'Disappeared': Company pledged to create Saint John jobs 2 years ago

'Disappeared': Company pledged to create Saint John jobs 2 years ago

Nearly two years after introducing IAM Building Systems as an important job creator, the Port of Saint John now admits the venture failed but wouldn't provide any details as to why or when.

It's a stark contrast to the enthusiastic news conference hosted by the port in June 2015, when IAM president Kevin Surette unveiled his plans to build 1,250 prefabricated homes per year as a cheap and durable housing option for plantation workers in Jamaica.

​Surette said he would hire 50 workers and renovate the port's Shed D into a state-of-the-art, seven-storey production facility at a cost of  $7 million.

Within months, the company ceased to exist as a corporate entity.

"Mr. Surette just disappeared," said Pat Riley of the International Longshoremen's Association.

Riley believes the port got stuck with the costs of improvements, and he thinks those costs would have been significant.

"A lot of work had to be done," he said. "First of all, the ground underneath that property goes back hundreds of years with fill and was originally water.

"They had to, right off the bat, put good fill in there to ensure it would be able to withstand the building they were putting there. Then the fabrication of the building itself and the modifications to Shed D."

Not a single unit built

Riley said that after the work was done, Surette vanished and his company never built a single unit in Saint John.

CBC News was unable to reach Surette to confirm any details, including whether workers were hired or paid.

A search into Surette's background produced multiple records from the courts, including a 2005 personal bankruptcy filing and a small claim made against Surette that was filed in Bathurst last month.

The New Brunswick Securities Commission issued a temporary cease-trading order against Surette in 2011. Surette was, at one time, the chief operating officer of X4 Technologies in Nova Scotia.

Cease-trading order

The commission's news release in January 2011 stated: "In the materials filed in support of the motion, commission staff claim that X4 Technologies is purported to be in the business of software development, but has not been in operation since mid-2008. They allege that several people, both inside and outside of the province, have invested in X4 Technologies."

The securities commission later discontinued the proceeding and Surette signed an undertaking in 2012, preventing him from trading in securities.

CBC News was also unable to track down the director of IAM Building Systems, listed as Clyde Hamilton of Lyttleton, N.B.

Millions invested in Belledune

CBC News contacted the Port of Belledune, where Surette had said that IAM was already operating in 2015, inside the port's new metal fabrication facility.

The Province of New Brunswick put $7 million into the construction of that facility, Ottawa contributed $1.5 million and ACOA provided a $3.2 million loan.

IAM was expected to produce modular units there, and Surette had been reported saying he had secured a multi-million-dollar contract to build a new head office for Air Labrador.

Air Labrador has not yet returned CBC messages.

Port of Belledune manager Danik Boudreau said that, to his knowledge, IAM never made a modular unit in that plant.

A year ago, the Charlottetown Guardian newspaper was unable to reach Surette in his role as the owner of Eagles View Golf Course in Murray River, which never did open in the spring or summer of 2016.

Building in use

Enterprise Saint John CEO Steve Carson, who showed his early support for Surette's vision, pointed out Wednesday that IAM was a private business that didn't ask for government support to relocate to Saint John.

"Obviously, the company's business model changed and it is no longer in business, which is unfortunate," he wrote in an email.

"The good news is a new modular fabrication building was built and it's being used by businesses right now."

The Port of Saint John says the new modular fabrication facility and Shed D are being used by the tidal energy sector.

CBC News asked for an interview with CEO Jim Quinn but he was travelling and unavailable.