‘Visioning for what exactly?’

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I have been wading through pages of documents related to the CBRM and Business Cape Breton (BCB) and the provincial Department of Municipal Affairs (DMA) searching for answers to questions about economic development funding and Glace Bay revitalization and the role of our economic development “entity.”

While I still have more questions than answers, I did get at least one good laugh out of the exercise. It came from this 1 February 2017 email exchange between Shannon Bennett, the director of governance & advisory services with the DMA, and Gretchen Pohlkamp, the department’s executive director of corporate policy, planning and strategic initiatives:

1:51PM
Email from Shannon Bennett to Gretchen Pohlkamp
Subject: CBRM Visioning Committee

hey Gretchen,
The meetings in CBRM went well yesterday and Monday. We are going to work to set up a joint project group with staff from DMA and CBRM to move this forward. We had chatted before about Mico working with myself and Emily on this project, and I was wondering if you had the opportunity to chat with him about this yet?
Thanks,
Shannon

1:56PM
Email from Gretchen Pohlkamp to Shannon Bennet
Subject: RE: CBRM Visioning Committee

Shannon

Sorry – Visioning for what exactly? Is this related to the Charter?

1:57 PM
Email from Shannon Bennett to Gretchen Pohlkamp
Subject: RE: CBRM Visioning Committee

No, this is the $225k that was committed to CBRM to do a viability study.

I think “Visioning for what exactly?” should be BCB’s motto, emblazoned on all its staff and board members’ license plates.

 

Timeline

This article is for those of you like me, who are never happier than when hip-deep in a FOIPOP document dump.

Besides providing you links to all the materials I received, I have reconstructed, as best I could from those materials, the timeline that led to the CBRM (read: Business Cape Breton) receiving that $225,000 for a Glace Bay & Area Revitalization project earlier this year. (Those of you who prefer to cut to the chase and see why I think any of this matters can go to this article.)

The revitalization program was announced not by our mayor or by any of the councilors whose districts are directly implicated in the plan but by BCB chair Parker Rudderham, in January 2017.

To me, it seemed to come out of the blue and I wanted to see what kind of deliberations went into determining that this would be the best use of the CBRM’s economic development funding. I FOIPOPed the CBRM and the Department of Municipal Affairs looking for any documents related to the project. I didn’t FOIPOP BCB because I can’t — it doesn’t meet the definition of a public body.

The documents I received provide literally no explanation of how the decision to use $225,000 for a Glace Bay & Area Revitalization Plan was made. (And let’s be clear — BCB budgeted $80,000 to $100,000 for the plan, the remaining funds went into its own operations). All I know is that the decision was made sometime between 7 October 2016, when the DMA offered $225,000 in funding and 27 November 2016, when BCB CEO Eileen Lannon-Oldford wrote to then-CAO Michael Merritt and newly-minted economic development manager John Phalen telling them to ask the DMA for $225,000 for a Glace Bay & Area Revitalization Plan.

The implication is that the decision was made by BCB itself. That is a problem. But it’s also a problem that I can’t say for sure who made the decision because the records available to the public are so incomplete. That’s down to Nova Scotia’s piss-poor access to information legislation which, as Privacy Commissioner Catherine Tully said in her most recent report, doesn’t even impose a “legal obligation to create records in the first place.” As she said:

A right to access government information is meaningless if no record exists.

Our right to know how economic development decisions are made is being thwarted twice — first, because too much decision-making power seems to be vested in an organization that is not subject to our access to information legislation (such as it is) and second, because those organizations and individuals subject to the legislation don’t seem to be keeping adequate records. (Are we really to believe the Mayor had no input whatsoever into the Glace Bay & Area Revitalization Plan? Because based on the paper record, that would appear to be the case.)

Here’s my best effort to track how the revitalization plan became a thing. It all began in May 2016, when CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke decided to pull the CBRM out of Regional Enterprise Network 6, the provincially designated development body that included the CBRM and Inverness, Richmond and Victoria Counties…

 

Year: 2016

26 May

At a meeting of the Liaison and Oversight Committee for REN 6, CBRM Mayor Clarke announces the CBRM will withdraw from the REN. The committee passes a motion waiving the one-year notice period required for withdrawal.

8 June

Clarke informs CBRM Council that the municipality has withdrawn from the REN and proposes that Business Cape Breton will henceforward be the CBRM’s “economic development entity.” Council approves both the proposal and the 2016/2017 budget for BCB.

13 June

The provincial government’s Daily Issue Summary (Advice to Ministers) apparently contains some reference to the CBRM’s REN decision but that information has been redacted.

14 June

DMA spokesperson Sarah Gillis emails Mark Peck (DMA municipal advisor) and Gordon Smith (provincial director of planning) to say Nancy King of the Cape Breton Post and Mary Campbell of Go Cape Breton are asking questions about Clarke’s decision to leave REN 6.

