Brian Gallant defends travel expenses while announcing new jobs
Premier says Davos trip worthwhile for further discussions with IBM over cybersecurity centre
Wednesday was a good-news, bad-news day for Brian Gallant, with the premier coming under attack for his travel expenses in the morning, then unveiling 100 new jobs for the province in the afternoon.
Gallant tried to turn the IBM jobs announcement to his political advantage, suggesting to opposition MLAs that it helped justify his controversial trip to Davos, Switzerland earlier this year.
But the premier acknowledged the IBM jobs were already in the works months before he travelled to Europe for the World Economic Forum.
"It was already a possibility for sure," Gallant told reporters after the IBM announcement. "But as you know, we have to reach out to businesses that already have operations here in New Brunswick. We have to make sure that we further develop any potential opportunities."
IBM will add the 100 cybersecurity jobs to its existing Fredericton research and call centre over the next three years. The jobs will pay $75,000 a year.
Hours before Wednesday's announcement, Gallant was dropping hints about it as he came under attack in the legislature.
The premier was appearing before a committee studying the 2016-17 budget estimates for his office.
But Progressive Conservative MLA Brian Macdonald used the occasion to question some of Gallant's travel expenses from the last year, including a $12,000 "networking reception" held in Montreal.
Davos trip criticized
He also criticized Gallant's time in Davos in January, a trip that coincided with the announcement that PotashCorp would close its mine near Sussex and throw more than 400 people out of work.
"How do we measure the success of his expensive tour?" Macdonald asked.
The World Economic Forum in Davos is an annual gathering of the global political, business, and cultural elite. Gallant attended because he was selected by the forum to be one of the "Young Global Leaders" at the event.
Gallant said the trip to Davos cost $5,900, minus a commercial airline credit the province received after he hitched a ride back to Canada on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government plane.
And, he said, the trip would lead to benefits for the province as a result of the meetings he held there with "very high-up senior officials" in global companies, including IBM chief innovation officer Bernie Meyerson.
At the IBM announcement, however, Opportunities New Brunswick CEO Stephen Lund revealed that Gallant got the ball rolling on the IBM jobs during a meeting with IBM Canada president Dino Trevisani six months ago, long before the premier's trip to Davos.
Gallant told reporters that the Davos meeting with Meyerson was still important. "He gave me great advice on how to move forward with IBM, how to further develop the cluster we already have here in New Brunswick, and how we can leverage what else IBM wants to do."
$12,000 subsidy defended
Gallant also defended the $12,000-per-job subsidy.
"When we are working with international businesses like IBM, we are competing with not just other provinces in Canada," he said. "We're competing with all the states in the U.S. and all the countries around the world.
"IBM has 400 thousand employees across the world. They have choice. So we have to do the best we can to present why they should be investing and growing in New Brunswick."
"There's competition around the world to set up these centres, and when we can collaborate with government and with higher education to set up something like this, it comes into play," he said.
Drury said IBM's 2011 buyout of Q1 Labs, a cybersecurity company set up in partnership with the University of New Brunswick, also led to the Fredericton deal.
UNB president Eddy Campbell said during Wednesday's announcement that the global cybersecurity business is facing a shortage of a million skilled employees.
But Drury said he isn't worried about being able to recruit workers.
"When you're the biggest player globally and you've got a high growth rate and you're a tier one provider of security services, that attracts the talent."
He couldn't say how many of the 100 employees will be hired locally and how many will be recruited from outside the province.