Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia Business Inc.'s referral optics 'concerning,' says minister

The Crown corporation is developing a process for referrals following reports it referred clients looking for office space "almost exclusively" to Partners Global. The brokerage's vice-president is married to NSBI's director of corporate projects and partnerships.

NSBI says referrals not influenced by director of corporate projects and partnerships' marriage

Laurel Broten is the CEO of Nova Scotia Business Inc. (CBC)

The Nova Scotia Crown corporation responsible for economic development in the province says it needs to be more "inclusive" when it refers potential clients to commercial real-estate brokers.

Nova Scotia Business Inc. called in brokerage industry leaders this week to develop a process for referrals following reports in the business website that the agency referred clients looking for office space "almost exclusively" to Halifax-based commercial brokerage Partners Global.

Partners Global vice-president Geof Ralph is married to Angela Ralph, NSBI's director of corporate projects and partnerships.

"Certainly the optics of those circumstances would be concerning to Nova Scotians," Nova Scotia Business Minister Mark Furey said Wednesday.

"I know as we speak the CEO for NSBI is taking the leadership role in reviewing the processes for NSBI."

Business Minister Mark Furey. (CBC)

Furey said no taxpayer money has been involved in the referrals but the integrity of the operation is at issue.

"What is important is that those optics are resolved through a review of the processes," he said.

NSBI CEO Laurel Broten said the referrals are not a procurement requiring an employee to declare a conflict of interest.

"Could the process be more inclusive? Yes," she told CBC News. "That's why I reached out to the leadership of the brokerage community yesterday and come and meet with me. Why I engaged to move this forward."

She would not answer directly when asked whether most referrals are being sent to Partners Global.

"We would certainly have people that the team might invite in to help support a kick-the-tires visit, and I can tell you there is no structured process to set up those agendas," she said. "I want to get this right and I want to establish a process that is inclusive and works for all of us."

'It's a coincidence'

Broten said Angela Ralph has no role in helping potential clients secure office space.

"I think it's a coincidence that someone at NSBI is married to someone at a real estate brokerage firm. Angela does not work in the investment-attraction group."

Broten said clients, not NSBI, decide whose services they use when they locate in Nova Scotia.

In a statement released Wednesday, Partners Global did not address the claim it is receiving the bulk of office space referrals from NSBI.

"We are well-known in the industry and the community as working hard for our clients," Partners Global principal and broker Larry Sowerby said in the statement. "Our clients include regional, national and multinational companies and organizations.

"We have seen the recent media coverage and as a local business committed to doing good work, our focus will remain on representing our clients and the communities we serve."


Paul Withers


Paul Withers is an award-winning journalist whose career started in the 1970s as a cartoonist. He has been covering Nova Scotia politics for more than 20 years.