When the Federal government makes a major investment in PEI 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 MacLauchlan attended this event, appearing proudly beside the federal Minister of Agriculture, Hon. Lawrence MacAulay, in a photo accompanying the news story ( Journal-Pioneer, 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 $600,000.00 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 February 27, Cabinet approved a loan for $4,000,000.00 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 Hon. 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 3rd, 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 fourteen million dollars 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.
SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION ON PEI GOVERNMENT LOAN PROGRAM
Since publishing the above Guest Opinion, I have received a number of inquiries asking various questions about the PEI government lending program. Here is some additional information
Each year the government either “cancels”” or “writes-off” some bad loans for a clarification of the technical distinction see a Guest Opinion I published in the Guardian in 2015 titled, Lending Must Be Transparent] .
Over 18 million was written off in the 2016-17 fiscal year according to the Auditor General’s report released March 4, 2018. Her report only provides information on the amounts for the loans from each lending agency or department [See Here].
Changes to the Financial Administration Act in October 2016 now require the government to also disclose the names of the individuals or companies for which loans were either written-off or cancelled. When the Act was first amended in 2016, a news release from the Department of Finance disclosing the loans written off and/or cancelled for 25 entities as a one-off [See attached]….from then on, that information is only reported in Orders in Council on a case-by-case basis. My review of those Orders in Council confirm that only three loans were written off during the 2017-2018 fiscal year…here is the information on those
Cancellations of debt pursuant to subsection 26(1) of the Financial Administration Act
Lender: Finance PEI
North Lake Fish Co-Operative Limited
Lender: PEI Century 2000 Fund Inc.
Maritime Pulse Drying
Write-off of debt pursuant to subsection 26.1(1) of the Financial Administration Act
Lender: Finance PEI
One Debtor under $25,000*
Note – Pursuant to sub-section 26.2(3)(d) of the Financial Administration Act, disclosure of the identity of borrowers, where debt does not exceed $25,000, is exempt.
What must also be realized is that it is possible that the government simply continues to carry “bad debts” on the books and never formally writes them off or cancels them.
As well, to my knowledge, there is no way to know if those receiving loans are in good standing with their payments, or to know what the particular terms and conditions of those loans were (e.g., interest rates, securities, etc.) but I stand to be corrected.
Disclosures under the Financial Administration Act made November 2016