Tom Bateman – Telegraph-Journal – Feb 11, 2021

A Green Party MLA said responses by the top bureaucrat prove the province’s Regional Development Corporation is straying from its mandate and not properly planning how taxpayers’ money is spent. 

“Basically, they sign cheques,” Kevin Arseneau concluded on Twitter after the meeting, which reviewed RDC’s annual report for 2018-19.

The Kent North MLA used much of his time at Thursday’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts to ask how the Crown corporation meets the objectives set out in the Regional Development Corporation Act.

That act requires the corporation to “prepare plans for regional development.”

“How are you carrying out this goal? Are you?” Arseneau asked Cade Libby, a provincial deputy minister and the president of the RDC.

Libby said the legislation gives “broad authority to be involved in many different things”, based on direction from government.”

We haven’t done much regional planning in recent years but should the need come up, we do have the legal authority to do that,” he said.

He later said RDC would play a “supporting role” in creating “regional-type plans” by working alongside other departments and they had been approached for such a plan by the Acadian Peninsula Regional Service Commission.

The corporation oversees development agreements between the federal and provincial governments, and promotes economic development through a series of programs.

“If there’s no regional plans right now, how are you planning investments?” Arseneau asked, suggesting funding could be dispersed to “mixed visions” for how a region should develop.

“You are a regional development corporation. You can’t have development without a plan … you’re breaking your own law, would you agree with that?” he asked Libby.

“I guess it comes down to interpretation,” Libby responded. “We interpret that as being we work in co-operation with regions … and helping them and supporting them in the development of those region plans.”

“But there are no plans anywhere, so that’s a major problem,” Arseneau said. 

Libby didn’t directly answer the Green MLA’s queries about whether the RDC offers funding to companies that exploit “tax loopholes” or tax havens, or whether they scrutinize things like CEO compensation or shareholder earnings of a company that receives funding.

Instead, he said the RDC works alongside other government departments and corporations but is “very project based.”

“We are more interested in the nature of the project, and the impact it’s going to have on our region,” he said.

Liberal MLA Rene Legacy asked a series of questions about an amendment in an integrated bilateral agreement with the federal government, which allows Fredericton to avoid contributing to projects that typically receive a third of its funding from provincial coffers.

In such instances, Libby said it’s the municipalities who take on that share of the cost, which is something he said municipalities asked for. He said small- and medium-sized communities, with less ability to pick up that tab, have become “very creative” in fundraising or getting help from regional partners.

Jake Stewart, the Tory MLA for Southwest Miramichi-Bay Du Vin, asked whether the RDC had received a letter of support for the Miramichi Multiplex project, a recreation facility he said will cost more than $70 million to complete.

“Locally, I was told the federal government had supported the project and put their money on the table,” he said, asking Libby if the RDC had received that support “in writing”.

Libby said he’s familiar with the project, but “to our knowledge there has been no correspondence sent indicating there is an approval or that this has been accepted by the federal government at this time.”

He noted the budget for the bilateral agreement’s Community, Culture and Recreation projects is just more than $46.2 million for the entire province.