The Conservative MP for New Brunswick Southwest has admitted he was wrong to claim that he was misquoted in a federal government press release dealing with business subsidies.
John Williamson made the claim on Thursday while denouncing what he calls “corporate welfare” — grants, loans and other subsidies going to some of New Brunswick’s most prominent businesses.
When confronted during a live radio interview with a 2011 press release in which he was quoted praising one such subsidy, Williamson claimed he had no role in the announcement.
“I actually did not attend that,” he said, referring to the announcement of a $2-million federal government loan to Ganong Brothers Ltd., of St. Stephen — Williamson’s riding.
In the June 24, 2011 press release, Williamson was quoted saying, ““The federal government’s investment of $2 million in this growth initiative will help Ganong expand its facility, create new jobs here at home, improve its competitiveness and expand the important contribution the company makes to St. Stephen’s economy.”
When Williamson was asked about that quotation attributed to him, he told CBC, “I can’t explain that. I was not there...I don’t think businesses should receive government money.”
After the interview, Williamson promised to check with the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, the federal agency that issued the release, to find out where the quotations came from.
Then on Friday, Williamson said by e-mail, “I spoke in error … I was wrong to say I had not said what was attributed to me in the release."
Another ACOA release circulating
He added, “My position on corporate welfare has been consistent: I prefer lower taxes and fewer government subsidies. Yet, these programs continue to exist and businesses in my riding have the right to access and compete for them.”
The misstep had its roots in a policy paper released by the New Brunswick Business Council, which is made up of the CEOs of some of the province’s biggest and best-known companies, including McCain Foods and Ganong Brothers.
The council says the New Brunswick government needs to cut more spending and bring in more revenue to eliminate a deficit forecast to be $387.3 million this year.
The council is urging the province to raise the Harmonized Sales Tax by two points, which would raise the combined federal-provincial rate to 15 per cent.
Williamson, a former head of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, reacted on Twitter, saying, “New Brunswick Business Council should ask for an end to corporate welfare instead of demanding taxpayers pay a higher consumer tax.”
Elaborating on his comments on CBC’s Information Morning program in Fredericton, he called it “hypocrisy” for business leaders to call for higher taxes while accepting subsidies.
His denial during that interview of any involvement in the 2011 loan announcement led to a torrent of criticism on social media.
One Twitter user tweeted a link to another ACOA press release, this one from January 2014, announcing a $500,000 federal loan to Marwood Ltd. in Tracy. Williamson is visible in an ACOA photograph from that announcement.
“Yes, this I attended,” Williamson responded on Twitter. “Didn’t trumpet the dollars but focused on the trade deal,” referring to a free trade agreement between Canada and the European Union.