Liberal leadership candidate Andrew Furey has a carefully curated public image. He is an accomplished orthopedic surgeon and university professor, perhaps best known for founding Team Broken Earth—a volunteer organization providing medical assistance and education in developing countries around the world. He is also the scion of a well-known Liberal family: his father George Furey is the speaker for the Canadian Senate, and his uncle Chuck Furey was a longtime provincial MHA and cabinet minister.
His website includes a voluminous professional profile, detailing his medical and academic career, his many awards, his membership on the boards of charitable organizations, and even his participation in triathlons and scuba diving. But an important aspect of his recent professional life receives no mention at all: his corporate board directorships.
This is puzzling, since these appear to have been a significant source of income for him in recent years. Though he has now stepped down from all of these boards, he has received financial compensation for his services, and retains investments and stock options in some of the companies. (If elected, these will be held in a blind trust, per standard practice.)
When asked why these corporate connections are omitted from the public profile on Furey’s campaign website, the Independent was told that “there are many aspects of Dr. Furey’s resume that are not included on his professional profile. He has spoken openly about being involved, on a board level, with those organizations.”
The boards he sat on include a biotech company that has been actively seeking access to private medical records, as well as several mining companies. We profile these companies and Furey’s links with them below. We also look into the finances of the Dollar A Day charity he co-founded, as well as reviews he has received on RateMD.com about his interactions with medical patients.
The Independent had the opportunity to interview Dr. Furey about these matters. A full transcript can be found at the end of this piece.
Furey has also promised full disclosure of his compensation for service on these boards, but we have not received this information at the time of publication. The story will be updated as it becomes available.
UPDATE, 3 August 2020: Furey has reneged on his promise of full disclosure. Read Tom Baird’s followup piece here.
Until recently, Andrew Furey was a director of Sequence Bio. He joined the board in April 2016, and according to his remarks during an interview he may have been “involved” with the company for some months prior. The three remaining directors are CEO Chris Gardner, and investors Mark Dobbin and James Hardiman. According to Furey, he did not “generate income” from this position, but he did receive stock options as compensation. He also has a “small number” of shares in the company.
Sequence Bio is a biotechnology company, incorporated in October 2013. For more than five years, they have been pursuing the NL Genome Project. The goal is to collect genetic and health data from 100,000 volunteers, and to identify new drug treatments by analyzing this information. Collecting this data has proven difficult, however.
In July 2015, the PC government invested $300,000 in the company via a newly established publicly-owned venture capital fund, Venture NL. In September 2015, Sequence Bio and the provincial government signed a Memorandum of Understanding to form a partnership. The anticipated outcomes and activities of this arrangement included:
“2. Obtain a minimum of 100,000 volunteer research participants from Newfoundland and Labrador over a five year period;
3. Perform molecular analysis on biospecimens obtained from participants to generate multi-omics data;
4. With the consent of participants, perform data linkages between participant biospecimens and their clinical/phenotypic data, which will be obtained from the provincial Electronic Health Record and Electronic Medical Record system.”
Between October 2015 and August 2016, Sequence Bio received more than $4 million in private venture capital investment from various sources, including $500,000 from Mark Dobbin’s Killick Capital and $3 million from Silicon Valley firm Data Collective. Furey joined the board during this period. According to a meeting note prepared by the Department of Health in 2016, this early funding: ”would be primarily used to provide the foundation for a much larger financing round (upwards of $50 million) to take place in the next 12-18 months, assuming they are successful in recruiting a sufficient number of patients and their early research results […] are promising.”
Four years later, those goals have not been met. The project (and fundraising) has been hampered by regulatory obstacles stemming from privacy concerns—both with the Health Research Ethics Board (HREB) and with the NL Centre for Health Information (NLCHI).
After one of their proposals was rejected by the HREB (and a second proposal review was taking too long), Sequence Bio took the HREB to court in 2018 to demand they speed up the regulatory process. After the second proposal was rejected, CEO Chris Gardner attacked the HREB in the press, calling it “broken” and a “disaster.” He demanded that Health Minister John Haggie bring in an external regulator until the board was reformed. In a letter to then-deputy minister of health, John Abbott (currently challenging Furey in the Liberal leadership race), Gardner alleged “instances of bias and defamation” on the part of members of the HREB.
