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BOB WAKEHAM: Time to yank off this company’s invisibility cloak

The public has the right to know whether a numbered company that’s dominated political debate has any political ties, Bob Wakeham argues. —
The public has the right to know whether a numbered company that’s dominated political debate has any political ties, columnist Bob Wakeham argues. — 123RF Stock Photo

Now, I don’t know whether the “friend of a friend” expression is appropriate in the mystery that has surrounded what the media has described as the unidentified numbered company that bought up a huge parcel of land in St. John’s and then leased the property almost immediately to a company, Canopy Growth, that stands to make a small fortune in the growing of weed in its production facility there.


And I don’t know, either, whether Ches Crosbie is on a Steve Neary-like fishing expedition as he continues to cast his inquisitive line over the ministerial benches in an attempt to hook a politically advantageous cannabis catch, or whether the Tory leader, in fact, has actual information about links between the Liberals and the owners of the land in question. (For the sake of the younger set, I should note that Neary was a very effective opposition member in the ’70s and ’80s, having been a very mediocre cabinet minister for a while in the Smallwood administration, but could fall prey to the boy-who-cried-wolf syndrome, raising questions that were occasionally based on a rumour he had heard, say, in the elevator on his way to a sitting of the legislature).

But what I do know — and I think I have plenty of company — is that those of us who supply the government with money have every unassailable right to know who owns that land, and whether there are any connections between the proprietor and the Liberal government, whether a friend of a friend in Liberal circles may have been allowed to take advantage of such a relationship.

If not, fine and dandy; get on with the business of producing weed for those who wish to get a buzz now and then, or, for that matter, for those who wish to stay perpetually wrecked. (The latter has more and more appeal if you happen to be in the habit of watching CNN coverage of that Trump train wreck to the south of us).

But this idea that it’s impossible for the government to tell us who owns this lucrative patch of land because it doesn’t have access to that sort of information is laughable and exemplifies the type of “don’t worry, trust us” rationale that has gotten Newfoundland into such a pile of economic manure time and time again, and has gotten politicians in the province in regular doo-doo as well.

And we, and they, never ever seem to learn; we, for being so historically gullible and allowing ourselves to put our faith unequivocally in the governors of this pine clad land, those in a so-called position of trust, and they for being so politically stupid.

Even as the government was using its majority to defeat a resolution the other day that arose out of the questions the Tories have been asking about the Canopy Growth land, we were listening day in and day out to evidence at the Muskrat Falls Inquiry that is certainly giving tons of credence to the notion that absolutely nothing good comes from a government or a Crown corporation feeling it has some sort of inalienable right to do the business of the people in near complete privacy and isolation.

For sure, the cannabis land is obviously not in the category of the $12-billion boondoggle up north, but it’s the same principle: just don’t leave us in the dark, so to speak.

And it’s not as if this is something new. Right from the get-go, right from Smallwood’s dictatorial days, way too many Newfoundlanders have allowed themselves to sit back and adopt an attitude that once they’ve voted a government into power, those elected politicos are to be trusted to always do the right thing, and that it is somehow inappropriate to dare to demand access to all the information required to adjudicate what the power brokers are doing with “our” money.

It’s a profound form of unhealthy subservience.

At least there were howls of protest when the Dunderdale government attempted to place the province’s freedom of information regulations in a category you’d associate with dictatorships, a move (among others) that cost the premier her job.

And perhaps I’m a naive idealist, but I’ve never swallowed this idea that governments are required to do so much of their business in secrecy because the financial markets would be swayed or that companies conducting affairs with the province would be reluctant to do so if there was significant information provided to the public.

It’s just such a convenient argument to make when governments (of all stripes) wish to keep their actions under wraps.

Again, I don’t know whether there’s something unethical or nefarious occurring in this cannabis land transaction, but we, the unwashed, should have all the information we need to make that assessment.

That such information is somehow unavailable is not nearly good enough.

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Bob Wakeham has spent more than 40 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at bwakeham@nl.rogers.com

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