Nova Scotia

Contentious CBRM land deal introduced at trial

A controversial port development deal that's now at the centre of a lawsuit was signed by the mayor of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality more than two months before it was ratified by regional council.

Former municipal manager John Whalley is suing for constructive dismissal after criticizing deal

John Whalley says his superior asked him to write an issue paper for council recommending the deal. (Wendy Martin/CBC)

A controversial port development deal that's now at the centre of a lawsuit was signed by the mayor of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality more than two months before it was ratified by regional council.

The agreement was entered into evidence Wednesday during the Nova Scotia Supreme Court trial involving the former economic development manager suing the CBRM.

John Whalley accuses the CBRM of constructive dismissal and breach of contract. He resigned from his post with the municipality in May 2015 after he says most of his duties were stripped from him when he raised concerns about the deal.

Whalley has testified in court in Sydney that he had concerns the agreement — in which the CBRM would purchase land from one private company and lease it to another — was contrary to the Municipal Government Act.

He said he raised those concerns in a series of emails with municipal officials in early 2015. He also testified the CAO at the time, Michael Merritt, was in support of the proposal and wanted Whalley to prepare an issue report recommending the deal to council.

Relevance questioned

The court heard Wednesday that Mayor Cecil Clarke signed the deal between the municipality and Point Edward Marine on April 7, 2015. However, under questioning by Whalley's lawyer, Merritt said the agreement did not have any legal weight until it was formally ratified by council on June 16.

That came less than three weeks after Whalley quit his post. He resigned following a meeting with Merritt in which he was reassigned from the port file to a relocation project for the Nova Scotia Community College's Marconi campus.

Tony Mozvik, lawyer for the municipality, questioned the relevance of introducing the land agreement into evidence.

"Your role is not to determine whether the CBRM entered into appropriate contracts," Mozvik told Justice Patrick Murray.

But Whalley's lawyer, Blair Mitchell, argued that his client's open criticism of the project may have been a motive for his reassignment. 

Mystery documents cause delay

Earlier in the day, the trial was held up for about an hour after some missing documents mysteriously surfaced.

Whalley has testified he believes he's entitled to up to 18 months of severance. But neither he nor the municipality can find the contract he said he signed when he was hired in 1997.

The CBRM's director of human resources, Gordon MacDougall, testified Tuesday that Whalley's file didn't contain the hiring documents.

But on Wednesday, Mozvik told the court he received a text earlier in the morning from MacDougall saying that some documents have now shown up following a further check of the file.

It's unclear what the documents include, except that Mozvik told the court the missing employment contract is not among them.

'Astounding'

The case was delayed as lawyers and Murray discussed how best to proceed.

Mozvik told the court it's the first time in 20-plus years he's encountered such a circumstance.

Mitchell said it was "astounding" the documents had just surfaced — more than two years into the lawsuit — and the lack of disclosure should have serious consequences once the current trial is finished.

The lawyers agreed to continue the case without entering the new documents into evidence.

The trial is expected to wrap up later this week.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Wendy Martin

Reporter

Wendy Martin has been a reporter for nearly 30 years. Her first job in radio was at the age of three, on a show called Wendy's House on CFCB Radio in Corner Brook, N.L. Get in touch at wendy.martin@cbc.ca

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