THE $4.7 MILLION IRVING FIASCO: Truth? Consequences? – Islanders Got Neither…so far

There’s so many scandals on the go with the King Government these days that it would be easy to miss the significance of what transpired in the dying minutes of the afternoon session of the legislature assembly on the very last day of the House sitting, Tuesday, July 14, 2020.

bellI posted a part of  that 5 1/2 minute exchange between Michele Beaton and Minister Compton on Facebook last night, but thanks to my excellent $120 a month “ultra high-speed” internet plan with Bell, I was unfortunately unable to capture a longer clip. The clip I posted was about 1 1/2 minutes and that’s the furthest I could get in about 20 tries before my little spinning circle friend would happen along with his frozen video screen buddy …urrgh BELL!!

I finally gave up and uploaded my longest clip on Facebook with plans to try again once the rest of the Western Hemisphere went to sleep. It was a brilliant plan, if I don’t mind saying so….my download speed soared to a whopping 4 megabytes per second allowing me to stay ahead (barely) of the low-grade video stream (my apologies on behalf of Bell for the poor video quality) that was finally enough to keep that evil blue circle from showing up.

There is important information buried in that exchange. It gives rise to a number of suspicions, and many more questions, all of which together warrants an investigation.  Minister Thompson should obviously not oversee such an investigation, as is the case with the two investigations currently (or soon to be) underway in Minister MacKay’s department both under his control (the PEI Provincial Park wi-fi tender deal; Brad Mix destroyed records third-party investigation).

1  Keep This in Mind About this $4.7 Million Deal

1.  In all previous communications on the $4.7 million deal that happened in the Legislative Assembly between Michael Beaton and Bloyce Thompson, Minister Thompson consistently spoke about how the Potato Board had “stepped up” to solve a series of problems connected to oversupply of processing potatoes.

Back then Minister Thompson stressed that without the $4.7 million, those problems would not have been solved. Never was there any evidence or even any basis/source for that dire forecast. The only logical inference or conclusion is that if what Minister Thompson claimed at the time was true, then Robert Irving must have indicated to somebody at some point that Cavendish Farms would not process those contracted potatoes without that $4.7 million coming from the provincial government.

2.  On May 28, 2020, Michele Beaton asked her first questions to Minister Thompson on the $4.7 million. In response to a question whether Irving was asked to pay back the money, or a portion thereof, if it wasn’t needed. Of course Minister Thompson said that if any portion wasn’t needed it wouldn’t be invoiced and dispersed by the Potato Board, but then went on to suggest that the allocation was entirely justified because, as he put it in the following 13 second clip, it was “quite evident that they (Robert Irving) needed those funds…”  Quite evident? No evidence was provided at all by the Minister, and as it turns out, no evidence existed because they didn’t need any of those funds, which is actually not that surprising when you think about it, since we’re talking about a billionaire here:

3.  Minister Thompson also consistently talked about the agreement with the Potato Board as both a “done deal” and a “great deal.”  When asked about measures to ensure accountability for the taxpayer funds being disbursed to Irving by the Potato Board, Minister Thompson gave assurance that the Potato Board was administering the program and processing the funds on an “as needed” basis (note the present “active” present participle tense he used:

4. The entire backstory  provided by Minister Thompson to justify the Potato Board administering the disbursement of $4.7 million to Robert Irving was the potato apocalypse that he claimed would have ensued without that money. For the Minister, that $4.7 million was the only available solution to a many-tentacled disaster prevented with a plan conceived, executed and administered by the Potato Board:

Mr. Thompson: You [Michele Beaton] and I look at this differently. I look at the 180 potato farmers [sic] that were able to put a crop in the ground. I look at the  investment to prevent an environmental problem, a plant health problem. It ensured the producers got paid and it ensured that the potatoes got processed. Good quality potatoes got processed. That’s the way I look at it… [May 29, 2020]

Minister Thompson elsewhere stated that that $4.7 million also kept 500 Cavendish Farms plant workers from being laid off, saying that by spending $4.7 million, $20 million was saved….all nonsense.

We now know none of what Minister Thompson said was true – the money was never needed. There were no funds to administer. Not a penny was accepted by Robert Irving. None, and that’s a word that deserves repeating here since there was quite a list of them, NONE of the dire predictions made by Minister Thompson came to pass.

MLA Michele Beaton said in the video clip that she was “led to believe”  – and so was everyone else – that there was an agreement in place with the Potato Board; hence, my accusation of deliberate deceit and cover-up. 

Minister Thompson gave every indication that an agreement had been signed with the Potato Board, and that funds had been disbursed to the Potato Board so they could administer the subsequent disbursement to Robert Irving for Potato storage and trucking costs, which he talked about as underway.