15 June

DMA spokesperson Sarah Gillis emails DMA Deputy Minister Kelliann Dean, Mark Peck, Shawn Lawlor (executive assistant to the minister), Minister Zach Churchill, Shannon Bennett and Emily Pond (municipal advisor) attaching this CBC article by reporter Peggy MacDonald about the CBRM leaving REN 6.

July 4

Mayor Cecil Clarke finally gets around to informing the province officially he’s pulled the CBRM out of REN 6, sending an email to Churchill and CCing Kelliann Dean; CBRM CAO Michael Merritt, CBRM CFO Marie Walsh and Mark Peck. The subject line is: Request for CBRM REN Funding.

He attaches a letter and BCB’s “proposed business plan” for 2016-2017. This business plan does not include any mention of a Glace Bay and Area Revitalization project.

He says:

Further to our discussions, the CBRM wishes to proceed as a separate R.E.N. and is asking for the same level of 50/50 matching contributions of $223,956 from the Province and City.

Note: I requested every document the DMA had pertaining to the CBRM’s request for REN status and funding and yet I received nothing documenting these “discussions” Clarke refers to. Was Minister Churchill following Premier Stephen McNeil’s example and talking to Clarke by cell phone to avoid creating a record?

August 9

Clarke writes to Churchill again, CCing Kelliann Dean, Michael Merritt, Marie Walsh and Mark Peck. This time the subject line is:

Correspondence from Mayor Cecil P. Clarke — Regional Economic Development Cooperation — 2016/2017 Pilot Project.

He attaches a letter and a BCB memo about the Port of Sydney’s (all-but-meaningless) designation as a Foreign Trade Zone (FTZ).

He asks that 2016/2017 be considered a “pilot year” for this new economic development cooperation, adding:

The pilot would include the inclusion of trade and marketing, building on the accomplishment of a Foreign Trade Zone as well as tourism and cultural-based industry development.

The CEO of Destination Cape Breton, Mary Tulle, is working with City officials on a go-forward basis for a new tourism and cultural industry strategy that will affect all sectors of the local market phase.

August 25

Minister Churchill finally gets around to answering Clarke’s letters of July 4 and August 9. He says:

The Department of Municipal Affairs is currently in the process of reviewing CBRM’s funding request.

October 7

DMA Deputy Minister Kelliann Dean emails CBRM CAO Michael Merritt regarding the CBRM’s request for funding.

She attaches this letter. In it, she first turns down the CBRM’s request to be considered as a separate REN. She then offers the following to “encourage long-term prosperity” in our municipality:

  • DMA staff support in identifying and mapping “assets of significance to CBRM,” which is “an important step toward being able to use land-use plans as a tool to promote business development.”
  • Up to $100,000 in funding “for a process to examine the viability issues facing CBRM.”
  • Upon conclusion of this exercise, an additional $125,000 “for necessary studies to implement recommendations/solutions…for example, funding could be used to support  a wastewater infrastructure study that would examine the  cost of meeting the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) wastewater effluent standards in CBRM.”

Apparently, she didn’t like any of Clarke’s suggestions about trade and marketing and promoting the FTZ and involving DCB and Mary Tulle. Go figure.

November 27

Eileen Lannon-Oldford emails Michael Merritt and CBRM Economic Development Manager John Phalen, CCing “Douglas Rudderham” (i.e. Parker Rudderham, who as of September 2016 has been chair of the BCB board.) She attaches a copy of the Glace Bay Revitalization Strategy.

Hi Mike and John

Here is the information for consideration to incorporate into the email that is to be prepared for Kelliann for the $225,000 request. It has been sent to the Mayor for his review. Please feel free to adjust at your discretion. Would you please advise Parker and I [sic] when the letter is ready so he may have Geoff review a copy and he can expedite on his end.

Much appreciated!

Eileen

“Geoff,” of course, is Glace Bay MLA Geoff MacLellan. Phalen is the CBRM’s new economic development manager, appointed sometime that month, as he was still public works manager as late as October 2016. Where the revitalization plan came from, whose idea it was or how it was drafted remains shrouded in mystery — it apparently descended fully-formed from the heavens on 27 November 2016.

November 29

1:28PM

Lannon-Oldford emails Cecil Clarke (at both his official CBRM address and at cecilclarke@eastlink.ca, which is apparently not a private address as it was not redacted), Michael Merritt, John Phalen and Parker Rudderham.

Hi All

Here is the final product after today’s discussion with the Mayor and John Phalen.

John, it is my understanding from the Mayor that you will prepare the email to ask Kelliann once you return tomorrow. Would you please forward a copy to me.

Thank you to all!