Eventually, in 2019, the HREB approved a pilot version of the NL Genomic Project, to collect data from at most 2,500 volunteers. But Sequence Bio immediately ran into another obstacle. The NLCHI refused their request to access data because “it would be outside of their statutory mandate under the Centre for Health Information Act,” and they had “identified preliminary concerns with respect to several shortcomings of the protocol and consent-related documentation under applicable privacy legislation.”
We reached out to NLCHI to ask if these concerns have been resolved.
“At this time there are a number of legal and operational constraints preventing us from releasing NLCHI data requested by Sequence Bio (SB) under the terms of their project as proposed to us,” NLCHI told the Independent. “We are working collaboratively with Sequence Bio and the Department of Health and Community Services to address these constraints, where possible.”
“In fact, we hope to be able to share data with Sequence Bio and others through our new DataLab that is currently being designed to support health research & innovation in a manner that benefits the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, while also safeguarding privacy, confidentiality and trust in the health system.”
The Independent asked Furey about his role with Sequence Bio, whether he agrees with Gardner’s criticism of the HREB, and how he intends to deal with the conflict of interest concerns that would result from him becoming Premier. He did not directly answer whether he agrees with Gardner’s criticism, but he expressed admiration for HREB volunteers and assured us he will recuse himself from any decisions regarding Sequence Bio or any other companies he’s had any dealings with—including negotiations with the NL Medical Association.
He also plans to “add an additional layer of ethics support for the executive of the government, to ensure that the decisions are being made for the right interests of the people of the province, and that would extend to the executive council.”
His full response can be found in the transcript below.
Furey was until recently a director of Canada Fluorspar, having joined the board sometime prior to August 2016. The company has been 100% owned by Golden State Capital since 2014. We do not yet know how much he has been paid in this role. But his father George Furey is also on the board, and according to the National Post, he received $111,438 in 2010-2012. Andrew Furey owns both shares and stock options in the company.
Asked if his father had recruited him to join the board, Furey replied that he is not privy to whether or not his father recruited him. But the invitation to join the board did not come from his father directly.
Canada Fluorspar is responsible for the St. Lawrence Fluorspar Mining Project which has been producing since 2018. The company received significant public financing in March 2017, including a $17 million loan from the provincial government and a $5 million loan from ACOA. The company was also a major donor to the Liberal Party of NL, giving $42,000 between 2015-2019.
Furey was on the company’s board of directors when these loans were made. A few months later, on the company’s behalf, he handed over a $48,000 cheque to help refurbish a local community centre in St. Lawrence.
In our interview, Furey asserted he played no role in securing these loans. His understanding is that they had been secured under previous administrations.
Alderon Iron Ore
Furey was a director from May 2017 until March 2020. He received $78,465 in compensation in 2018; we do not yet know what he received in other years. His experience in the natural resource industry seems slight compared to the other non-executive board members at that time: David Porter (former VP Human Resources with IOC), Adrian Loader (former CEO of Shell Canada), Ian Ashby (former President of BHP Billiton’s Iron Ore division), John A. Baker (chairman and cofounder of Altius Minerals), Roland Moirier (former VP Finance and Strategy at IOC), and two representatives from Hebei Iron & Steel (who owned a stake in the company).
We asked Furey why someone with scant experience in the mining industry would be asked to join the board of directors for various mining companies.
“I think like a lot of boards, a lot of businesses with outside investors who do business in the province, they seek and want community leaders on their boards,” Furey told the Independent. “And I believe that is what led me to those board positions. You know, I’ve also done some business training, and I think when they probably looked at my CV, and saw that I did have some experience in the business communities, and attended a business school, and was a community leader here. That’s what I was told, anyway, when the phone rang, and I answered.”
