Executive and company have strong and lucrative ties with the Canadian military and Harper government.
Opponents of the Conservative government‘s crime Bill C-10 were justified to argue that private companies would profiteer from the new jail system the legislation proposed for Canada. On Tuesday, the Canadian Press reported that a Toronto-based construction company, Bird Construction Inc., has been awarded the contract to build the $38.5-million North East Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in Nova Scotia. The 200-bed facility is due to open in 2014.
Turns out there’s a connection between the company and Enbridge Inc.: a man named J. Richard Bird, who also has a strong connection with the federal government. The 62-year old Harvard Business School and University of Toronto graduate served as a member of the Minister of Finance’s Advisory Committee on Financing from 2009 to early 2010.
Canada’s CFO of the Year in 2010 holds multiple high level portfolios with Enbridge, the company that occupies ground zero in the ongoing debate over Alberta’s vast oil sands. The company’s official websites summarizes Bird’s bio this way:
“As Executive Vice President, Chief Financial Officer and Corporate Development, Richard Bird is responsible for all financial affairs of the company and corporate planning, mergers, acquisitions and corporate development. Mr. Bird joined Enbridge in 1995 as Vice President and Treasurer after holding senior financial executive positions at a number of other public companies. He has also served as Senior Vice President, Corporate Planning & Development. He led Enbridge’s involvement in winning the gas distribution franchise for New Brunswick, and acquiring the natural gas pipeline and gathering and processing business of Midcoast Energy. Mr. Bird led the acquisition of the public minority interest of Enbridge Consumers Gas, established Enbridge’s 32% interest in Noverco Inc. and led the successful launch of Enbridge Income Fund. Mr. Bird served most recently as Executive Vice President, Liquids Pipelines, including responsibility for initiatives to secure $12 billion of crude oil pipeline development opportunities.”
Bird also serves on multiple boards in “7 different organizations across 11 different industries. He is presently a director of Enbridge Pipelines Inc., Enbridge Gas Distribution Inc. and Enbridge Income Fund Holdings Inc. His other affiliations include: Gaz Metro Limited Partnership, Enbridge Energy Partners LP and AltaGas Ltd.
Business Week pegs Bird’s calculated compensation for the fiscal year 2011 at CDN$2,320,921.
Bird Construction Inc.
According to Business Week, Bird “has been a Trustee of Bird Construction Inc. since December 1987.” The company won the contract to build the North East Nova Scotia Correctional Facility after it “submitted the lowest bid among seven general contractors that pre-qualified in the tender competition”, according to the Canadian Press. Curiously, the lucrative contract arrives at a time Macleans Magazine is reporting that Enbridge has two new best friends in Canada: Ottawa and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
H.J. Bird founded Bird Construction Inc. in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, in 1920. An elaborate profile on The Canadian Business Journal bills the company as “one of Canada’s largest and most successful general contractors” which is “encroaching upon the status of a Canadian institution…”
On it’s official website, the company brags about its rising profits: “Nineteen consecutive years of profitability and growth in sales from $88 million in 1988 to over $500 million in 2006, positioned Bird Construction for further expansion.”
The company’s high profile clients includes the Canadian military, Petro-Canada and the Manitoba cities of Winnipeg and Portage la Prairie. It has also benefited from provincial Public Private Partnerships (P3s).
Bird Construction dubs its decades-long partnership with the Canadian military “Keeping Canada Safe”, a mantra often repeated in policy pronouncements by the Harper government. The company recently built a new $105-million helicopter complex at Shearwater, Nova Scotia, “for the new naval helicopters that are getting delivered to replace the Sea Kings.”
Crime Bill C-10
The North East Nova Scotia Correctional Facility is the first of numerous multi-million prison projects expected under Bill C-10, the Conservative government’s flagship tough-on-crime legislation. The bill passed into a new law, the Safe Streets and Communities Act, in Parliament in March. Bill C-10 is a suite of crime legislation that will radically stir the Canadian justice system away from the prevention and restorative measures which have proven to be more humane, effective and cheaper for Canada, towards billion-dollar vindictive and exclusionary measures. It favors punishment over compassion and rehabilitation. It will result in a massive and costly overhaul of system, a transformation expected to cost Canadian taxpayers at least $19-billion. Ontario and other provinces are expected to shoulder significant costs, and divert funds from public goods to implement the law.
During the debates, legal experts, activists and opposition MPs advanced numerous progressive arguments against Bill C-10. They argued that the bill violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, particularly: the right to equal protection before the law; the right to be protected from cruel and unusual punishment; the right to liberty; and the rights of Canadians convicted overseas. They suggested that the law’s mandatory minimum sentences undermine the judiciary by taking away judges’ discretion. The mandatory minimums and tougher sentences on young offenders nuke futures, they said. They grow tomorrow’s hardened criminals, and meaner streets. The lifting of publication ban on young offenders stigmatizes the offenders for life.
Even tough-on-crime Republicans of Texas warned Canada not to follow America’s failed path of mandatory minimum sentences and massive prison expansions, which cost them billions and drove crime rates up.
But the Harper government brushed aside all these arguments. It used its acquiescing majorities in the House of Commons and Senate to pass the legislation with minimal debate and public input.
The progressives also argued that Bill C-10 would grow mega jails and a war on drugs in Canada, which would punish vulnerable communities where high crime rates are rooted in poverty, lack of opportunity and historical disadvantage. Last March, a group of former high-ranking Canadian justice officials said in the Kingston Whig-Standard newspaper: “There is something unethical with having corporations seeking profits from locking people up.”
Private U.S. prison companies
During the heated public debates on the controversial legislation, progressives also argued that Bill C-10 was the beginning of the privatization of Canada’s prison system. Two weeks ago, The Guardian newspaper reported that two of the biggest U.S. private prison companies, Geo Group Inc.and Management and Training Corporation (MTC), had begun exploring opportunities in Canada. In the U.S., both companies “have consistently been the subject of critical media reports due to a long line of legal actions against them for trouble and neglect at some of their facilities.”
GEO, a major player in the global private correctional services industry, lobbied for Bill C-10 through The Parliamentary Group, an Ottawa-based consulting firm linked to Patrick Gagnon, a Liberal MP from 1993 to 1997.
The company has profited from 9/11, the economic meltdown and recent anti-immigrant crackdowns in the U.S. It has profited from privatized corrections and detention operations in Australia and the UK. In South Africa, the company is connected with the African country’s unveiling massive prison privatization efforts. In the late 1990s, GEO was involved with Australia’s notorious Woomera Immigration Detention Center, once described by UN officials as a “great human tragedy” and likened to a “Nazi concentration camp.”