Business Cape Breton Part II: None of Your Business

Business Cape Breton (BCB) CEO Eileen Lannon Oldford left a special meeting of the CBRM council on 8 June 2016 in triumph—council had not only agreed that the CBRM should declare BCB its economic development arm, it had awarded the group a $115,000* “sustainability” grant to hang baskets of flowers throughout the municipality this summer.

Never mind that BCB does not qualify for sustainability grants, as CBRM Chief Financial Officer Marie Walsh pointed out just before council awarded the grant (it happens here at the 53.28 mark), rules are for little people, not for organizations so dear to the mayor’s heart they can get away with bringing a Vision Board to council in place of an actual business report:

 

Business Cape Breton Municipal Report 2013-2016

 

“Projected Job Potential” is an amazing stat — not one but two steps removed from “Actual Jobs.”

The Municipal Report, was accompanied by a Municipal Retention Report. It seems to be (and here I’m guessing because, as you will see below, I have been bugging BCB for a couple of weeks now and they’ve stopped answering my emails) a chart showing that of the original 108 companies listed, 99 are still extant, meaning, nine have folded. As the companies were unnamed, I had no idea which had succeeded and which failed — the Nova Scotia Registry of Joint Stock Companies does not allow you to search for “Company #1 in Inverness.”

On the other hand, if you are a fan of numbers, there are some really nice ones here — although none of them, oddly, is a date:

 

BCBslide2

 

Strictly Confidential

The majority of CBRM’s councilors apparently like numbers, because they accepted these charts as evidence that the municipality should leave the Regional Enterprise Network (which also included Victoria, Inverness and Richmond Counties) and strike out on its own with BCB as its dedicated economic development arm. I, on the other hand, felt a little more detail would be helpful, so I sent BCB a few questions about the businesses listed in those charts — questions like, what kind of businesses are these? Who owns them? What kind of assistance did BCB provide them? Here is the first answer I received:

BCBmemo

I was bemused.

Does the Personal Information and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) act apply to Business Cape Breton, a non-profit organization? I emailed the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada to inquire, and was told the following things:

The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) applies to organizations that collect, use or disclose personal information in the course of a commercial activity.

Most non-profits are not subject to the Act because they do not engage in commercial activities.

Federal privacy law, whether it’s PIPEDA, which covers most businesses, or the Privacy Act, which covers the federal government, applies to personal information, not business information.

The Canadian Standards Association Model Code is a component of PIPEDA and also applies to personal, not business, information. Having ascertained this (and because I am deeply annoying), I wrote BCB again asking for further clarification of its privacy rules, given it does not engage in commercial activities and the information I was asking for was business, not personal. I received this answer:

On behalf of BCB CEO, Eileen Lannon Oldford –  

Ms. Campbell –

BCB receives funding from ACOA and the island’s municipal units for its Small Business Development Program. BCB does not provide any financial assistance to any of its clients. Our Small Business Development Program provides services to business or potential businesses on Cape Breton Island by providing support for the successful creation, operation, and growth of small business with business counselling, business plan development, business skills training, and entrepreneurship awareness. BCB’s privacy policy respects the privacy of our clients and only releases information with their consent. Some of our clients have given their consent to be used in BCB marketing materials and they can be found on our website here: http://businesscapebreton.ca/about.php?cid=5&pid=425&lang=e.

 I hope this provides some additional clarification.

 Best regards,

 Eileen

I visited the BCB website and found listings for 28 companies — that is, 26% of the 108 companies listed in the “Municipal Report.” I cross-checked them with the Nova Scotia Registry of Joint Stock Companies and found that eight had been revoked for non-payment (accounting for all but one of the nine-company difference between the Municipal Report and the Municipal Retention Report, perhaps?) This is not to knock the entrepreneurs involved — starting a business is hard; starting a business in an economically depressed area like Cape Breton is infinitely harder and I respect anyone who tries to do it. But BCB should not be citing companies that no longer exist as success stories.

And why, suddenly, was Lannon Oldford no longer referencing PIPEDA but instead citing “BCB’s privacy policy?” I had to ask — is BCB covered by PIPEDA or is it governed by its own privacy policy? (Did I mention I’m annoying?) Here’s the answer I received:

On behalf of BCB CEO, Eileen Lannon Oldford –

Ms. Campbell –

BCB is a non-profit organization. Our clients engage in commercial activities – their personal, financial and commercial information is collected during the business planning process. We have a responsibility to protect all information collected. While we are not governed by PIPEDA, we have used PIPEDA as a guiding principle in the development of our privacy policy and our clients are governed by the act. As discussed in our last response to your inquiry, there are a number of our clients profiled on our website http://www.businesscapebreton.ca/about.php?cid=25&pid=425 . Please find below a breakdown of our client’s businesses by sector to date. Respecting our privacy policy, any information requests by third parties is released in cumulative fashion due to the confidentiality agreements signed by all staff members. I hope this provides some clarity.

Here’s the ‘by sector’ breakdown of BCB’s clients. It’s a shade more informative than the original chart — and it also includes 116 companies, which means, presumably, that eight were added between March and June 2016:

Industry#
Trades9
Tourism10
Food Retail15
Property Maintenance6
Medical3
Automotive Repair3
Information Technology4
Animal Services2
Event Management & Planning5
Photography 3
Beauty5
Energy2
Education2
Health & Wellness13
Automobile Accessories1
Art & Culture2
Furniture Repair1
Transportation1
Forestry1
Entertainment4
Retail4
Construction2

Automobile Sales1
Home Design2
Farming & Agriculture2
Professional Services3
E-Commerce2
Product Exporting1
Real Estate1
Clothing Retail1
Financial Services2
Driving Instruction1
Graphic Design1
Sports & Recreation1
Total116

Filled with expectation, I returned to the Nova Scotia Registry of Joint Stock Companies and typed in “Animal Services Company #2.” Best to draw a veil over the disappointment that followed…

Interestingly, BCB, although entirely funded by public monies (provincial and municipal) is not subject to Freedom of Information Protection of Privacy (FOIPOP) requests, so there is no way to find out for sure who is being helped or how — basically, there is no way to judge the organization’s work. Even had CBRM council been given time to debate the decision to tap BCB as its economic development arm (and it wasn’t, councilors weren’t even advised in advance that such a proposal was in the offing), they would have been hard put to evaluate the proposal on the basis of the materials presented.

Does this matter? I think it does. I think an organization funded entirely by public monies should be required to give a better account of itself to the public. It remains to be seen if anyone else — say, someone running for municipal office this fall — thinks so too.

*$115,000 was the number quoted during the council meeting but the actual grant awarded, according to information provided by Jennifer Campbell, manager of finance for the CBRM, was $102,360.