Albert Barbusci Goes Nuclear

Enquête, Radio-Canada’s investigative news show — think, Fifth Estate in French on Friday dedicated part of its last episode of the season to a story involving a familiar face:

Albert Barbusci on Enquête

Still from Enquête, “Un secret radioactif ” (YouTube)

It seems “Montreal businessman” Albert Barbusci, in addition to working tirelessly to promote the Port of Sydney (and his Florida tree-climbing parks) has been scheming to store the world’s nuclear waste in Atlantic Canada. You can watch the full French program at the link above or read the English summary here. I’m just going to highlight aspects I feel are of particular interest to CBRM residents, given our contractual relationship with Barbusci.

Emails leaked to Enquête show that between 2019 and 2020, Barbusci, US businessman Tim Frazier of Terra Vault; high-ranking Japanese officials and former Canadian Prime Minister Chrétien were discussing the possibility of creating a deep geological repository (DGR) for nuclear waste in Labrador.

Asked about the project by Enquête host Marie-Maude Denis, Barbusci got testy:

No, I can stop you right away because you are talking about a project and it’s not a project, not at all. There isn’t even a file on the project.

Barbusci also insisted Labrador was not under consideration:

It could be anywhere. Because there’s no site.

But Enquête had the goods, including an email in which Barbusci reassures a Japanese official about a coming change of leadership in Newfoundland and Labrador:

As you may already know, Premier [Dwight] Ball has announced that he will be stepping down and a new leader will be named on August 3rd. That said, we plan to stay connected with Premier Ball so the transition is expected to be smooth.

Greg Mercer, Ball’s chief of staff, had lobbied on behalf of Terra Vault prior to taking the job in the premier’s office. Ball himself told the CBC that Chrétien had approached him about the idea of a DGR in Labrador:

My response to him was swift to say, as the premier my government is not interested in entering into any discussions with your clients on this issue.

Ball’s successor, Andrew Furey, said Chrétien had mentioned the possibility to him when he was running for the leadership of the provincial Liberal party last year:

It was very brief. It was a suggestion of economic opportunity through nuclear waste — in burying nuclear waste for the province. I said “that’s not on.”

And finally, Chrétien himself, in a sit-down interview with Denis, openly admitted the plan was to store nuclear waste in Labrador — “in the basement” as he put it. Asked if he really thought it was a good idea to store such waste “forever” in Labrador, Chrétien said, “C’est pas mal mieux qu’à Montréal.” (Better than in Montreal.)

So while the obvious first concern here is the secret plan for storing nuclear waste, I think we in CBRM should also note how completely dishonest Barbusci was when asked about it.


Marie-Maude Denis

As a Montrealer, Barbusci has to know who Marie-Maude Denis is. Her reporting on collusion and corruption in Quebec’s construction industry led to the creation of the Charbonneau Commission and the resignations of top officials, including Montreal Mayor Michael Applebaum.

She is one of a number of Quebec journalists who were spied on by Quebec provincial police, a situation that led to another commission of inquiry.

And she was ordered by a Quebec judge to reveal a source, an order she refused and that Radio-Canada appealed, resulting in a landmark Supreme Court of Canada decision upholding the rights of journalists to protect their sources.

In short, she is one of the highest-profile journalists in the province and when she calls, a wise person would probably give her straight answers. But Barbusci does not seem to be a wise person. Besides denying that Labrador was the intended site of the DGR, he engaged in this exchange about the extent of Chrétien’s involvement in the project:

Marie-Maude Denis (MMD): Is Mr. Chrétien involved?

Barbusci: No.

MMD: He’s not involved?

Barbusci: We’ve had…like, probably 20 minutes of conversation.

MMD: Did you get him to sign a letter for Hisafumi Koga of Kyodo PR relations?

Barbusci: That’s part of our 20-minute conversation.

MMD: So he signed a letter?

Barbusci: If you have a copy of the letter, then you know that he signed it. If you don’t have a copy, then you don’t know. I’m not commenting.



The Canadian Press, following up on the Enquête report, noted that:

According to the provincial registry of lobbyists, Terra Vault shares a Montreal address with Sydney Harbour Investment Partners, for which Chrétien was an international adviser. In 2018, Nova Scotia RCMP investigated Chrétien for allegations of illegally lobbying the province’s then-premier Stephen McNeil about a port proposal. The RCMP said they had found no wrongdoing.

Barbusci and Frazier also, according to Enquête, share a lawyer, Terry Didus of Dentons. At one point in the interview, Chrétien denies that anything he’s done in support of the nuclear waste project can be characterized as lobbying, claiming he had acted simply as a lawyer. But Denis cited the letter to the head of a Japanese PR agency (the one she’d discussed with Barbusci) which Chrétien had signed as “prime minister of Canada 1993-2003.” Chrétien claimed the phrasing was an error in judgement on the part of the lawyer who wrote it — Didus.

