Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the
round pegs in the square holes... the ones who see things differently -- they're
not fond of rules... You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify
them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change
things... they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the
crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that
they can change the world, are the ones who do.

Steve Jobs
US computer engineer & industrialist (1955 - 2011)

Friday, May 30, 2014

Part 5 - All the King's Men - Brian Tobin

This series, All the King's Men, casts a light on the dark corners of Newfoundland and Labrador politics. In most cases that involves the provincial PC Party, but not always. In fact, it's a mistake to think that one party is pure as the driven snow, while the other swims in corruption. The truth is that politics within the province is run by a very few - hence the name of this series. That group of people can swap their financial support around as conditions for them require, and capture the party they need to advance their agenda. In other words, the back room boys of the province.This post involves such a story, and the Liberal party of the province.

In 2011, Liberal leader Yvonne Jones was ill with breast cancer, and being treated with chemotherapy. Speculation ran rampant that she would be unable to lead the party in the 2011 general election. Yet, despite her condition, Jones insisted she would run. In July, 2011, an apparent attempt to have her step down in a deal put forward by Dean MacDonald was openly denied by both parties.
Despite her denials to the contrary, Jones resigned the next month with mere weeks left before the election was to be held. She left the party with a large debt, and no prospects for raising money to run an election campaign.

In the ensuing leadership contest, which amounted to executive board interviews of seven potential candidates, myself included, Kevin Aylward was chosen. Aylward had placed his name on the ballot approximately 20 minutes before the cut off to do so. Aylward, a former cabinet minister and president of Nunacor (a resource/mining arm of the Nunatukavut community in Labrador) was "lucky" enough to have former premier Brian Tobin step up, and hold a fund raiser for the provincial party in Toronto to help pay for the election. Leading up to this time, the provincial Liberals had fought tooth and nail to stop the Muskrat Falls project. However, all that was about to change as noted in an earlier post

As the saying goes, to figure out the behind the scene machinations you need to follow the money trail, and this case was no different. When Tobin left public political life, and the spotlight of the cameras, he became immersed in the corporate world. Specifically mining in Labrador - among others. When he called a group together in Toronto for donations, to the provincial Liberals here, that influence was quite obvious. Here are the people/companies that answered Tobin's call:

AECON Construction Group Inc


Tobin sits on the board of directors of AECON, a large international construction company. However, AECON is also on the bidding list for construction of Alderon's Kami mine project:

Mine pit development, and tailings dam.

Municipal Enterprises Limited

Municipal Enterprises owns Municipal Construction, which in turn owns Dexter. Dexter is bidding on Alderon's Kami mine project as well:

Bid 1 Clearing, grubbing mining, and maintenance areas and construction access; and

Bid 2 Mine pit development and tailings dam.

Sam Bharti

"Sam" Bharti, as listed on the contribution list of the province, is actually "Stan" Bharti, owner of Forbes and Manhattan Group of Toronto, and the main driving force behind the creation of Alderon and the Kami project.

Bernard Wilson

Wilson is a Forbes and Manhattan man, and sits on a number of its companies boards: Aberdeen International; Avion Gold; and Valencia Ventures Inc.

John Vettesse

Vettesse is a partner with Cassells Brock law firm in Toronto, and a director/shareholder of Alderon.

Gemma Communications

Gemma Communications is a subsidiary of Tuckamore Capital Management run by Dean MacDonald.

Magna International

Tobin served as Vice-Chair and director of Magna.

Norvista Resources

Norvista is a mining resource company out of Toronto that Tobin sat on the board of.

Energizer Resources

Energizer is a mining resource company out of Toronto that Tobin was Chair of its Special Advisory Committee and a shareholder.

John Marinucci

Toronto businessman, friend and former class mate of Tobin.

Vincent Sardo

Toronto businessman, and director of Thompson Consolidated Iron Mine - which Tobin ran.

GMP Securities

Toronto financial company that represented Alderon in securing its financing agreement with Hebei Steel of China for the Kami Mine project.

Douglas Bell

Vice Chair and Co-Head of Investment Banking at GMP Capital - the parent company of GMP Securities, which acted for Alderon with the Chinese.

George Albino

Gold and Precious Metals Expert, GMP Securities.

Roy D'Ambrosio

"Roy" as listed on the contribution list of the province, is actually "Roy". Managing Director of GMP Securities.

NOTE - Combined totals of GMP and its officers is $10,000.00 - which mirrors the others.

BMO Nebitt Burns Inc

Tobin currently sits as Vice-Chair, significant institutional owner of Alderon shares, bank for the Innu Trust Fund, Labrador.

Jason M. Attew

Director, Global Metals and Mining, BMO Capital Markets.

William Butt

Head of Investment and Commercial Banking BMO (now retired).

John Sabine

Lawyer at Bennett Jones in Toronto -  Mining, Finance and Mergers. Sits on the boards of a number of mining companies.

On the face of it, one could say Tobin came to the rescue and saved the provincial Liberal party from a dim financial performance in the 2011 election. Certainly that is the view of some. However, there is also another side to this equation.

For starters, Yvonne Jones suddenly became a proponent of the Muskrat Falls project and its use for mining companies in Labrador. She also became a big cheerleader for developing mining companies in Labrador, and even a proponent of a Labrador railway (which is necessary for Labrador mines to ship their products to Quebec ports for export). Is that all a coincidence? It certainly represented a sudden and major shift in her public stances. To this day, and despite the fact she is a federal MP now, Jones frequently interjects on matters that are considered provincial affairs in Labrador, and they often involve mining and power in Labrador.

The Liberal Party itself has substantially toned down its opposition to the Muskrat Falls project, and has also been a major proponent of mining developments in Labrador. All of this begs an obvious question: Did political contributions change the tune of the provincial Liberal Party? It's hard to say. You can judge for yourself. This series has focused on the influence of corporate donations to political parties in the province, and in my opinion this particular case is no different than any of the others. As Stan Bharti, the head of Forbes and Manhattan and donor above, once said:

"To minimize risk, we do two things. We always have a very strong local presence. Local people, local officers, local connections. We also make sure that at a political level we have some good connections... I sometimes tell people you can either buy political insurance, or you can have a good local person."

To Dwight Ball, the new leader of the Liberal Party's credit, he promised to introduce political donation reform as part of a democratic reform package for the Party in the 2015 general election. Ridding the province of corporate and union donations is the only way to clean up our democratic system here. It is long overdue. It is banned at the federal level, and is only allowed in three of ten provinces. Ridding ourselves of this will alleviate the need for companies to, as Bharti says:

"buy political insurance."

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