In 2010, Alderon acquired rights to the Kami iron ore project in the Labrador Trough and spent years trying to develop it. They were among the most vocal supporters of the Muskrat Falls Project, and their development was expected to consume about 8% of its power. Danny Williams was on the board of Alderon from March 2012 until February 2014, after which he remained as special advisor to the company. Both the official sanction and the “financial close” of the Muskrat Falls Project occurred during Williams’ term on the board.
Alderon imploded two months ago in April 2020 after defaulting on a $14 million loan to Sprott Resource Lending, which has seized the Kami project and all related assets. This occurred about a month after Furey left the board.
According to a “Management’s Discussion and Analysis,” Furey agreed to join the advisory board of Search Minerals in March 2017 and was slated to join the board of directors in May 2017—except it did not happen. Furey says he “never really partook in Search Minerals” and the reference to him joining the advisory board is an error.
Search Minerals is hoping to mine for rare earth minerals near St. Lewis in Labrador and is working its way through environmental assessment. They received $600,000 in research funding from the NL government and ACOA in November 2018. It is interesting to note that Alderon and Search Minerals were singled out by Natural Resources Minister Siobhan Coady at the launch event for the Mining the Future 2030 plan.
Dollar A Day Foundation
Furey is a director and cofounder of the Dollar A Day Foundation, whose purported mission is to “provide adequate funding to frontline mental health and addictions programs across Canada.”
Concerns have been raised about expenses at the foundation. According to their 2018 tax filing—the most recent year available—Dollar A Day had $360,000 in expenses, while only $60,000 went to charity. We asked Furey about this apparent discrepancy.
“I’m glad to be given the opportunity to talk about A Dollar A Day,” Furey told the Independent. “That was our startup year. First of all, we are CRA-compliant, full stop. But that was our startup year, this was a year that we were creating a national charity (…) and needed to create branding, marketing, and get the reach that we thought we could get. We actually secured a loan, with personal guarantees that we could accomplish what we wanted to accomplish.”
“We never hid the fact that it was going to have some startup costs, some administrative costs,” he continued. “In fact our promise was that we would find, within the first three years, corporate sponsors to offset the costs of the administration of the charity. And we were able to accomplish that within the first two years, so that now every dollar that people donate goes to the frontline causes that we want to support.”
“Mental health and addictions, it’s a cause that’s near and dear to me, and the other founders, and we had a dream when it started, and we’ve exceeded our goals to date. But that first year was the startup costs, and it had to be booked that way from an accounting perspective.”
RateMD.com is a website where users can submit and read reviews of medical doctors. While Furey’s reviews do include very positive statements, others have been poor, often describing him as “rude,” “arrogant,” “rushed,” or “lacking compassion.”
However, we should not read these anonymous reviews uncritically. There is no verification process to ensure these are written by actual patients, and it is quite plausible that some of them are fraudulent or otherwise malicious. Moreover, even if they are truly from patients, the reviewers are self-selected—not necessarily representative—and may be prone to bias. One major red flag is that Furey has received 19 reviews since January 2019, whereas no other orthopedic surgeon in St. John’s has received more than eight during the same time period. This is a clear sign he has been treated differently than other surgeons in recent times—possibly linked to his higher public profile and/or partisan affiliation.
It should also be noted that there is no indication of concern with Furey’s work on record with the College of Physicians and Surgeons.
His history of critical reviews on RateMD.com goes back to early in his career, when the frequency of reviews was less suspicious. From 2008 to 2010, the reviews were uniformly positive. Between 2011 to 2016 they were a mix of good and bad. And from 2017 onward, the majority have been negative. The most consistent criticism leveled on RateMD, found even in many overall positive reviews, is that he rushes through exams and doesn’t take time to listen to and speak with his patients.
We asked Furey about this during our interview.
“Look, I mean, that RateMD, anyone can go on that and write anything. It’s not a vetted website, first of all, so it’s not necessarily accurate,” Furey told the Independent. “That said, you know, every time I went into the hospital, I tried my best to be empathetic and compassionate to patients that I served and worked with them through their health issues.”
“It’s hurtful to realize that some may not have gotten what they thought was the service they deserved, but every day I tried my best. And that’s all I can say on that.”
