New Brunswick

Saint John Development Corporation won't release documents on Marco Polo project

The Saint John Development Corporation is taking the position that it doesn't have to answer to the public even though it received hundreds of thousands of dollars of public funds.

Despite taxpayer funding, group says it's 'not a public body,' denies media request

Mike Demmer says he was attracted to not only the low cost of living in Saint John but also what the city offered. (Saint John Development Corporation)

The Saint John Development Corporation is taking the position that it doesn't have to answer to the public even though it received hundreds of thousands of dollars of public funds. 

Last year, the corporation received $275,600 from the City of Saint John, $25,000 from New Brunswick's Regional Development Corporation and $200,000 from the Canadian government's Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.

"Upon discussion with our counsel, we have determined that the Saint John Development Corporation is not a 'public body' as defined in the Right to Information and Protection of Privacy Act," wrote general manager Kent MacIntyre in a letter to the CBC.

"As such, the Saint John Development Corporation is not subject to access or disclosure obligations under the Act."

The CBC had been seeking email correspondence relating to the Marco Polo project.

A model replica of Saint John's most famous ship has been languishing in storage for years. 

On a previous occasion, the CBC was denied the name of a Nova Scotia developer who had pulled out of mega hotel proposal

'Clear information'

"The public is looking for clear information," said Saint John City Councillor Greg Norton. 

"If information isn't available, that certainly creates challenges for anybody advocating for any agency, board or commission looking for public dollars."

SJDC is also late publishing its annual reports. The reports for 2014 and 2015 were not made available in any form to the CBC. 

The most recent report online is from 2011 and other years are missing. 

The Saint John Development Corporation is a modern iteration of the Market Square corporation, which was created by provincial legislation in 1980.

The Saint John Development Corporation sometimes calls itself the Saint John Waterfront. (Google Images)
In its modern form, it sometimes appears as Saint John Waterfront and says it's responsible for generating "big ideas" to create a thriving retail and residential community around the city's harbour.

Norton characterized it as an economic arm of city hall, which in his view, hasn't delivered on enough promises. 

"I'm anxious to see results from a waterfront development perspective that move beyond renderings," said Norton.

Last year's ACOA grant – worth $200,000 from the Harper government – was earmarked to study whether it would be feasible to develop Partridge Island as a tourism destination, by making it accessible by foot. 

That study concluded that costs could balloon to $40 million.   

Response Wednesday

The Saint John Development Corporation Board is made up of seven members: five are appointed by Saint John's Common Council, one is appointed by the province and one is appointed by the federal government.

The mayor of Saint John, Don Darling, and City Manager Jeff Trail are ex officio members. 

Saint John Development Corporation features a rendering of waterfront development on its website. (Saint John Development Corporation)
"It's a lot of money," said Frédérick Dion, the director of the Francophone Municipalities Association of New Brunswick. 

"It's not like they subsidized a thousand dollars to a festival. We're talking about a lot of public municipal money," he said.

"Maybe the obligation of the municipality is to ask the corporation to open their books and show the results." 

CBC News reached out to MacIntyre for an interview Monday. He replied that he was away from the office and would be available for a response on Wednesday. 

About the Author

Rachel Cave is a CBC reporter based in Saint John, New Brunswick.

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