McNeil gives grant to rich women—nothing for childcare


HE WANTED TO STRIKE A BLOW FOR FEMINISM. He didn’t. In fact, when Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil announced a grant of $5 million to rich women, as a way to help all women, he triggered activist anger and condemnation.

McNeil chose a press briefing on February 5 to announce the $5 million grant to Sandpiper Ventures. It was one of his last acts as premier. He offered it as proof of his genuine concern and respect for women—particularly those “disproportionately affected” by the pandemic.

McNeil told the press briefing he was proud Sandpiper Ventures would be “the first all-female capital fund in Canada” and that it would “help women access capital.”

The fact most women disproportionately affected by the pandemic are not entrepreneurs in search of venture capital didn’t seem to bother him.

Rich and well connected

The founding partners of Sandpiper are all rich and very well connected. They include:

  • Amy Risley, the wife of multi-millionaire lobster king John Risley and the owner of Skinfix, an upscale skin care products firm and a recipient of close to $2.7 million in government loans and grants

  • Karen Hutt, executive vice-president of Emera, the Canadian multinational energy holding company based in Halifax

  • Sarah Young, managing partner at NATIONAL Public Relations, a firm that is cozy with Liberal governments across the country

  • Chère Chapman, CEO of DGI Clinical, a biotech firm in Halifax, which like Skinfix, has been quite successful in getting grants from government that include one from the provincial crown corporation Innovacorp.

$67 bottles of skin cream

“How stupid is this?” asked activist Gwen Lively. “How brain dead? 

"I don’t need money to invest. I need money to feed my kids and pay the rent. I need a good, reliable job and regular shifts to get me that money. How in hell are rich women who are good at selling $67 bottles of skin cream to other rich women going to help me with any of that? They aren’t.”

A coalition of eight community organizations including CUPE local 4745 (representing early childhood educators), Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives-Nova Scotia along with other groups in Halifax, Antigonish and Lunenburg are demanding that the new premier, Iain Rankin, take back the “investment” in Sandpiper.

The activists want Rankin to make a real investment in the women of all Nova Scotia by using the $5 million to increase capacity at women’s shelters and deliver affordable childcare in the province.

“This $5 million corporate giveaway does very little to advance women’s economic recovery from the pandemic,” said Wyanne Sandler, chair of the Antigonish Poverty Reduction Coalition. “Handing out millions to well-connected investors like those who run Sandpiper does nothing to address that.”

Next to no return on our investment

Halifax Examiner editor Tim Bousquet says it is also important to ask: “But what did we, the people who funded this thing, get for our money?

“I have the same general questions about the angel investor racket: their goal is financial success. There’s no particular goal of hiring a lot of people, or paying them well. It’s just financial return to the company and the angel investment org.

“I guess some of the new wealth is supposed to trickle down upon we mere proles, but I’ve been hearing that line for 40 years, and we proles keep getting poorer and poorer.”

Nova Scotia’s new premier Iain Rankin wants to cultivate an image of being a progressive “agent of generational change” within the Liberal Party.

“If Iain Rankin is truly a progressive, one of the first things he can do is take back this public money and use it to invest in things that will really make a difference in the lives of most women in the province,” said Katrin MacPhee of Solidarity Kjipuktuk/Halifax.

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