Letter to the Editor: Port Hawkesbury’s Lobbyist

Dear Editor,

Airport sign, free stock photo.

Airport sign, free stock photo.

For the record, on June 17 the Town of Port Hawkesbury registered an Ottawa-addressed Greg Maceachern as a consultant lobbyist with respect to the Allan J. MacEachen Port Hawkesbury Airport regarding infrastructure and transportation matters concerning regional development. In essence, the mayor of Port Hawkesbury is using local taxpayers to fight against the proposed Inverness airport, on the premise it’s not a good use of taxpayers’ dollars.

I note that the registered lobbyist’s report for activity during the period June 17 – July 17 has not yet been filed online. Also, whereas the Town of Port Hawkesbury has an arm’s-length Airport Management Committee responsible for the airport, I wonder whether the Town of Port Hawkesbury has acted outside their authority to hire a consultant lobbyist to represent the Port Hawkesbury airport on behalf of their private airport contractor, Celtic Air Services (CAS)?

It’s likely not offside, given that Port Hawkesbury owns the airport, and I see online the Town of Port Hawkesbury is still identified as the operator of the airport. My questions are:

Is the Port Hawkesbury airport run on an arm’s-length basis from the Town of Port Hawkesbury or not?

If the Town of Port Hawkesbury owns the airport, where within the Consolidated Financial Statements for the municipality can taxpayers see the separate historical financials for the Port Hawkesbury airport for the pre-Cabot Links & Cliffs era, versus recent business since the airport was leased to CAS? An internet search did not yield any financial statements for the Port Hawkesbury Airport.

Also online, I see reference to the Counties of Inverness and Richmond also contributing (in the past and present) to the Port Hawkesbury airport and it would be useful for the taxpaying public to know how much has gone into the Port Hawkesbury airport in the past and recently.

Port Hawkesbury’s CAO makes six digits and may serve as its corporate officer and many even smaller municipalities have corporate officers whose function it is to speak with the press and contact government on behalf of the municipality. The skill is in-house within the municipality to do the task. Yet, Mayor Chisholm-Beaton hired an Ottawa-based consultant lobbyist on behalf of the Town of Port Hawkesbury, which owns the Port Hawkesbury airport, to fight against a proposed rival Inverness airport.

That’s Cape Breton for you, we are now hiring and spending taxpayers’ dollars to fight against each other, paradoxically on the pretext of how taxpayers money should be spent.

Hurray Port Hawkesbury!

Mark Macneill
Mabou, NS


The Editor responds:

Sometimes I can’t resist responding to letters to me, the editor. I chalk it up to having been introduced to the snarky letters section of Car and Driver magazine at an impressionable age.

Mark Macneill has accomplished an amazing feat of magic in his account of the Inverness airport controversy, making Ben Cowan-Dewar — owner of Cabot Golf, chair of Destination Canada, adviser to the federal minister of tourism and chief proponent of the airport — disappear entirely from the story.

Instead of debating whether we should spend (at least) $18 million in public money (I refuse to use the term “taxpayer”) on an airport destined to serve one private developer, Macneill would have us focus on the Town of Port Hawkesbury’s use of public money to hire a lobbyist to oppose the project, an undertaking Macneill himself admits is not “offside.”

I think this is what is known as a “distraction.”

And while I’m generally sympathetic to anyone demanding greater transparency and accountability from government, I’m not sure Macneill’s inability to find the information he wants on the internet is quite the indictment of the Town of Port Hawkesbury he’d have us believe.

For example, I found Port Hawkesbury’s Consolidated Financial Statements for 2016 — the year before Celtic Air Services was engaged to operate the airport — on the town website and they clearly show the town’s expenditures on the airport for 2016 and 2015 (you can click on the image to enlarge it):


They also show the airport funding received from other municipalities:


The website carries financial statements going back to 2010, so Macneill could do his pre- and post-Cabot Golf comparisons.

Presumably, Richmond and Inverness Counties also include their contributions to the airport in their financial statements. (I haven’t looked because these are not my questions — they’re Macneill’s.)

But let’s say Macneill wants greater detail about the airport’s finances, or data going back to 1973, the year the Port Hawkesbury airport was built — in short, information that is not available online.

What I would do in that situation is write the CAO of the Town of Port Hawkesbury (whose “six-digit” salary,” for the record, is $115,000) and ask for the information.

If the CAO refused to give it to me or insisted I submit a FOIPOP request and then tried to charge me hundreds of dollars for responding to it, I’d be all up in Port Hawkesbury’s grill about it — you know me. But until I’d made an honest effort to access the information, I’d hold off on the cries of “No accountability!”

And speaking of the CAO, Macneill’s suggestion that he should be the one to go to Ottawa and seek answers to the Town’s questions about the proposed Inverness airport seems unhelpful, given that Mayor Chisholm-Beaton’s reason for hiring a lobbyist (as explained to the Cape Breton Post on June 18) was that the municipality was not “in the loop” on the issue:

We weren’t at the table. We weren’t part of the discussion process. We weren’t even part of any potential solutions.

In conclusion, while I don’t have a problem printing letters from people with whom I disagree, I do feel an obligation to ensure those letters are factual. (Which reminds me, Macneill’s description of the Airport Management Committee as an “arm’s-length” organization is not accurate. The committee is made up entirely of elected municipal officials, which makes it kind of the exact opposite of an arm’s-length organization.)

There’s enough misinformation on the internet already; I feel no need to add to the supply.

The Editor