Political Scandals: Premier Peckford's pickle palace
Pepper spray, tainted tuna and miracle cucumbers have all played their part in Canada’s long tradition of political misconduct. Be it lack of judgement or for personal gain, politicians misbehave. They get caught. The public is outraged. Then all is pretty much forgotten. And the cycle starts again. From John A. Macdonald and the Pacific railway fiasco to the sponsorship affair, CBC Archives looks back at some of the biggest scandals, boondoggles and white elephants in Canadian politics.
Construction took longer than expected. Then cucumbers from outside Newfoundland flooded the market so greenhouse operator Philip Sprung had to sell his scientific marvels for half the cost of production. He still can't sell all the cucumbers, so cows are munching the surplus. The fate of the enterprise in Mount Pearl looks grim, but Peckford is standing firm in the face of naysayers. "There'll be cucumbers over all kinds of people's faces," he declares.
• A total of about 800,000 cucumbers were produced. The cost to taxpayers per cucumber was $27.50, compared to 50 cents for cucumbers produced out of province and sold in Newfoundland grocery stores.
• The project really started to fall apart in January 1989 when Charles Power, the agriculture minister responsible for the greenhouse, resigned from Conservative Premier Brian Peckford's cabinet. He called the project "off the rails" and "out of control."
• Five months after this clip aired, all the plants in the greenhouse mysteriously died. Sprung claimed sabotage and offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the saboteur's arrest. But Power called the sabotage story nonsense.
• The hydroponic greenhouse project has become a symbol of foolish government spending. In 2001, Globe and Mail columnist Heather Mallick wrote: "As scams to rake in government money went, it was the most embarrassing in Canadian history."
• After a decade in office, Peckford announced his retirement from politics in 1989 as the cucumber boondoggle was still unfolding.
• The Liberal government elected in Newfoundland after Peckford's retirement appointed a royal commission to probe the cucumber affair. The resulting report called the investment "an improper expenditure of public funds." Government should leave such enterprises, the report said, to "those who have the required expertise and the appropriate capital."
• The company that bought the bankrupt greenhouse for $1 soon shut it down, complaining that it cost $60,000 a week just to power its huge grow lights. Since then it has hosted a number of enterprises including a driving range.
• Philip Sprung reportedly put $4 million of his own money into the cucumber venture. After it failed, Sprung and his daughter Dawn moved back to Calgary where the family has several businesses.
• Although Newfoundland has endured more than its share of cucumber jokes, every province has had a notorious boondoggle, scandal or white elephant. Some examples:
- British Columbia: a fleet of three Fast Ferries commissioned by Glen Clark's NDP government cost $454 million -- $244 million over budget. Only two of the ferries were put into service and were quickly deemed unusable by the B.C. Ferry Corporation in 2003.
- Alberta: in 1995 an ethics commission ruled that Premier Ralph Klein had displayed "poor judgment," but had not breached ethical guidelines, when he publicly promoted a company in which his wife held shares.
- Manitoba: in the 1995 election, Conservative party officials under Premier Gary Filmon spent party funds bankrolling independent native candidates in hopes of splitting the NDP vote in native-dominated ridings.
- Ontario: Liberal fundraiser Patti Starr went to jail in 1989 for lying to obtain a grant for a charity where she once worked. Starr had previously been fined for making contributions to Liberal candidates from the charity's coffers.
- Quebec: Mirabel airport, which was built in 1975 at a cost of $500 million, is barely used today because airlines claim it is too far from Montreal to be convenient.
- Nova Scotia: Premier John Buchanan's government was plagued by patronage scandals and accusations that he used a secret party fund to pay his debts. Buchanan was never charged and he left office to take a Senate seat in 1990.
- Prince Edward Island: in 1996, the new government of Conservative Premier Pat Binns took seasonal jobs away from Liberals and gave them to Conservatives. The ex-workers were later awarded $750,000 by the province's human rights commission.
Program: The Journal
Broadcast Date: July 25, 1988
Guest(s): Brian Peckford, Philip Sprung
Commentator: Rex Murphy
Host: Bill Cameron
Reporter: Denise Rudnicki
Last updated: February 25, 2013
Page consulted on December 6, 2013
All Clips from this Topic
Solicitor General Francis Fox shocks the nation with his intensely per...
Fox's confession sends a shockwave through Parliament Hill.
Cans of rancid tuna bring down Fisheries Minister John Fraser.
The CBC's Peter Gzowski surveys the effect of the Star-Kist affair on ...
Newfoundland's hydroponic cucumber operation is turning into an expens...
Mike Harcourt's party is accused of stealing money from charities but ...
Cabinet minister Jane Stewart is under fire over $1 billion in questio...
A former government on trial ends with 16 convictions, six jail terms ...
Chrétien's personal reputation is attacked in the controversy dubbed S...
Jean Chrétien and his Liberals get grilled over RCMP handling of APEC ...
The auditor general describes senior civil servants' behavior as "appa...
The government is under fire over the surging cost of Canada's gun reg...
The Lethbridge councillor goes on trial for public mischief.
It's war - between the prime minister and the governor general.
The former Saskatchewan premier says his government wasn't as corrupt ...
An airing of the country's political dirty laundry.
Pepper spray, tainted tuna and miracle cucumbers have all played their...
On just the second day of the APEC Conference in Vancouver, student pr...