Terry Didus, Dentons


I thought the name sounded familiar, and sure enough, it appears in the documents I received from the CBRM in response to my 2015 FOIPOP. Here’s Barbusci writing to then-CBRM mayoral spokesperson (now CBRM municipal communications officer) Christina Lamey about getting documents translated through Dentons. Barbusci clearly reached out to his lawyer there, Didus:



Same MO?

Denis interviews Political Science Professor Denis Saint-Martin who has a term for the kind of hush-hush dealings this case represents: “silent politics.” Saint-Martin says it happens exactly as described in the emails: a group of lawyers and lobbyists and businesspeople, rather than going public with their plans, first take the time to get their ducks in order. (That’s my translation of the French expression “alignent leurs pions”). Saint-Martin says proponents will quietly find First Nations who support their plans, then get international groups to validate their project on the grounds of national or world interest.

As I listened, I found myself picturing this photo:

PICTURED L-R: Chief Terry Paul, Peter Ford (Chief Strategy Officer at Ports America), Rt. Hon. Jean Chretien, Chief Leroy Denny, Albert Barbusci of SHIP, Daniel Peritz (Senior Vice-President of Canderel).

I realize the parallels are not perfect — although Barbusci insists on almost total secrecy in terms of the Sydney container terminal project, he has been happy to publicize the support of First Nations like Membertou and Eskasoni. In fact, he sent out a press release with the above photo, taken at an “historic meeting” of “key” Novaporte “partners” at the head office of the real estate developer Canderel in Montreal in December 2016. Pictured, along with Barbusci and Chrétien, are Membertou Chief Terry Paul, Eskasoni Chief Leroy Denny, Ports America chief strategy officer Peter Ford and Canderel senior VP Daniel Peritz. Ports America had signed on to operate any terminal SHIP managed to build and Canderel had become a SHIP shareholder and was to develop the logistics park adjacent to the terminal.

Since we’re talking about it, this seems like a good time to point out that Barbusci has been less forthcoming about what’s happened since that photo was taken, namely:

  • Canderel’s subsidiary, Canderel Martime Ventures, Inc, is no longer listed as a SHIP partner in the Quebec business registry and former Canderel CEO Jonathan Wener no longer appears on Novaporte’s “leadership” page.
  • Peter Ford is no longer with Ports America. According to his LinkedIn profile, he left in March 2018. His new job — which he began this month — is SVP for global infrastructure with the French container shipping company CMA CGM.
  • In January 2020, SHIP announced it had “expanded its partnership consortium” to include Membertou First Nation and Bridging Finance Inc. Membertou Corporate was reported to have bought 22.5% of SHIP. But there is still no mention of Membertou in SHIP’s listing with the Quebec business registry, which names only Barbusci as the majority shareholder.

But back to the subject at hand: having plowed through over 800 pages of documents related to port development in CBRM, I think “silent politics” is exactly the phrase for it — we rarely knew where Mayor Cecil Clarke and the port “team” were traveling or whom they were meeting or what they were discussing during the entire time Clarke headed the “port file.” It was only in reading  FOIPOPed documents years later that I discovered the meetings with CN and Dentons and Jean Chrétien’s brother and the contract with Dundee Capital and (who could forget?) the letter to Sheldon Adelson.

CBRM, when you think about it, is an old hand at “secret politics.”


Canada’s responsibility

One of the most amazing things about Chrétien’s interview was his contention that, having made money selling uranium, “Canada” should feel obligated to help deal with the waste products associated with it.

“Canada” was once in the business of selling uranium, it’s true — it expropriated the assets of Eldorado Gold Mines Limited in 1943 to form a federal crown corporation called Eldorado Mining and Refining Limited. But in 1988, that crown was merged with a Saskatchewan provincial crown corporation called Saskatchewan Mining Development Corporation and privatized as the Canadian Mining and Energy Corporation or Cameco.

Cameco is the world’s largest publicly traded uranium company and one of two key producers in Canada, the other being US-based Orano. According to Natural Resources Canada:

A number of joint venture partners work with Cameco and Orano in their mining and milling operations. In addition, hundreds of companies in Canada fill specific niches in the uranium industry, such as uranium exploration and engineering services.

So if you’re going to point to anyone and say they are responsible for the externalities associated with uranium sales, surely you should point at the private companies profiting from those sales.

Of course, Chrétien can’t go there: holding private companies responsible for the external costs associated with their products would open up all kinds of dangerous possibilities (like asking petrochemical companies to clean up the plastics in the ocean). Instead, the former prime minister suggests Canada’s obligation to deal with nuclear waste can best be discharged by a private company.

It’s a perfect system, one in which all the external costs and risks are borne by government while all the profits are reaped by the private sector.



I think this will actually count as a “draw your own conclusion” article, although the way I see it, there are only two conclusions to be drawn.

Either you believe that Barbusci is an actual force in the world of business who almost succeeded in helping an American company bury Japanese nuclear waste in Labrador.


You believe Barbusci fancies himself a force in the world of business but, other than selling his advertising agency in the ’90s, has not accomplished much of note and this nuclear waste scheme would have gone the way of his plans for online Mah-jong and high-end Chinese memorial parks.

Either way, though, the value of the CBRM’s continued association with him seems debatable.