Nova Scotia·CBC Investigates

N.S. municipal officials claimed more than $1.5M in expenses in 2019

A CBC investigation shows that municipal officials across Nova Scotia were reimbursed for more than $1.5 million in expenses in 2019, the first year municipalities were required to make the numbers public.

CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke spent almost $38,000; Halifax Mayor Mike Savage spent more than $18,000

Nova Scotia municipalities must now post their annual expenses online. (TheCorgi/Shutterstock)

A CBC investigation shows that municipal officials across Nova Scotia were reimbursed for more than $1.5 million in expenses in 2019, the first year municipalities were required to make the numbers public.

In the category of mayors and wardens, Cecil Clarke, the mayor of Cape Breton Regional Municipality, is the top spender at almost $38,000. 

His expenses cover the cost of meetings in Halifax, Moncton, Montreal and Toronto. 

"There's a cost of doing business," said Clarke. "I have a mandate to go out and attract new business and also negotiate with the two other levels of government." 

The mayors of CBRM, Halifax and Port Hawkesbury topped the category for mayors and wardens for 2019 expenses. (CBC)

The expenses for Halifax's Mayor Mike Savage came to more than $18,000. Port Hawkesbury Mayor Brenda Chisholm-Beaton came third with close to $16,000. The full details on expenses for all municipalities are available in a table at the bottom of this story. 

Chisholm-Beaton said she is also the Town Caucus chair for the Nova Scotia Federation of Municipalities, which involves some travel.  She said she also had meetings in 2019 that took her out of town for another reason.

"There were definitely a lot of trips to Halifax to represent the Allan J. MacEachen Airport and the concerns we had about a proposal to build an airport in Inverness," said Chisholm-Beaton.

She also travelled to Afton, Antigonish, Baddeck, Dundee, Eskasoni, Englishtown, Guysborough, Halifax, Iona, Quebec City, Sydney, Truro and Westmount over the 12-month period. 

Why the new rules were brought in

The province's Municipal Affairs Department required municipalities to post expense amounts on a quarterly basis as of January 2019, and prohibits reimbursement for alcohol except for pre-authorized hospitality functions. 

The new rules came after an ombudsman's report on Richmond County in 2016, and CBC investigations into spending by other municipalities that found payments for alcohol and golf fees. 

Information obtained through freedom of information requests showed that the municipalities spent $600,000 attending two national conferences hosted by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

The categories for expenses now cover mileage, cellphone costs, accommodations and meals, conference fees as well as training and development.

As for council totals in 2019, the Halifax region submitted the most expenses with just over $101,000 for 16 councillors.

The new rules require all municipalities to post their expenses online. (CBC)

CBRM was second with just over $96,000 for 12 councillors. 

"I have never received a phone call (of concern)," said Ivan Doncaster, deputy mayor for CBRM and District 7 councillor. "But I've heard people say they're pleased to see them online so they can see what's being spent." 

The council for Colchester County came third with $55,500 for 12 councillors. The mayor of Colchester is not surprised.

"They have not been a do-nothing council," said Christine Blair.

"We've had a lot of meetings with regards to rural broadband internet, our UNESCO Geopark [in Parrsboro] and source-water protection in Tatamagouche." 

Halifax's CAO tops list of staffers

Jacques Dubé, Halifax's chief administrative officer, had the most expenses of all the CAOs in the province with more than $24,000.

Almost half of those expenses were for out-of-town travel. Another $4,000 was for development and training.

Details of the trips Dubé took in 2019 were sent to CBC in an email statement.  They include conferences in Montreal, Las Vegas, Vancouver and Austin, Texas.

The email said Dubé is a member of the Large Cities Executive Forum and "attends meetings when he is available in both Canada and the USA."

The top three CAOs for expense claims in 2019 were from Halifax, Truro and Kings County. (CBC)

Mike Dolter, the CAO for the town of Truro, is second in the category at close to $15,000.  Dolter is on the board of the Association of Municipal Administrators in Nova Scotia. 

"All our routine board meetings and conferences get paid for directly by the municipality," said Dolter. 

Dolter was on the committee that recommended changes about the expense rules to the province. 

"The stuff that happened in some of the other areas should never have happened, because at the end of the day it is the public purse," said Dolter. "So if you are going to make a decision you have to be able to justify why you made that decision." 

Some of the smaller municipalities in Nova Scotia have low overall expense totals, but calculating the amount on a per capita basis creates a completely different list. 

Calculating the expenses per capita puts smaller N.S. towns at the top. (CBC)

Annapolis Royal is No. 1 with $26.04 per person, and Mahone Bay is second at $22 per person.

"The amount of money expended per citizen is simply a mathematical exercise," said David Devenne, the mayor of Mahone Bay.

"The fact that you've got 1,000 people in Mahone Bay, or 2,000 in Lunenburg, doesn't mean we've got half the work to do that they've got." 

Getting the municipalities to publicly post the information is just the first step, according Tom Urbaniak, an associate professor of political science at Cape Breton University.

Urbaniak said more needs to be done to make the information easily accessible and understandable to the public.

He noted the details provided still vary from municipality to municipality. 

"There is a lot of room for improvement, " he said. "It's almost impossible to get a full breakdown. There is a role for the province here to set clear standards and collect the information so it can be presented clearly."