Shorter Chretien: Port Project Will Succeed…Unless it Doesn’t

Former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien says the Sydney container port project promoted by Albert Barbusci of Sydney Harbour Investment Partners (SHIP) has a 90% chance of success but “sometimes you don’t succeed,” so whatever happens, his reputation as a prophet is guaranteed.

Chrétien spoke to reporters on the sidelines of the Think Export N.O.W. Conference in Membertou on Tuesday, saying. as per the Cape Breton Post:

“We managed to get Chinese money for the project so we’re advancing quite fast. I’m very hopeful,” he said.

“We’ve made a deal with CCCC – the big construction company – and we’re going there. But it’s a lot of work. You have to talk to a lot of people and I’m happy to do that because I’m only 84 after all, so I have to keep myself busy.”

The problem is, Barbusci has been claiming to have the financing in place for over two years now. He told the Cape Breton Post in December 2015:

“We are not going to build anything until we have the shipper, the operator, the whole supply chain complete,” he said, adding that Harbour Port Development has already identified the more than $1 billion in financing required for the project.

“The financing is the simple part,” he said. “It’s all the other details of where the money goes toward, and the business model in terms of return on all that investment.”

And that quote? That’s taken from an article headlined: “Chinese company signs agreement to build Sydney container terminal” which basically says that CCCC (“the big construction company”) will build us a $1 billion port if we pay them.

In fact, Barbusci himself told the Post there was nothing new in what Chrétien was saying:

In response to Chrétien’s comments, Barbusci said in a brief phone interview that the former prime minister was only reiterating what’s been known for some time, the fact CCCC is supporting the build of a container terminal.

“What (Chrétien) is saying is very true that the money is committed. We don’t have an issue. We still have a rail piece to conclude and there are a couple of other pieces that have to come together but the financial model is sound. It’s always been sound.”

What this was was yet another empty announcement about the Port of Sydney. Another dog and pony show — only with a bigger pony. Admittedly, it did grab the front page of the Cape Breton Post, but that just puts the former PM on par with a 15-year-old New Waterford boy who started his own internet radio station (Monday) and a local florist who says if you can’t grow flowers outside yet, you should buy some (Tuesday).


‘The Rail Piece’

Mind you, Chrétien may have gone a little off-script, telling reporters he isn’t worried about “the rail piece”:

“If we have a port we will need the adequate railway. That’s the consequence of a port. There will be so much traffic there that don’t worry about a railway,” Chrétien said.

“It’s all in my judgment under control. Why? Because if you have the need there would be the railway. Today, they don’t repair the railway because there’s not the need for that.”

He also told reporters, according to the CBC, that he’s not concerned the promoter has no shipper signed on.

Source: Dentons 

Best of all, he promised to discuss the port file with Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil, whom he’s meeting today, adding he hoped the provincial government would invest in the project, even though this development has been billed as “private” since Day One and the province has said it will not be investing in it. (Did Chrétien actually make it to Halifax, I wonder, or was he ambushed en route by supporters of Cape Breton’s other private container port development? If he doesn’t show up to meet McNeil, I say check the closet at the Strait Area Chamber of Commerce.)

Chrétien, let’s not forget, is a hired gun, a lawyer with Dentons, the international law firm that collects former politicians — like former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, former Manitoba Premier Gary Doer and former speaker of the US House of Representatives Newt Gingrich — like commemorative spoons. In 2017, the Port of Sydney Development Corporation paid Dentons $51,280 for Chrétien’s services, which involve assisting Barbusci — who has been attempting to do business in China for well over a decade now — to do business in China. As the Post explains:

During his 10 years in office between 1993 and 2003, Chrétien led several Team Canada trade missions with premiers and business leaders to the corridors of power in Beijing.


President for life?

Of course, there has been one big development since the last port announcement but whether it represents “progress” is debatable: the National People’s Congress of China voted this month to end the two-term limit on the presidency, allowing the current president, Xi Jinping, to remain in that office seemingly indefinitely.

The Chinese presidency is largely ceremonial — real power in China lies with the leader of the Communist Party and the chair of the military. But Xi Jinping also happens to be the leader of the Communist Party and the head of the military, and neither of these positions carry term limits.

(Is this a good time to note that the belief that globalization makes democracy inevitable — the belief that drove Chrétien’s trade missions to China in the ’90s — seems to have been a bit overblown?)

The implications of the move have been the subject of much discussion in the world press — the Economist declared that China has stepped “from autocracy into dictatorship.” But here in our little corner of the world, we don’t seem worried. We’re happily courting state-owned Chinese banks and construction companies (and presumably shipping lines) to develop our port.

What could possibly go wrong?





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