A few other things to keep in mind:

  • Minister Thompson was asked to table the agreement with the Potato Board and said he would do so immediately.  He said nothing at the time about there being no agreement in place to table, but left the clear impression that there was an agreement in place at that time that he was going to table.
  • I have been periodically checking to see if Minister Thompson tabled that agreement since that time.  I was therefore not at all surprised to hear Ms. Beaton disclose that an agreement had not been tabled by Friday, June 14. 
  • To the question, “Is there an agreement?” it is clear from the responses (both body language and verbal) of both Minister Compton and her senior accountant from Treasury Board that they were not personally aware of any agreement, Minister Thompson then states there is an agreement at the Potato Board, adding that it was never signed and returned, so, no agreement actually.
  • When Minister Thompson indicated that discussions were happening with the Potato Board exploring the possibility that the $4.7 million would be “repurposed” for seed potato growers, Ms. Beaton then asked about due diligence, steps taken to document that new project, an agreement, etc. and Minister Compton interjected to say that with this COVID-19 pool of money, everything has to be approved by Treasury Board.

Minister of Finance, Hon. Darlene Compton went on to explain that any “re-purposing” of that $4.7 million would need to be approved by Treasury Board.

This raises another important question. If everything has to be approved by Treasury Board,  then presumably the initial $4.7 million would have had to have been approved as well. On what basis (documents) was that approval granted?  Surely it couldn’t be simply that farmers were scared, and Robert Irving was scared!

What’s unclear is whether the “Agreement” that Minister Thompson said he would table (but never did) had to be approved by Treasury Board, or only the authority or permission that such a contract could be drawn up and sent by the Department.

Minister Compton’s assistant had inquired about this money just a few days previous and wasn’t willing to say on the record that there was an agreement, but only that he had confirmed that “discussions” had happened. He actually referred to the “agreement” as one between the Potato Board and Cavendish Farms, but then added the Department to the mix.

Here is the entire exchange:

2.  My FOIPP Request for Potato Board Documents

Minister Thompson several times chortled in disbelief in response to questions from MLA Beaton at the idea that anyone would think he or his government would possibly have anything to hide regarding the $4.7 million gift to Robert Irving that was never opened. I guess we’ll see how sincere that statement was in a couple of weeks when I finally get a response to my FOIPP request on this matter.

I’m especially looking forward to seeing a version of the request proposal that the Potato Board submitted to Government justifying a need for $4.7 million for Robert Irving, which both Minister Thompson and Minister Compton referenced as the basis for the “ask” and the approval. It was also the basis upon which Treasury Board apparently gave the go-ahead to the Department to negotiate and sign an Agreement.

In a previous article titled, “Nice Try, Now Let’s Start Over I provided information about how the APSO coordinator had altered my June 2, 2020 FOIPP request for government records on the $4.7 Million Potato Board Agreement. I had asked for both records “to and from” the Department and the Potato Board, and what they said they were going to search was only “to” the Potato Board.  My original (and then the “fixed”) FOIPP request is for the following:Potato Board FOIPP

On July 10, 2020, I received a letter from the APSO worker indicating that the Department of Agriculture and Land would be taking a 30 day extension, with a new deadline date for a final response letter and copies of responsive records set for August 1st, 2020:

Letter from APSO on Extension

What I’m especially looking forward to getting are the submissions from the Potato Board to the Government – however, I expect someone is likely busy as I write going through them with a giant permanent black ink Sharpie.

SUMMARY

The PEI Government’s attempt to shuffle a $4.7 million gift unto Robert Irving with the Potato Board acting as the carrier pigeon might never have become a public issue at all. That’s how the King Government and Minister Thompson obviously wanted it to happen.

This story started out as a clandestine attempt to sell an obscure line item in a announcement by Minister Thompson related to COVID-19 farmer relief. That may have remained secret but for a pissed-off processing potato farmer who foolishly thought some of that money might have been targeted for him and his losses, then found out it was all for Mr. Irving, then made a phone call. Then I wrote an article.

After I wrote that all indications were that the money was all going to Robert Irving, the District Director of the NFU apparently confirmed that, then wrote a Guest Opinion that stirred up a hornet’s nest of response, both from Robert Irving himself, and from the Potato Board. Neither were at all favourable to the NFU. They made unfounded accusations and insinuations that by raising questions about the $4.7 million dollars going to Irving they were sticking their nose into something they apparently weren’t welcome to even know about let alone comment on “after the fact”.

Ironically, the kumbaya refrain in both Irving’s and the Potato Board’s Guest Opinion articles that followed in the Guardian was all about working together for the betterment of all – despite excluding the NFU from the decision-making process entirely – despite the NFU being one of the only two provincial farm organizations.

I suspected Robert Irving would want nothing to do with that money once it became a public matter of significant concern. That suspicion has apparently proved to have been warranted.

There are lots of unanswered questions remaining about this entire affair, especially with respect to the decision-making and negotiation process, the document trail, starting with why Robert Irving needed the Potato Board -and then Minister Thompson – to convince everyone there was a potato apocalypse coming unless taxpayers ponied up a $4.7 gift for Robert Irving.  Why Mr. Irving couldn’t speak up and answer a few basic questions about what he would or wouldn’t have done if that money hadn’t of come onto the table, or why it ever did. or how it did, would be appreciated.

2 Responses

  1. Wow. That interchange between Ministers really gives me a lot of faith that my tax dollars are being both safeguarded and administered by Government. Talk about the blind leading the deaf with no explanation why the contract (signed or otherwise) was never tabled after 5 weeks. I really question the competence of this Agriculture Minister as his responses border on both dismissive and incoherent.

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