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The Company You Keep

Politics and its Discontents - Tue, 08/18/2015 - 08:34


You remember, I'm sure, what your mother taught you: you are judged by the company you keep. By that standard, almost all of the MPs who form the Harper regime are to be condemned, willing, as they apparently are, to trade any vestige or semblance of integrity and self-respect for the chance of obtaining power. The seal that barks the loudest often gets the biggest fish.

Looking decidedly well-fed on piscine fare these days is Finance Minister Joe Oliver who, despite some very obvious shortcomings, appears quite content to be the good soldier carrying out Dear Leader's commands. Yet a closer look reveals that Stephen Harper has some serious competition in the unsavoury associates category. That's because of Oliver's close association with
Rebecca MacDonald, founder and executive chair of Just Energy Group Inc., a $3.9-billion Toronto-based energy marketing company. Oliver appointed MacDonald to his Economic Advisory Council last summer.MacDonald was in the news last month after Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. made her the head of its corporate governance committee. MacDonald has been on CP Rail’s board for the past three years.

Bruce Livesey writes that MacDonald, who enjoys a high social profile, has a rather low ethical threshold. You may have encountered some of her employees at your door, trying to sell you an energy contract. If your 'Spider sense' started to tingle, your instincts were correct, since
charges of consumer fraud, unscrupulous sales tactics, multi-million dollar fines, and allegations of fabricating credentials have plagued both MacDonald and Just Energy for years. This past winter, for example, Massachusetts forced a (US) $4-million settlement out of the company over its sales methods, specifically over making false representations to customer. “We allege this… supplier engaged in widespread and misleading conduct that lured consumers into costly contracts in the form of high electricity rates and termination fees,” said the state’s attorney general, Martha Coakley, when the settlement was announced.Just Energy also owes $105-million to the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) – a loan it received three years ago after Bay Street refused to finance the company in a public share offering.Says forensic accountant Dr. Al Rosen, who has investigated both MacDonald and her company, “How they could possibly have loaned them five cents is beyond me”.

Part of the answer may lie in the fact that she has friends in high places, including Oliver, John Baird, Major General Lewis MacKenzie, former Senator Hugh Segal and former Ontario chief justice Roy McMurtry.

An investigation by The National Observer reveals that her life seems to be filled with a series of fabrications, ranging from the lie that her father was the minister of energy in Yugoslavia under Tito, that she became a doctor at the age of 22, and that she is a trained concert pianist. And these were just the lies she told her first husband.
Telling fibs about your credentials is not a minor issue if you’re running a publicly-traded company, says Joe Groia, one of Canada’s top security lawyers. “If you have a director or an officer of a public company who’s falsified her credentials or if she’s telling stories about her background in order to give herself credibility in the marketplace and those stories are not true, that’s a very serious issue… So regulators take it very seriously… because directors have a huge amount of responsibility.”
From suits involving consumer fraud to employing people whose companies were fronts for the Russian mafia to juggling its books, MacDonald's Just Energy, for anyone interested in corporate morality and ethical practices, is a toxic product, a matter apparently of no concern to Joe Oliver or CP Rail:
Oliver spokesperson Nicholas Bergamini responded by saying: “Our government consults widely with leading business and economic innovators – to hear ideas to create jobs, growth and long-term prosperity.”

And CP Rail spokesperson Marty Cej says that MacDonald has the “full confidence of the board” and that her posting to the head of its governance committee was an “unanimous” decision. When pressed if they conducted any due diligence on her background, Cej repeated the same statement.Perhaps the final word should be accorded to the forensic accountant, Al Rosen, who issues this warning to consumers about the company:
“It's something that you should run far and fast away from.”It is the same advice I would give to voters about a government that endorses such ethically-challenged companies and practices.
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