FREDERICTON – The Opposition Conservatives say a Miramichi construction company should first sell its corporate plane before asking the province for financial assistance.

“Would I have concerns about a corporate jet? Yes, I would,” Tory leader David Alward said Thursday.

A day earlier, both Premier Shawn Graham and officials with Miramichi-based Atcon confirmed the construction firm is seeking a loan guarantee from the province. If not repaid, the province would be on the hook.

Though neither party will reveal details, Alward says he has heard the loan could amount to $50 million.

According to Graham, the province has had similar discussions with a host of local companies seeking a helping hand. He said many companies are suffering from the economic downturn and the drying up of credit markets.

But Alward continued Thursday to express concerns with the potential deal, particularly the idea of public funds going to a firm with a private plane.

As well, the Woodstock MLA contends Atcon shouldn’t get public money just to turn around and compete against other local construction companies.

“Clearly taxpayers should not be taking on the full responsibility of financing our businesses,” he said. “That’s not a solution in the long term.”

Dorothy Innes, a spokeswoman for Atcon, wouldn’t confirm nor deny that the firm owns a plane. Nor would she confirm how much assistance the company is seeking from government.

“Financing is very difficult to access €¦ When you are working on significant projects you need access to capital,” she said.

“Banks are not as receptive as they were before this economic recession.

“We’re not unlike any other company our size.”

According to Innes, Atcon is one of the largest employers in northern New Brunswick.

She said the firm has a workforce of 2,400 employees, with the majority of those workers based in New Brunswick.

Atcon, an industrial contractor with projects spanning from Newfoundland and Alberta to Baffin Island and Sweden, has already received government support.

Last year, the company received a $3.25-million loan, a $3.06-million forgivable loan and a $13.36-million loan guarantee to help the firm build a $135-million bridge over the Mackenzie River in the Northwest Territories.

As well, the firm got more than $1 million from the province’s Regional Development Corporation in 2008.

On Thursday, acting Business New Brunswick Minister Jack Keir confirmed the company has not yet created the 150 jobs it promised last August – a condition of its government support.

According to Keir, the company has only hired 78 of those workers.

Charles Cirtwill, of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, a Halifax-based think-tank, says the government is in a dangerous position as the “lender of last resort”.

“You go from one loan to two loans to three loans to five loans,” he said.

“If they come back for a second loan you should be worried. If they come back for a third loan you should be panicked.”

Without restraint, Cirtwill said, the list of companies looking for support will only grow.

“The line will literally never end,” he said. “There will always be somebody else at the door.”

On Wednesday, Graham confirmed the province has already helped a number of local businesses weather the economic downturn.

For example, Ganong, the St. Stephen-based chocolate company, received a $375,000 forgivable loan last year, as well as a loan of $2 million.

Fraser Papers, meanwhile, got a $40-million loan. J.D. Irving, Limited was given over $40 million in loans in 2008 and 2009 to help support five of the company’s mills.