Brian Gallant stands by 6 ministers from Atcon loan fiasco
Premier dismisses Conservative call for Liberals with 'Atcon blood' on hands to resign
Premier Brian Gallant says he won’t ask six of his cabinet ministers to resign for their role in the 2009 Atcon loan-guarantee fiasco.
Gallant says the ministers were all re-elected in 2010 and 2014 despite the public knowing about the Atcon affair costing taxpayers more than $70 million.
The Progressive Conservative opposition took the rare step on Wednesday of calling for the resignations of six ministers, all of them veterans of the Shawn Graham cabinet that approved $63.4 million in loan guarantees to the Atcon group of companies.
The ministers are Victor Boudreau, Donald Arseneault, Rick Doucet, Ed Doherty, Denis Landry and Brian Kenny.
MacDonald said Gallant should also fire two other Graham cabinet veterans, Greg Byrne, his chief of staff, and Hedard Albert, the government house leader who is not a minister but who sits at cabinet.
But Gallant told reporters there’s already been consequences for the Liberals from the Atcon disaster.
"They sent a strong message to the past Liberal government in 2010, a message that was certainly heard, and we saw the results of the 2010 election."
But in brushing off calls for a mass firing of cabinet ministers, Gallant also acknowledged the Atcon decision was a mistake.
Atcon went bankrupt in 2010 and because the Graham cabinet gave up its security over the loan guarantee, taxpayers have recouped less than $400,000 of the $70 million that was lost.
"I think what’s important for us today is to learn from mistakes of the past," Gallant said.
"This file is certainly a mistake. No one’s arguing with that."
MacPherson has also recommended the government clarify one area of disagreement: while she says Victor Boudreau, the minister of Business New Brunswick at the time, broke regulations in releasing the province’s security over the loan guarantees, the government told her he did not.
MacPherson says with legislation to create Opportunities New Brunswick still before the legislature, the government should resolve the difference of opinion in the bill.
Gallant says that’s one thing the government will consider.
MacPherson wrote that her audit "may not all answer all remaining questions the public may have" about Atcon.
She said she was prepared to investigate further but her office would need extra funding.
Gallant says given MacPherson found "no new information" and she said "we have already spent much money and time on this issue … we will not support a forensic audit."
Dire economic situation
For the second straight day, none of the ministers who served in Graham’s cabinet and approved the Atcon loan guarantees would speak to reporters at the legislature.
But Graham’s former chief of staff, Bernard Thériault, told Radio-Canada that while the decision was clearly a mistake, MacPherson should have acknowledged the dire economic situation in Miramichi at the time.
"They’d lost 1,500 jobs," he said. "The only employer that was still standing, just about, was Atcon."
Thériault said the government was "desperately" looking for ways to create and maintain jobs in the area, and wanted to save Atcon if it could.
He said civil servants also recommended against helping the Twin Rivers mill in Edmundston, but the Graham Liberals came to its aid as well — and in that case, the company survived.
Thériault blamed the Bank of Nova Scotia for forcing the government to give up its security on the loan guarantee.
The lost $70 million "didn’t go to Robbie Tozer or Atcon," he said. "It went to the bank."