Nationalize the Irvings

The Irvings are a Canadian family who own the Atlantic provinces. That’s not hyperbole – they’re in the top 5 North American property owners – and they own much of the resource extraction and development, transportation, and English-language media in the Atlantic provinces – especially in New Brunswick.

The Irving empire was founded more than 100 years ago. Kenneth Colin (KC) Irving, born in 1899, took advantage of a decline in traditional colonial businesses in Canada’s Eastern Provinces in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to move into oil, gaining control of its distribution like a smaller-scale John D Rockefeller. He then moved into timber, steel and mass-market retail, proving to be a merciless negotiator and skilful wielder of political influence. Today his three sons follow the same approach. As the biggest employer in the Eastern Provinces and the driving force behind industrial activity, the Irvings have made serfs of the local population. No antitrust legislation can contain their appetites.

And they don’t just own everything that can be nailed down, they’ve effectively bought culture and politics in the region as well.

Their philanthropic pretensions fail to mask their interference in public affairs, both at federal level and in New Brunswick and the other Atlantic provinces, where they act like a second government. Few sports complexes, museums or university research centres (energy, forestry, sustainable development) are not Irving-sponsored.

And they’ve basically been handed the incredible forests of the entire region – and they don’t do a good job with them.

New Brunswick has also entrusted the Irvings, directly or indirectly, with managing its huge public forests, while constantly downgrading its requirements. The latest ‘Forest Management Manual for New Brunswick Crown Lands’ reduces the size of buffer zones between forests and habitable areas, authorises more clear-cutting, increases scheduled production volume and cuts protected areas from 31% to 22%. The legislation has effectively created a free trade zone for the family: the natural resources department requirements cannot be modified without their agreement.

Anyone who acts counter to the Irvings interests can end up losing their careers – including scientists and and civil servants.

The 2015 dismissal of Eilish Cleary, New Brunswick’s chief medical officer of health, caused a sensation: she was investigating the use of glyphosate by Irving forestry companies. Rod Cumberland, a biologist formerly employed by New Brunswick’s natural resources department, and Tom Beckley, a professor of forestry at the University of New Brunswick, came under pressure when analysing the impact of this weedkiller on local fauna and the lack of transparency in the provincial government’s management of forests.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, they also avoid taxes and get the laws changed so there’s less of them to pay.

The Atlantic provinces are poor and their services, though subsidized federally, are also often poor. The Irvings exploit these provinces, especially New Brunswick, and have so captured the political apparatus that it’s very difficult to create change internally.

The federal government needs to get serious about taxing wealth. Nobody should be able to gain this much power in a democracy. We need to break up or nationalize monopolies. We need to tax the fuck out of high incomes, estates, and rent-seeking. The Irvings aren’t good for anybody but the Irvings. Let’s break them up and tax them fairly and so they can be contributing members of society instead of parasites.