FOIPOP Findings: Introduction

You know the story: back in July 2015 I submitted an access to information request to the Cape Breton Regional Municipality asking for all port-related communications between Mayor Cecil Clarke, CAO Michael Merritt, the mayor’s communications staff (basically, Christina Lamey) and port promoters Albert Barbusci and Barry Sheehy from 1 December 2013 to 29 June 2015.

The CBRM came back with 28 pages, I appealed, the process dragged on for five years and then, last November, Nova Scotia’s privacy commissioner ruled in my favor and said the CBRM should release to me 890 pages — the original 28 documents minus unnecessary redactions plus an additional 862 documents it had withheld entirely.

To date, I have received 859 pages and I may receive more on or before 31 January 2021.

Port docs released through FOIPOP

I have spent the past five days poring over them, taking notes, cross-checking references, trying to piece together timelines. No redactions have been marked, but there is at least one document I know is missing, so it will be interesting to see if it shows up before the end of the month.

In some ways, this feels like ancient history — Clarke is no longer mayor, Merritt is no longer CAO, Eldon MacDonald is the only councilor who was in office during the period covered by my FOIPOP request (Darren Bruckschwaiger had quit in September 2014), the Chinese construction company is no longer in the picture. But what makes reading these communications worthwhile is that the port promoters at the center of them are still very much on the scene. Their “exclusive” contract with the Port of Sydney has outlasted the mayor who championed it. And they will no doubt be looking to renew it.

I plan to scan all the documents eventually and make them available to anyone who is interested.

There are a lot of themes I want to follow up, so I’ll be focusing on the FOIPOP documents for the next couple of issues. If it sounds horribly dry, fear not — a lot of it is pretty funny in an “if you didn’t laugh you’d cry” kind of way. (Like the revelation that Clarke, who famously explained when announcing his run for the provincial Tory leadership that he never took vacation, spent three weeks in Florida in May 2015.)

I’ve also made these 2014 and 2015 calendars that show each day on which there was some communication between members of the “port team” (blue dots). I’ve also marked each day on which there was an in camera session of CBRM council (pink dots). (I didn’t include the one email I have from 2013, and obviously, I don’t know what communications were going on after 29 June 2015).

Okay, that’s all for now, I hope you enjoy this week’s articles. You’ve certainly waited long enough for them.