N.B. Liberals accuse Alward of flip-flopping on proposed Atcon bailout
The Liberal government is accusing Opposition Leader David Alward of flip-flopping on a potential financial aid package for the Miramichi-based Atcon Group.
Acting Business New Brunswick Minister Jack Keir indicated recently that the government could announce a bailout deal, which has been rumoured to be worth as much as $50 million, for the construction company later this week.
When Alward started raising questions about the possible deal on Tuesday, several Liberal cabinet ministers, including Premier Shawn Graham, pounced and reminded him of what they believe are contradictory comments by the Tory leader on help for Atcon.
Keir accused Alward of "flipping and flopping more than a cheap pair of beach slippers."
Graham accused him of being unable to take a controversial position.
"On the day the Conservative leader was given the opportunity to lead his party, he said to the public that he was scared to death. What is evident today is that he is scared to take a position and stick to it," Graham said.
"What is unclear today is where the members of the Tory party stand. One week they are against it, last week they were for it, and today they are against it," Graham added.
Atcon has created 78 of the 150 jobs it promised last summer when it received a $13-million loan guarantee from the province to help the company work on a $135-million bridge project in the Northwest Territories.
Alward defends questions
Alward defended his attack after question period on Monday saying he's raising legitimate points about a potential package that could cost taxpayers as much as $50 million.
Alward said all he's asking is that the government explain the terms of any deal for the Atcon Group. If the deal is not concluded by Friday when the legislature adjourns for the summer, the Tories will be unable to quiz the government on the package.
Atcon has received more than $20 million in loans and loan guarantees in the last four years, but Alward said Atcon hasn't paid many of its small suppliers, some of whom are owned money dating back more than a decade.
"I was contacted by three companies in my own riding who certainly have not been paid since 1997. So I have real questions about what happens to small companies like those," Alward said.
Last week, the Tories demanded that Atcon sell its corporate plane before receiving any financial assistance.
Progressive Conservative MLA Bruce Fitch added new requests in question period. Fitch wants the Liberals to restrict executive salary compensation, bonuses and payouts of dividends if they new provincial cash is given to Atcon.
"Will the premier tell us today: Is part of the bailout going to take the form of ownership for the province in Atcon?" Fitch asked.
Keir said in question period that if a deal is done with Atcon that he would talk about it.