Nova Scotia

'We were being scolded': Cape Breton councillors allege they were bullied before port vote

Councillors Kendra Coombes and Earlene MacMullin say they felt intimidated and pressured by officials in favour of the deal, which Sydney Harbour Investment Partners denies.

Port marketers wanted unanimous vote in favour of 5-year extension of port contract; it ended up 9-4

Ports America, the biggest terminal operator in North America, recently signed a deal to work with Sydney Harbour Investment Partners (SHIP) to develop and run Novaporte, the planned marine container facility in the Port of Sydney. (HPDP) (HPDP)

Three Cape Breton regional councillors who voted against extending a port development contract with a private consulting firm are alleging proponents of the Sydney marine terminal tried to force them into making the vote unanimous.

Monday's vote at council was 9-4 in favour of awarding a five-year extension of a contract that gives Sydney Harbour Investment Partners, also known as SHIP, exclusive rights to market the port.

Three of the dissenters — councillors Kendra Coombes, Earlene MacMullin and Amanda McDougall — told CBC's Information Morning Cape Breton on Tuesday they felt pressured to accept the contract.

Coun. Ray Paruch also voted against the extension.

Not enough details

At the time, the four said they needed more information.

In particular, they were concerned over an addition to the contract that could lead to the Cape Breton Regional Municipality leasing the 201 hectares of port land for 99 years or selling it outright for $10 million. That lease has to be approved by the province.

They attended a meeting, billed as a technical briefing, with other councillors prior to the vote.

'More like a bullying session'

"What it really felt like in the end was a complete, one-sided lobby," MacMullin said.

Coun. Earlene MacMullin says she objects to tactics used before Monday's vote on the contract extension for port development. (Earlene MacMullin - CBRM Councillor District 2/Facebook)

She alleged prominent businessmen were brought into the meeting to try to convince them to approve the five-year extension to SHIP's exclusive right to develop the port's marine terminal.

Coombes said she also felt intimidated.

"It was more like a bullying session, actually," she said. "It felt like we were being put back in our place."

She described some of the comments made to her as "very condescending."

'We were being scolded'

The dissenting councillors said they were told anything but a unanimous vote could kill a potential container terminal deal.

Ports America, the biggest terminal operator in North America, recently signed an agreement to work with SHIP to develop and run Novaporte, the planned marine container facility in the Port of Sydney.

MacMullin alleged SHIP CEO Albert Barbusci spent the first 10 minutes of the meeting criticizing the councillors' bid to delay the vote until they had more information, labelling their concerns "nonsense" and "disappointing."

"We were being scolded," she said.

CEO denies accusations

Barbusci denied the accusations.

"I don't know how they drew that conclusion," he said in an interview Tuesday. "Nobody strong-armed them. Because people came to speak in favour, doesn't mean that there was intimidation."

He said as councillors, they are expected to ask questions.

"They had a vote, we respected the vote. I don't blame the new councillors for doing what they did. It's their prerogative."

But he was adamant there were no bullying tactics.

"There was no intimidation whatsoever."

99-year lease

Coombes objects to the dissenters being portrayed as resisting development, saying they simply wanted to see the contract and get an outside opinion on its ramifications.

Paruch spoke out against the inclusion of a long-term lease on the property at Monday's meeting.

"A 99-year lease of land is a purchase," he said. "They want to buy our land and they put a number out of $10 million, no appraisals."

Mayor Cecil Clarke said if the province does not allow the lease, the developers would be looking for a provision that would allow the sale of the site.

With files from Information Morning Cape Breton

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