Regards Eileen

2:09PM

Parker Rudderham forwards Lannon-Oldford’s email to Geoff MacLellan at MacLellan’s official government address (MACLELGC@novascotia.ca).

4:34PM

Geoff MacLellan responds to Parker Rudderham (again, from his official government account):

Looks fantastic!

4:36PM

Parker Rudderham fowards MacLellan’s response to Cecil Clarke and Eileen Lannon-Oldford.

7:12PM

Eileen Lannon-Oldford writes to “Cecil Clark” (I’m sorry, I shouldn’t laugh, but she clearly has his name misspelled in her contacts list), Michael Merritt and John Phalen. She CC’s Parker Rudderham. The subject line is: Geoff’s response.

Hi Gentlemen

Geoff’s response sent to Parker re the document.

If we can get the CBRM letter/email to Kelliann tomorrow it would expedite the approval and flow of funds.

Thanks Eileen

Note: In June 2017, I FOIPOPed the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, of which MacLellan had been minister until the May 2017 elections, asking for:

…any and all documents and communications between Transportation Minister Geoff MacLellan and the Cape Breton Regional Municipality and/or Business Cape Breton and/or BCB CEO Eileen Lannon-Oldford and/or CBRM economic development manager John Phalen pertaining to a request for $225,000 for a Glace Bay & Area Revitalization Study. The timeframe is May 2016 to the present.

The ministry responded to my request in July 2017, stating they did not have the information I’d asked for nor did they know of “any department or agency which would hold such (a) record(s).”

10:10PM

John Phalen emails Eileen Lannon-Oldford:

Just got back from Halifax…will be in the office tomorrow am…will draft the response

November 30

6:24AM

Eileen Lannon-Oldford emails John Phalen:

Thanks John for your attention to this request. I am available tomorrow should you require anything further.

11:02AM

John Phalen emails Kelliann Dean at what appears to be her private email address (it has been redacted under Section 480 of the Municipal Government Act which applies to private contact information). He CCs Michael Merritt and Marie Walsh. The subject line is: Glace Bay Revitalization Project. A  copy of the request has been attached.

I am following up in regard to discussions that the board of Business Cape Breton have had with the province in regard to a number of strategic projects they can pursue.

A pilot revitalization project for Glace Bay is envisioned and the project scope is attached.

The proposal asks for $225,000 to draft a Glace Bay and Area Revitalization Plan. Somehow, the DMA’s suggestion that the community be engaged to discuss its priorities and that monies then be directed toward a study supporting those priorities has turned into Business Cape Breton choosing a priority and then engaging a consultant to ask the community what it thinks of it. And if you’re in any doubt as to who is really the priority here, read the funding request:

Amount requested: $225,000

These funds will cover Business Cape Breton’s operational costs. Inclusive in the amount of $225,000 as well will be the cost to engage a consultant to develop the Glace Bay Revitalization Plan.

(In the end, BCB’s RFP will budget “$80,000 to $100,000″for a consultant, leaving between $125,000 to $145,000 for its own operations, as Lannon-Oldford confirmed for me in February 2017.)

December 8

Zach Churchill writes to Cecil Clarke, CCing John Phalen, Michael Merritt and Donna Jones (senior financial analyst, DMA).

He states that he is following up on Kelliann Dean’s October 7 letter to Michael Merritt:

…where we committed $225,000 to support CBRM in conducting an innovative community-led viability exercise. Subsequently, on November 30, 2016, the Department received a request for $225,000 from John Phalen, Mnager Economic Development/Major Projects for a pilot revitalization project for Glace Bay.

Churchill says they’d envisioned:

…an innovative approach to looking at the viability of the entire municipality, following a successful model that has been used in other urban areas with population decline.

Therefore, for clarification, the original offer of $225,000 is no longer applicable and we will instead fund the $225,000 Glace By revitalization project. Department staff will work with CBRM staff to ensure that the terms of reference and reporting requirements are clear.

Note: I received this letter, as I did much of the information in this timeline, from the CBRM which I FOIPOPed in March 2017 requesting:

…all documentation — emails, memos, correspondence, etc. — regarding the CBRM’s application for funding from the provincial government for a revitalization plan for Glace Bay & Area. the timeframe is 1 January 2016 to the present.

But I also FOIPOPed the Department of Municipal Affairs, requesting:

Any and all documents pertaining to the Cape Breton Regional Municipality’s request for $225,000 to conduct an “innovative, community-led, viability exercise,” which was approved by the Department (as indicated in a 7 Oct. 2016 letter from Deputy Minister Dean to CBRM CAO Michael Merritt) but later cancelled in favor of a $225,000 request from CBRM economic development manager John Phalen to fund a “pilot revitalization project for Glace Bay.” I would also like to see any and all documentation surrounding the Glace Bay revitalization project request, including any communications between the Department and Business Cape Breton. The timeframe is 1 May 2016 to the present.

