By Campbell Morrison
Times & Transcript Staff

OTTAWA – The Atlantic Institute for Market Studies has launched a monthly newsletter attacking the federal Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, sparking a livid response from ACOA Minister Gerry Byrne.

Volume one, number one of “ACOA Watch” refutes ACOA claims that it “created” 77,939 jobs since its inception in 1987 and “maintained” another 71,156. Both claims are unverifiable, the newsletter concludes.

Furthermore, since ACOA was created employment growth in the region actually slowed. “ACOA is actually hampering job creation and economic growth,” says the inaugural ACOA Watch.

In response, Byrne takes aim at AIMS.

“Interesting to see where this ACOA Watch goes and their little newsletter, and see whether they are not walking, talking hypocrites,” he said in an interview.

Byrne pointed to the board of directors which includes John Crosbie, a former Tory minister responsible for the Moncton-based ACOA, and some of the region’s biggest businesses that have happily benefited from ACOA assistance.

“There seems to be a lot of people on that board who have taken very significant positions in support of regional economic development and specifically in support of ACOA.”

But he singled out Crosbie, AIMS’ vice-chairman, for emphasis.

“I’d like to know whether or not Mr. Crosbie, who is a former minister responsible for ACOA, feels as strongly as (AIMS President) Brian Lee Crowley that his efforts were useless, were asinine and completely devoid of any benefit.”

Byrne defended ACOA’s job creation estimates. They have been verified by the auditor general in 2000 and the accounting firm PriceWaterhouse in 1998.

“I guess Brian Lee Crowley is smarter than the auditor general, is smarter than PriceWaterhouse, is smarter than John Crosbie because he seems to be the only one that has got any answers around here.”

Crowley defended the first issue of the newsletter, which he hopes becomes a monthly instalment. He also said an independent study of ACOA is long overdue.

“We are an Atlantic Canadian think tank. Now surely, the federal government department expressly charged with responsibility for Atlantic Canada should be a legitimate area of interest for an Atlantic Canadian think tank. I am sorry that we have not been able to get around to this earlier.”

Crowley took issue with Byrne’s suggestion that the first instalment found ACOA “useless,” “asinine” and “devoid of any benefit.”

“I certainly did not use any of those words to describe it, nor were those words used in the publication. Now if he wants to characterize the results of his institute using those adjectives, I will not argue with the minister. Who am I to argue with Gerry Byrne?”

He further suggested that Byrne is unable to debate ACOA’s success on its merit and instead turns the debate into a nasty personal smear.

“Climbing down into this kind of personal attack suggests that the minister does not know what to say about the substance of the matter. I’d be glad to debate the substance with him but I am not going to get into name-calling with him.”

The next issue will look at the cost-per-job created, and subsequent ones will compare ACOA’s job creation methods with others.

The actual essay in ACOA Watch was edited by Bruce Winchester, the research director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. The fine print says that the opinions in the newsletter “do not necessarily reflect those of the CFT,” and neither are the opinions “necessarily those of AIMS, its directors or supporters.”

Byrne said the disclaimer is insufficient to protect AIMS from its participation in a monthly newsletter aimed at discrediting ACOA.

“Did the Canadian Taxpayers Federation take over AIMS? I’d like to know if there was a hostile takeover? Or was it the Canadian Alliance that took them over?”