The Internet gambling misadventures chronicled by The Globe and Mail newspaper, and first reported by The Eastern Graphic two years ago, have disappointed and angered Islanders, and further weakened their trust in the politicians who serve them.
I overheard one especially insightful fellow at the Hunter River Irving sum it up this way.
“That bunch in town would steal the cushions right off the couch.”
This smallest of provinces does appear to be governed by a cabal, people ready to follow every bone headed, illusive dream, prepared to pursue every self-interested scheme with public money, while the rest of us bear the national disgrace and ridicule, and sink further into debt.
Historically, we once knew them as the Family Compact, that “band within this land” folk poet Larry Gorman sang about more than a century ago.
Not much has changed.
In the wake of PNP, the e-gambling fiasco contributes to the image other Canadians must have of Prince Edward Island as kind of playschool masquerading as a province, where competing, self-interested political clubs take turns running things.
Premier MacLauchlan says it’s not the way he does business. I hope not. The Business School at UPEI certainly doesn’t teach those ethics. Nevertheless, this is the political culture our new Premier has inherited, and he needs to make immediate and meaningful changes to restore the faith of Islanders in government.
Forgive me, but referring the Internet gambling file to the Auditor General is a political manoeuvre intended to have the whole matter disappear until after the coming election.
It’s now abundantly clear little was learned as a result of PNP.
The outgoing premier trumpeted the success of that program until the last days of his administration, claiming the millions invested in small business across the Island offset the negative effects of a mini economic recession experienced elsewhere.
There might be a grain of truth in this claim, however the PNP was administered preferentially and unfairly, and in my opinion the Public Inquiries Act remains the only way to ever get to the bottom of it all.
Unless you were hooked up by one of a small group of designated agents, or approached by a well-connected lawyer or accountant, the PNP remained a mystery and out of reach for most Island businesses. All government run programs are expected to meet a basic threshold of openness and access, but PNP operated in the shadows, its benefits flowing only to those on a select and much guarded list.
When I was the Clerk of Executive Council during that time, and responsible for administering the Executive Council Act and Public Departments Act on behalf of the premier, even I was kept in the dark. One minister reportedly warned an employee, “whatever you do, don’t let the clerk see the list.”
Presumably I was regarded as too vigilant of a gatekeeper, too unwashed in the ways of business.
I did suspect wrongdoing.
When the Liberal government took office in 2007, there were already glaring signs of abuse by the other major political club, the one waving the blue standard. Several politicians and senior officials had received PNP, and investment units were allocated to local businesses that didn’t in fact exist, such as a manufacturer of handmade wooden boats in Cherry Hill. No boats. Money in the bank.
With the PNP drawing to a close in 2008, efforts ramped up to allocate as many units of investment as possible because the gravy train would soon pull out from the station. Over the last few frenzied months of PNP, eligibility and other policies were ignored in the race to match Asian investors with carefully-chosen Island businesses.
It was a boon to the economy, but also to the governing political party. When I was told by a colleague that PNP units were being peddled as an incentive for the purchase of Liberal fundraising tickets, my concern over PNP deepened.
The Brooke MacMillan affair raised the political temperature on PNP.
In August 2008, Mr MacMillan was appointed Chief Executive Officer of the PEI Liquor Commission, after he was replaced as Deputy Minister of Innovation PEI by Michael Mayne. Though Mayne assumed legal and administrative authority for all departmental and agency programs, including the PNP, Mr MacMillan continued to manage that file.
Minister Brown was compelled to inform Mayne that MacMillan would be completing all PNP transactions for an estimated period of five weeks. To this day, I am unaware of any Executive Council Order or formal directive authorizing this unusual arrangement.
During that period when Mr MacMillan continued to manage the PNP file as CEO of the Liquor Commission, it is estimated that several hundred units of investment were allocated, including investment in a company owned by Brooke and Gina MacMillan.
On October 3, 2008, I brought this apparent conflict of interest to the attention of Premier Robert Ghiz. Initially, I was directed as Clerk of Executive Council to investigate, but after further consideration the task was assigned to then Deputy Provincial Treasurer, the late Paul Jelly.
Surprisingly, Jelly let MacMillan off the hook, though a few months later the Auditor General, upon review of the Provincial Nominee Program, reported that Mr MacMillan indeed had put himself in a conflict of interest situation.
It is believed MacMillan repaid some of his questionable PNP money.
In the end, Brooke MacMillan, who is a close personal friend of the premier got to keep his job. I also realized that after pulling the trigger on Mr MacMillan, my tenure as Clerk of Executive Council and Secretary to Cabinet was going to be short-lived, and sure enough in the fall of 2009 I was moved out of general government.
It is ironic that my last assignment for the premier and Executive Council was the preparation of a new Public Service Code of Conduct and Ethics Management System for Prince Edward Island. Following the embarrassing Brooke MacMillan episode, it was clear to me that much stronger rules governing the ethical conduct of deputy ministers and senior government officials were badly needed.
I submitted my report to the premier in November, 2009.
The Liberal leadership at that time, even after being roughed up by the PNP, had no interest in raising the ethical bar within government, no appetite for stronger conflict of interest rules, and no desire to change the prevailing political culture.
The Internet gambling revelations have me shaking my head.
In writing about all of this, I don’t claim for myself any superior public morality.
I am convinced however, if government had implemented some form of the ethics management system I put forward six years ago, the mess we are now confronted with could have been avoided, or at least the barriers to foolish impropriety would have been stronger.
Premier MacLauchlan can find a copy of my 2009 report if he looks for it.