The deadline to register as a voter in the Liberal leadership race is midnight, Sunday, June 28. The new leader will be elected on August 3.
[This transcript has been lightly edited for length and clarity.]
Andrew Furey: Hi, it’s Andrew Furey, how are you?
Tom Baird (The Independent): I’m doing well! Thanks for calling me, Dr. Furey.
Not a problem.
So I know we have limited time, so I’ll just get right to it. I’m interested in some aspects of your career that haven’t received a lot of coverage, your service on corporate boards.
So you are on the board of Sequence Bio—
I am not. I stepped aside.
You stepped aside. OK, good. So they’ve lobbied the government pretty heavily in recent years. This poses a bit of a conflict-of-interest concern. How do you intend to deal with that?
Like many people who have taken leadership positions, they have served in a business capacity in the past. I plan to recuse myself from any decisions regarding Sequence Bio or any other companies I’ve had any dealings with, including by the way negotiations with the NLMA.
That’s good to hear. So have you stepped down from all of the boards that you were on?
OK. So my next question is, you were on a number of mining company boards. I’m kind of wondering how somebody with really no experience in the mining industry managed to get on so many mining boards.
Well I was on two, and I think like a lot of boards, a lot of businesses with outside investors who do business in the province, they seek and want community leaders on their boards. And I believe that is what led me to those board positions. You know, I’ve also done some business training, and I think when they probably looked at my CV, and saw that I did have some experience in the business communities, and, you know, attended a business school, and was a community leader here. That’s what I was told, anyway, when the phone rang, and I answered.
OK. Just to clarify, you were on the board of directors of Canada Fluorspar, Alderon, and you were on the advisory board of Search Minerals? Is that correct?
No, that was an error on their behalf. I never really partook in Search Minerals.
OK, good to know. So these positions, I assume were a pretty significant source of income for you in recent years? And you’ve omitted them from your public profile on your website. Can you explain why?
Well, by Sequence Bio, there was no income generated from that. I would be happy to disclose the income from others. Of course Alderon would be publicly visible as it was a publicly-traded company. I’d have to look, but I would be happy to disclose what I was remunerated for, with respect to [Canada Fluorspar].
OK, that would be excellent, yeah. And Alderon, I found it from 2018, but I couldn’t find it from the other documents as they’ve taken their website down and it’s a little tricky. So if you could prepare to share that, that would be amazing.
Yeah, no, for sure. I’m open and honest, I have nothing to hide. And the public—it is publicly available information, so.
OK, excellent. Another question: so, there’s been some concern raised on social media about the “Dollar A Day” charity. According to a 2018 filing, you had $360,000 in expenses, and only $60,000 went to charity. Can you explain this?
Absolutely, I’m glad to be given the opportunity to talk about A Dollar A Day. That was our startup year. First of all, we are CRA-compliant, full stop. But that was our startup year, this was a year that we were creating a national charity that we thought would have national reach and needed to create branding, marketing, and get the reach that we thought we could get. We actually secured a loan, with personal guarantees that we could accomplish what we wanted to accomplish.
We never hid the fact that it was going to have some startup costs, some administrative costs. In fact our promise was that we would find, within the first three years, corporate sponsors to offset the costs of the administration of the charity. And we were able to accomplish that within the first two years, so that now every dollar that people donate goes to the frontline causes that we want to support. I mean, mental health and addictions, it’s a cause that’s near and dear to me, and the other founders, and we had a dream when it started, and we’ve exceeded our goals to date. But that first year was the startup costs, and it had to be booked that way from an accounting perspective.
OK. I think this bears on the other question I had. So on your website, [it says] “every dollar and every cent goes towards mental health and addictions. 100%.” But you mean that for non-corporate donors, for private donors. Is that how that should be interpreted?
Yeah, so, people who donate a dollar, a dollar a day, for example, if you’re donating, that goes to the front line. And anytime we’ve talked on this, anytime we’ve spoken on this, that’s always been our pitch, and that’s been the same to the corporate partners that we go to. It’s an open and honest thing— like, we’re pitching to a corp, this is gonna cost us a cost to administer, it’s a national charity, we want to have national reach, we think it can scale fairly quickly and accomplish a lot, but it’s going to require some administrative costs, would you help support that?
