Nova Scotia

CBRM wants $43K to process freedom of information request

The Cape Breton Regional Municipality wants nearly $43,000 to answer a resident's questions about municipal expense claims and contracts related to port development.

Resident asked for municipal expense claims, contracts related to port development

A Cape Breton resident is using access to information laws look expense filings by the CBRM, the Port of Sydney Development Corporation, the Harbour Port Development Partners Incorporated and the Business Cape Breton Association. (Warren Gordon)

The Cape Breton Regional Municipality wants nearly $43,000 to answer a resident's questions about municipal expense claims and contracts related to port development.

The request was made through Nova Scotia's Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, known as FOIPOP.

The CBRM said filling the request will take 16,000 pages of photocopying and 1,316 hours of work at $30/hr.

The person seeking the information does not want to be identified, but is represented by Sydney lawyer Guy LaFosse.

"The public has a right to access information as to how public funds are being spent by CBRM, how people are being employed," he said.

"So it's important that we get full disclosure of these things so that we can see that things are done in a correct and proper manner."

Information on 3 bodies, CBRM

The request is looking at three bodies in addition to the CBRM — the Port of Sydney Development Corporation and Harbor Port Development Partners Incorporated and the Business Cape Breton Association.

The public has a right to access information as to how public funds are being spent by CBRM- Guy LaFosse

Port of Sydney Development Corporation is responsible for managing cruise ship activity and business development for the port. The corporation's board is chaired by CBRM's CAO Michael Merritt and the mayor, deputy mayor and three councillors serve as directors. 

Harbor Port Development Partners is a private company granted exclusive rights by CBRM to build a financial and operating consortium to construct a deep water port at Sydney. CEO Albert Barbusci said the company is using its own money to do the work.

Business Cape Breton Association is a society that does economic development work. In a lawyer's letter to LaFosse, BCBA said it does not have to provide information because it is not a public body.

Public's right to information

Nova Scotia's Privacy Commissioner Catherine Tully said when organizations work with government, the public has a right to information:

"Any record that is in the control or custody of a public body is subject to access law," she said.

"Often the business may supply information that may be in the custody of the public body and so can also be accessed."

The request is asking for copies of expenses from the mayor and his personal staff, Mark Bettans and Christina Lamey, as well as expenses from Merritt and Port of Sydney CEO Marlene Usher.

$42.8K fee 'unusual'

The applicant wants to know if Business Cape Breton, Habor Port Development Partners or the Port of Sydney Development Corporation are paying any of their expenses.

They also want the details of any contracts between CBRM and those organizations, or between any of the organizations and what money, if any, CBRM is paying them — or receiving from them.

When asked about the $42,800 fee CBRM is charging for the information, Tully said it's unusual.

"In comparison ... for processing access to information requests, the whole of the Nova Scotia government in 2015-16 charged $32,000," she said.

LaFosse said his client is appealing the fee. If the information is obtained, he said, it will be shared with the public.


 

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