Conflicts between her corporate held beliefs, and interests, and that of her position as a representative of the people in the province have been emerging for some time now. It began when she ran for the leadership of the Liberal Party here. As a Liberal supporter, I attended the first leadership debate in Gander. During the debate she reacted negatively to a proposal by one contender to implement a "fat tax" on fast food restaurants. It was quickly pointed out that she might be against such a proposal due to her McDonalds businesses. She was roundly assailed by the crowd when she attempted to defend the Muskrat Falls project. The feeling was that her association with Nalcor's board, and her role in advancing the project may colour her view - to put it politely.
She didn't win the leadership, but went on to run in a by-election in Virginia Waters district - which she won by 40 votes. Now, before she is even sworn in, Bennett finds her business interests in the spot light. Last week, Bennett came on live radio in the province to promote Muskrat Falls as the best thing since sliced bread, and a project that could not be stopped. There is a problem with that though. She was asked by the host if she had any business interests intertwined with the Muskrat Falls project. She said no. But that isn't quite the whole story. Bennett is partnered up with Sunny Corner Enterprises out of New Brunswick. Sunny Brook has bid and won seven contracts in 2013 with Nalcor Energy, including the lucrative ten year "Hydraulic Gates and Embedded Parts Program for Churchill Falls." http://www.nalcorenergy.com/awarded-tenders.asp
So, when Bennett speaks about Muskrat Falls, Nalcor, the Upper Churchill, and the like, it helps to know what her business interests are here. Incidentally, Sunny Corner Enterprises also has a large contract to supply the New Millennium mining project in Labrador during its construction - a mine that will need power from Muskrat Falls.
Getting past Bennett's obvious interests in Nalcor, etc, and into the scandal that's striking at her other enterprise - McDonalds. The hiring of foreign temporary workers by McDonalds, and their treatment/working conditions has made national headlines. The abuse of the program being a central issue. CBC Newfoundland and Labrador interviewed Cathy Bennett on the local side, given her ownership of the franchises here. During the interview, she is quoted as saying:
"I think it's important to remember this program is about people. I'm very comfortable that our company, and we as a company, have acted ethically and honestly as an employer... We always put people first and will continue to employ Newfoundland and Labradorians first."
In a twist to this story, that was not uncovered by the media, Diamond Global Recruiting lists as one of its clients McDonald Restaurants - meaning Bennett is involved with the recruitment and use of foreign temporary workers.
That changes things somewhat. First off, Bennett hasn't disclosed this according to the media interviews I've read and listened to. Secondly, Bennett's company may have a far deeper role in the temporary workers scandal than has come to light yet. What is clear, as in the other business relationships outlined here, is that Bennett routinely vigorously defends business projects and practices which she has a direct interest in, without disclosing the nature of her business interests on the topic.
That's troublesome. It may be okay to spin things like that in the business world to a degree, but when it comes to the world of public office, well that's different. In the public sphere a representative is supposed to be putting the interests of the public first, and declaring conflicts of interest. Has Bennett placed her businesses in a blind trust? Not that I've heard or seen. She strikes me not as something new, but rather something old. Sure she is new to the business club, sort of, but her actions appear to reflect the old. The Liberal Party needs to move into 2015 with a vision of fundamental change for the province. Not a change of actors, and not just a few "motherhood" statements, but real fundamental change. Accepting candidates like Bennett hurt, at the least, the perception that we can expect that type of change from the Liberals in 2015. That 's troubling. That needs to change dramatically before 2015. That change needs to be more than just words. It needs to be action. Creating a star candidate, or any kind of candidate, out of people who conduct themselves like Ms. Bennett has so far is damaging to that cause.