I would like to respond to a recent letter by Ted Lewis, in which he attacks MHA Jim Bennett and me for questioning government’s $10-million handout to his company (“Liberals aren’t helping rural Newfoundland: they’re hurting it,” Sept. 8. First of all, I’d like to say that my comments on this issue are in no way a criticism of the employees, loggers or the people of the Northern Peninsula, who depend on the forest industry.
Contrary to Mr. Lewis’ claim that I presented misleading information, I have merely reiterated what the minister of Natural Resources stated in the House of Assembly on May 15: that the company is having problems finding and getting their product to markets.
Since this is a fact stated by the minister, isn’t it fair to question why the government would provide $10 million to a venture when the business plan is so weak that markets have not yet been identified?
Surely, one would assume that government completed due diligence to assure the availability of markets before handing over $10 million. Unfortunately, it appears this was not the case.
As the opposition forestry critic, it is incumbent on me to hold the government accountable.
When Premier Kathy Dunderdale, during her time as minister of Natural Resources, announced her decision to give $10 million in public money to this company, she claimed that 200-300 people would be employed.
To date, there have been no jobs operating out of the plant, and now we hear that there are problems with markets and the transportation of product to markets.
Mr. Lewis implied that it’s not fair
for me to criticize a rural Newfoundland company, but when a company receives $10 million of public money, it becomes a public issue. Also, I’d like to remind Mr. Lewis that I represent a rural district and believe in the economic development of our rural regions, but government investments must be accountable to the taxpayers of the province.
It is disingenuous of Mr. Lewis to claim that by going public with my concerns, I’m shaking the confidence of investors. Before going public, I contacted Mr. Lewis’ office and spoke to him on two occasions. He said that he’d call me back, but I never heard from him.
Also, the Loggers Association and I have repeatedly requested a meeting with the minister of Natural Resources and the premier, but this has been refused as well. So for Mr. Lewis to claim that I am not working constructively is factually incorrect.
The plant in Roddickton was to provide much needed employment in the forest industry in the region, and I wish Mr. Lewis’ business success.
However, when $10 million of taxpayer money is handed over without due diligence, it has to be questioned and the government must be held accountable.
I do not make any apologies for asking questions on behalf of the public on how their money is spent.
Eddie Joyce, MHA
Bay of Islands