OK, good, that’s a great answer. Now for Canada Fluorspar, that was the first mining company you joined the board of. Is that accurate?
Now, your father was a member of the board… that can’t have been a coincidence, I guess. Did he recruit you, or..?
Ahh, I’m not privy to whether he recruited me or not, but he was on the board, yeah.
OK. And they reached out to you, and you accepted.
OK, fair enough. So I have one more question… do you know this website, RateMD?
So, I’ve went on that, and I noticed in recent years you’ve had a lot of negative reviews from patients, describing you in terms such as ‘rude,’ ‘arrogant,’ ‘lacking compassion.’ How do you respond to these criticisms?
Look, I mean, that RateMD, anyone can go on that and write anything. It’s not a vetted website, first of all, so it’s not necessarily accurate. That said, you know, every time I went into the hospital, I tried my best to be empathetic and compassionate to patients that I’ve served and worked with them through their health issues. It’s hurtful to realize that some may not have gotten what they thought was the service they deserved, but every day I tried my best. And that’s all I can say on that.
OK, good. I wanted to ask also, are you an investor in any of these companies you served on the board? Do you retain stock options?
Yep, I’ve invested in CFI [Canada Fluorspar], I have options in CFI, and I also have options in Sequence Bio.
But again, all of that would be in a blind trust, no different than other people who were involved in businesses in the past who entered into politics.
OK, terrific. Ummm… and there was one more question, sorry. I thought this would take longer than it did. [laughs]
That’s okay. I’ve got nothing to hide, I’m happy to continue.
Yeah, no, you’ve answered the questions more readily than I expected, I’ll be honest. Oh yes—so, Sequence Bio, a little bit of a controversial company, they’ve been in the news doing a lot of heavy lobbying. Have you lobbied on their behalf, or on behalf of Canada Fluorspar in your role?
I have not.
No? OK. Do you share Chris Gardner’s view that the Health Research Ethics Board is “broken” and “a disaster”? Do you intend to reform it in some way?
Look, I mean, I served on the Ethics Board years ago, and it’s a volunteer board… I know how heavy and onerous the lifting can be on that Ethics Board. It’s…. it’s a lot of volunteer work, and a lot of volunteer hours, and the people on that board are to be commended for their service. The issue between the company and the Ethics Board, you’d have to ask Mr. Gardner to comment on that. It’s not uncommon in business to have a business and a regulator not aligned, and I believe that’s what Mr. Gardner was referring to.
OK, fair enough. And they indeed still have some problems gaining access from the Centre for Health Information. But you intend to recuse yourself from any dealings with that regard, is that correct?
100%. In fact, I plan to add an additional layer of ethics support for the executive of the government, to ensure that the decisions are being made for the right interests of the people of the province, and that would extend to Executive Council.
Newfoundland and Labrador is too small, everyone knows somebody, knows a cousin that has something to do with some business, and we need to have that extra level of scrutiny when decisions are being made that affect the business affairs of the province.
OK, very nice. And one further question I guess, so, Canada Fluorspar—
Fred Hutton: Tom, this is Fred, we’re going to have to wrap this up very soon, we’ve got a 9:30 [appointment] he’s gotta be briefed on.
OK, alright. Fair enough. Thanks for your time though.
Is that ok?
Yeah, it was a small question. Maybe I can email you afterwards, if you’re going to be sending us—
You can fire away, quickly.
OK, yep. So, Canada Fluorspar received some considerable loans in 2017 when you were on the board, what role did you play in securing those loans from the government and from ACOA?
No role, those were secured—those were just announced and finalized that year, they were secured, in my understanding, under previous administrations.
OK, great. Well, thanks for your time.
Photo via the Andrew Furey 2020 campaign.
The Independent is 100% funded by its readers. Your pay-what-you-can subscription or one-time donation provides a base of revenue to keep our bills paid and our contributors writing. For as little as $5 a month, you can fund the future of journalism in Newfoundland and Labrador.