This commentary is from Bob Manning, former chair of Enterprise Saint John and the Saint John Board of Trade. Submitted commentaries do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Huddle.
Recently the Globe and Mail’s Report on Business magazine ran a gossipy, anonymous source-filled attack on New Brunswick’s Irving family. It was a disappointing piece of journalism, something beneath the credibility and journalistic quality of Canada’s newspaper of record.
The story was filled with tired clichés about Saint John and the Irving businesses with little insight offered on what’s actually happening in the province, both good and bad. Then Maclean’s magazine piled on with another shot at New Brunswick’s situation.
Let’s be clear, there are real economic and demographic challenges facing New Brunswick, not all that different from other regions of the country. People here realize it, and are working together to address it.
But equally clear is the fact that the Irving family and their many business interests are part of the solution, not the problem. New Brunswick isn’t just lucky to have the Irving family – Canada is. They have invested billions of dollars into their world-class operations in Canada and created jobs for many thousands of Canadians. And they’ve paid countless millions in taxes.
It is true that they are a hard-driving business family. That is a big part of what has made them successful. They are aggressive, they fight for the best deal and they don’t leave money on the table. That is how you turn a gas station in Bouctouche, into a multi-billion dollar empire.
K.C. Irving started his first business in this small New Brunswick town and from there, he and his family created a dynasty recognized around the world for both its business acumen and its loyalty to its home province.
The success of the Irving family is something that should be celebrated, not criticized. The reality is that New Brunswick, and all of Canada, needs more successful business people to grow our economy and create wealth and opportunities. Without strong companies that respect profits, people and the planet, we can’t prosper as a nation in a highly competitive global economy.
To reflexively attack a family for its hard-earned success is, at best, misguided.
Irving Oil recently announced that it was building a new headquarters in the heart of Saint John. They made a choice to be here and support the home team. They could have easily moved their corporate offices to another part of Canada – or the United States – but they will not. That’s because they believe in New Brunswick and its potential, and they are committed to their hometown.
They operate the largest, most efficient, oil refinery in Canada in Saint John, not in Alberta’s oil patch. J.D. Irving has invested heavily in creating the most modern pulp and paper mills in the province, and arguably North America. The most recent investment of over $400 million in the operations on the west side of Saint John will allow JDI to continue to employ New Brunswickers at this site for generations. And John Irving’s Commercial Properties has restored some of New Brunswick’s most historic architectural jewels – the restoration of CenterBeam Place, in the heart of Saint John, was the catalyst that sparked renewed investments in the uptown core. Their focus on building and maintaining properties to the highest environmental standards is well known.
These are companies, and a family, that stay true to their values.
That’s why it is so frustrating to see criticism from people, like Saint John councillor Gerry Lowe, who should know better. It’s easy to take potshots at the Irving family. They are successful and wealthy, and with that comes power and influence. But it is remarkable to see an elected official try to blame them for the perilous state of the City of Saint John’s finances. The city’s shortfall has nothing to do with the Irving companies, and everything to do with years of poor oversight by councillors like Mr. Lowe.
Mr. Lowe embarrasses himself further with claims that the Irving businesses have made a fortune “off us,” betraying his fundamental misunderstanding of how business, and the world, operates.
The Report on Business article was the kind of thinly sourced attack that the Irving family has been forced to contend with, particularly in recent years. Have there been conflicts within the family over the years? Perhaps. Every family faces its own challenges in one way or another.
But for most families, those challenges are not cast in the harsh media glare.
The same should be true for the Irving family, or at least when it comes to the Globe and Mail. It missed a chance to tell an interesting and balanced story about the Irving businesses. Instead, it offered nothing new, just trafficking in tired tropes and quotes, often anonymously, from people with an axe to grind or an agenda to advance.
The Irving family holds large businesses with complex operations, and their companies play an outsized role in New Brunswick’s economy and society. That makes their relationship with governments particularly charged. The nature of their businesses will inherently lead to conflicts – but these are business negotiations, and they should be recognized as such.
When considering the impact of the Irving family, let’s not be so quick to complain, to seek out only negatives where there are plenty of positives. The Irving family, and their businesses, are vital to New Brunswick and Canada.
In fact, in any reasonable analysis we can only conclude that we are much stronger for having the Irving family here in New Brunswick.