Nova Scotia

CBRM committee under fire for discussions behind closed doors

Cape Breton Regional Municipality had to backtrack on its in-camera meeting practices in 2015 and 2018, and now questions are being raised over whether CBRM's agenda review committee discussed public matters in private.

No records of the committee's deliberations exist

McDougall clashed with her council colleagues and with Mayor Cecil Clarke on occasion, especially early on in her first term. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Cape Breton Regional Municipality is under fire again for possibly discussing public business in private.

CBRM had to backtrack on its in-camera meeting practices in 2015 and 2018, and now questions are being raised over the municipality's agenda review committee.

According to CBRM's agenda policy, meeting agendas are set by the agenda review committee.

It consists of the mayor, deputy mayor and three senior staff and, under its terms of reference, the committee sets the agendas for council or committee meetings.

However, no records of the committee's deliberations exist.

Cape Breton University political scientist Tom Urbaniak said, under the Municipal Government Act, committees have to follow the same rules as council.

CBU political science professor Tom Urbaniak says committees of council are required to provide notice of meetings and they have to be open to the public. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

"If the agenda-setting committee is meeting as a committee, then the CBRM does have the obligation to tell the public when that meeting is happening and for that meeting to be open to the public," he said.

In addition, Urbaniak said the agenda committee seems to be straying beyond its mandate.

According to policy, the committee can add items to an upcoming agenda, defer them to a later meeting, or refer the topic to another committee or level of government.

However, at a public meeting earlier this month, Mayor Cecil Clarke told councillors the details of a proposed youth council, contained in a staff issue paper, had been decided on by the agenda committee before coming to council.

"At the agenda setting, we talked about that in terms of definition and we defined youth to be any youth residing in the CBRM," Clarke told council.

In interviews, the municipality's solicitor and chief administrative officer said the committee is not shaping policy.

However, CAO Marie Walsh said the committee might make "tweaks" on wording or grammar.

Mayor Cecil Clarke says the agenda review committee only makes changes to clarify the meaning of words, not to change the fundamentals of a policy. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

In an interview, the mayor said any changes the committee makes are simply to clarify the meaning.

For example, he said, the agenda committee recently changed the wording of a staff report that said the proposed youth council could ask CBRM council for financial resources.

Instead, the committee changed the wording to say the youth council could ask for support, to include the possibility of in-kind or other non-financial resources, Clarke said.

"So that's cleaning it up, as opposed to changing any of the fundamentals," he said.

"Any of that housekeeping that might come up when you're reviewing a document is meant, which it should be, so that when you consider it, it's in the best form possible."

Clarke said CBRM's agenda committee is not really a committee of council and does not have to be open to the public, and the Department of Municipal Affairs agrees.

However, Urbaniak said council itself calls the agenda committee a committee, and he said that "changes the game."



Tom Ayers


Tom Ayers has been a reporter and editor for 37 years. He has spent the last 19 covering Cape Breton and Nova Scotia stories. You can reach him at


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