PEI

Former fisheries minister grilled over crab loans

Former PC fisheries minister Jim Bagnall was on the hot seat Wednesday at a meeting of the legislature's public accounts committee over loans made to eight snow crab fishermen in 2005 and 2006.

Former Progressive Conservative fisheries minister Jim Bagnall was on the hot seat Wednesday at a meeting of the P.E.I. legislature's public accounts committee over loans made to eight snow crab fishermen in 2005 and 2006.

"The minister of the day did not ensure that there was valid data to back up the fact that these fishermen would get those loans," Liberal MLA Paula Biggar said.

Bagnall fought back, at times claiming cabinet secrecy, at other times arguing the case.

"Anything that happened in cabinet, I'm not allowed to talk about," he said.

But Biggar pressed him on what he knew.

"You knew nothing, ever, ever about a report that was to be done by your government?" she asked.

Bagnall replied: "I told you three times today that I was not privy to any report that was to be done."

Liberal MLA Charlie McGeoghegan said the fishermen took sweetheart deals that the government "threw in their laps."

Bagnall hotly disputed that assertion.

"These guys got no sweetheart deal other than if you call putting up their homes, selling their lobster fleets for $500,000, $600,000 or $700,000 and investing it, and losing it all, if that's a sweetheart deal for them …" he said.

"I don't know of one of these guys who's making any money."

Biggar said that Bagnall did nothing to ensure that there was a strategy being put in place for the fishermen.

The high-risk loans totalled more than $13 million. With interest and late payment penalties, those fishermen now owe the government $18 million.

Last year, the auditor general criticized the former government for having no strategic report prepared before making the loans designed to help the fishermen access snow crab licences from the mainland.

The Liberal government wants to find out why the loans were approved by the Tories, even though the Treasury Board and the P.E.I. Lending Agency turned them down.

The loans are now classed as non-performing, and the fishermen in default.