidence that the work of the government is being conducted with integrity and to the highest ethical standards.”
“Strengthen public confidence”…..bingo! Those were exactly the words Islanders needed to hear from a new Premier promising to govern differently, especially after eight consecutive years of corruption and cronyism from Ghiz.
Unfortunately, making Neil Stewart the Deputy Minister of Finance renders Wade’s words promising “integrity” and the “highest ethical standards” as empty and dark as the arse-end of a giant black hole.