The North Star


Farewell to a Feudal Lord

Arthur Irving’s death reminds us of his legacy of exploitation and deceit

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On May 13, 2024, one of Canada's industrial and financial elite, Arthur 'Art' Irving, passed away. Mainstream media was flooded with obituaries, but none dared paint him as he truly was;​​​​​​​ the feudal lord of the Maritime provinces.

Arthur Irving was the middle son of New Brunswick oil baron and industrialist Kenneth Colin Irving. By the time K.C. retired to the tax haven of Bermuda, he had constructed an industrial empire that controlled virtually every aspect of its own production chain. K.C. had established an ironclad monopoly across nearly every facet of industry and media in New Brunswick.

Rail, oil, mining, forestry, construction, shipping, shipbuilding, pulp and paper, lumberyards, concrete production, agriculture. And the list goes on.

Art and his brothers, James and Jack, were the heirs to their father’s billion-dollar empire. James, the eldest, received the lion's share of agriculture, forestry, manufacturing, and shipbuilding. Jack, the youngest, took control of the construction, shipping, and media sectors. Art, for his part, was handed the lucrative oil division, which included the extraction, refining, and shipping of petroleum products.

Tributes and well wishes from the highest echelons of Canada's elite poured in from everywhere. Justin Trudeau said that "under his leadership, [Irving Oil] became one of Canada’s top employers and job creators – making Mr. Irving a symbol of Canadian entrepreneurship and success."

His obituary reads like a laundry list of philanthropy and charity: Board of Governors of this non-profit, CEO of that charity, donations of hospital wings here, new university auditoriums there: you’d think he was a saint walking among us. Any negative coverage is limited to meekly mentioning his strained familial relations.

The Arthur L. Irving Institute for Energy and Society, Dartmouth College

But the eulogies and obituaries conveniently overlook how he amassed his fortune: by squeezing every dollar possible from the sweat of thousands of workers in the Maritimes and beyond.

It’s hardly shocking that no one mentions the Irving family’s stranglehold on almost every English-language newspaper in New Brunswick for over half a century.

And don’t expect to read in the mainstream press about how the Irvings meticulously dodge taxes, nor any mention of the billions in public subsidies that have fattened the Irving empire.

You won’t see a single word in the polished obituaries about the backroom deals, the relentless lobbying, and the seamless transition of Irving employees into political positions that plague the Maritime provinces.

In a predictable move, the mainstream media have thrown a few bones of coverage towards such egregious incidents. But when it’s time to eulogize someone like Arthur Irving, they don't hesitate to trot out the tired clichés, dubbing him a "gentleman" and a "pillar of state and society."

Too bad for the mainstream media, trying to sell us on all this, while New Brunswick, the Irvings' favourite playground, is generally considered the poorest province in the country.

Better luck next time trying to pull the wool over our eyes.

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