So when John Phalen writes to Kelliann Dean and says he’s following up “in regard to discussions that the board of Business Cape Breton have had with the province in regard to a number of strategic projects they can pursue,” one would expect to find records of such discussions in the document dump — but there is nothing in this disclosure package or in this one.

So if “the board” of BCB was talking to the DMA, it was doing so through unofficial channels.

 

Year: 2017

January 8

At long last, Lannon-Oldford emails Councilors Darren Bruckschwaiger, Amanda McDougall and George MacDonald, whose districts will be implicated in the revitalization plan. She also emails John Phalen. Here’s the full email, which I shared with you last Friday (click on the image to enlarge it):

 

January 14

4:39AM

Six days later (at 4:39 in the morning?) Lannon-Oldford emails the BCB board (which, according to John Phalen’s email to Kelliann Dean, had been discussing the project with the DMA all along) to let directors know what’s happening. She emails “ilovett” (presumably board secretary/treasurer Marlene Lovett), Parker Rudderham, Cecil Saccary, Danny Ellis, Duke Fraser and Leroy Peach and CCs Cecil Clark [sic], Phalen, Michael Merritt, Mark Bettens (Clarke’s executive assistant) and Christina Lamey (Clarke’s spokesperson).

Subject: Fwd: Glace Bay & Area Revitalization Plan

For your information purposes. Scroll down for Press Release and background info for Glace Bay and Area Revitalization Plan which encompasses now Reserve Mines and Dominion. BCB is in process of developing draft RFP and how the public meeting will be planned.

February 1

This is where the email exchange between Shannon Bennett and Gretchen Pohlkamp cited above happens. I am not sure whether Bennett’s reference to a “viability study” means the Glace Bay and Area Revitalization plan, but Churchill did promise (threaten?) in that December 8 letter that “Department staff will work with CBRM staff to ensure that the terms of reference and reporting requirements are clear.” BCB’s request for proposals for a consultant to draft the plan carried a February 8 deadline.

February 21

3:03PM

Shannon Bennett emails Michael Merritt:

Hi Mike,

[REDACTED ‘N/R’] I just wanted to check in with you on a few items…

Second, I am keen to get going on the CBRM Viability project. From our Department, myself, Emily and Mico will be dedicated resources, and we can bring in others as need be. Have you had the opportunity to identify who we could meeting with to start developing a TOR [Terms of Reference] for the project?…

9:31PM

Merritt replies, saying he has not had time to identify the team that could work on the TOR for the “Viability project.” (But really, what does Merritt have time for at this point? He’s a month away from announcing he’s leaving the CBRM.)

March 21

8:06AM

John Phalen emails Kelliann Dean,  CCing Michael Merritt and Geoff MacLellan (at mla@geoffmaclellan.ca) The subject line is: Business Cape Breton. Phalen has attached a Proposal for PNS 2017.pdf.

Dear Deputy Minister,

Please find attached proposal from Business Cape Breton that outlines work to be proposed for April 1, 2017 to March 31, 2018.

We would ask that you review and consider our request to pursue this work for the coming fiscal year.

Any questions, please contact

John Phalen

Attached is a funding request for $223,956 and BCB’s proposal for 2017-2018, which includes a revitalization project for New Waterford and Whitney Pier.

11:54AM

Shannon Bennett emails Laura Bellefontaine (executive secretary to Kelliann Dean). The subject is: Agenda for Mayor Clark [sic] meeting with Minister Churchill.

The agenda consists of six items, four of which are redacted.

Items 3 and 4 state:

Economic Development-

a) CBRM would like a funding commitment in this area; will we fund their Ren like activity.

4. Viability Study-

a. Next steps (DMA is waiting to hear who the municipality wants to have on the committee responsible for drafting the Terms of Reference. DMA has committed an advisor, policy analyst, and planning support.)

Note: I have asked the DMA to clarify that this “viability study” is the Glace Bay & Area Revitalization Plan. As of press time, I had not received a response.

April 22

8:37 AM (Saturday)

Phalen emails Kelliann Dean CCs Marie Walsh. The subject is: FW: Business Cape Breton and Phalen has attached BCB’s 2017/18 plan.

Dear Deputy Minister,

Has there been any progress on this file? Please contact if any further information is required.

Best regards,

John Phalen

And on that plaintive note, the record ends. I submitted that particular FOIPOP in June 2017 so that means that as of June 6, Phalen had not received an official response.

I asked Sarah Gillis of Municipal Affairs if the province had agreed to fund BCB’s 2017/18 proposal but as of press time, I had not received an answer.

 

Note: This story has been updated to identify Laura Bellefontaine’s position in the Department of Municipal  Affairs.

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