Nova Scotia

Arguments begin in constructive dismissal suit of ex-CBRM manager

The former economic development manager for the Cape Breton Regional Municipality alleges he was constructively dismissed when he was moved to a post with no responsibility and no budget from the key port development project.

Former economic development officer John Whalley quit in 2015 after 18 years

John Whalley alleges his demotion was effectively a firing. (Wendy Martin/CBC)

A former senior civil servant with the Cape Breton Regional Municipality was told his job could be in jeopardy shortly after the election of a new council in 2012, Nova Scotia Supreme Court heard Monday.

John Whalley, a former economic development manager for the municipality, is suing the CBRM over constructive dismissal. 

The 56-year-old resigned in May 2015 from his role, which he had held since March 1997.

Whalley's lawsuit alleges he resigned after he was removed from a key file overseeing the development of Sydney's port and moved to a project with no council approval and no budget.

Jerry Ryan, the municipality's former CAO, told court in Sydney about a meeting he attended in late 2012 with newly elected mayor Cecil Clarke.

He said Clarke suggested it would be difficult for the new council to work with Ryan or Whalley. He also said Clarke indicated Whalley's position would likely change — information Ryan passed along to his colleague. 

Ryan said he and Whalley were the key municipal officials who fought the province over federal equalization payments, alleging the CBRM was not receiving its fair share.

Clarke was a cabinet minister in the provincial Progressive Conservative government at the time.

In later testimony, Whalley described the relationship between the municipality and the province during that period as "quite vicious."​

Confidence lost

Whalley testified that in 2013, the acting CAO of the CBRM, Marie Walsh, conveyed in a conference call with port consultants that Whalley "didn't enjoy the confidence" of the mayor.

That undermined his ability to do his job, Whalley told the court, and put him in a precarious position.

None of the allegations has been proven in court.

Whalley's lawyer, Blair Mitchell, led his client through a series of emails between 2013 and 2015 in which Whalley raised concerns with other senior municipal officials over how CBRM was negotiating contracts and moving ahead on economic development projects.

In one exchange from June 2014, Whalley argued the new governance model for Sydney's port should be public and transparent. He also said it needed some level of accountability.

He testified no one responded to his email and none of his concerns was reflected in the new Sydney Ports Corp.

Severance pay questioned

Although Whalley's suit does not name a specific amount for damages, his contract is expected to be an issue of contention.

Ryan testified he negotiated 12 months of severance pay for termination without cause and remembers the same clause being included for senior managers, including Whalley.

Tony Mozvik, lawyer for the municipality, challenged Ryan's memory of events from more than 20 years ago and suggested perhaps he was mistaken.

Mozvik said Whalley's formal employment letter makes no mention of severance.

Whalley testified he remembers signing several other documents when he was hired, but could not find a copy of his employment contract.

He will return to testify tomorrow.

Five days have been set aside for the proceeding.
 

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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