Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia registry privatization evaluation moves ahead

Two Nova Scotia Liberal operatives have ended their lobbying efforts on behalf of an Ontario company pursuing the potential privatization of provincial business, land and motor vehicle registries.

Chris MacInnes, Jamie MacNeil formally stop lobbying over potential privatization

Premier McNeil's campaign manager Chris McInnes is no longer allowed to lobby on behalf of Teranet Inc. over the potential privatization of Nova Scotia registries. (CBC)

The McNeil government has banned lobbying in the potential privatization of Nova Scotia's land, business and motor vehicle registries.

The prohibition was declared on Tuesday in a request to vendors to submit expressions of interest and their qualifications as it reviews privatization.

The same day, Premier Stephen McNeil's campaign manager, Chris MacInnes and another Liberal operative Jamie MacNeil, formally stopped lobbying for Teranet — the Ontario company that's won long-term contracts to operate provincial registries in Ontario and Manitoba.

Last week McNeil defended McInnes's right to lobby on behalf of Teranet Inc. (The Canadian Press)

MacInnes had been listed as a lobbyist for Teranet Inc., on behalf of Group 5M since August 2014. MacInnes introduced Teranet to Service Nova Scotia Minister Mark Furey, who is handling the file for the McNeil government. 

MacInnes is married to Kristan Hines, who is director of strategic operations for Premier Stephen McNeil.

The lobbying ban is contained in its invitation to vendors.

"A respondent may not, in relation to this RFSQ or the evaluation and selection process, engage directly or indirectly in any form of political or other lobbying whatsoever to influence the selection of successful respondent(s)," the document states.

This is the first time the province has used language barring lobbying during a request for supplier qualifications. The government says the prohibition has been in the works for a year.

"Government can choose not to meet with or communicate with any lobbyist at any time," Service Nova Scotia spokesperson Tracy Baron wrote in an e-mail to CBC News. 

"Government can, as was did in the (request for supplier qualifications), prohibit all communication and contact related to the (request for supplier qualifications) in order to maintain the integrity of the procurement process." 

Big bucks for cash-strapped governments 

Opposition leader Jamie Baillie has suggested lobbying by the Premier's campaign manager has tainted the entire exercise.

Last week, McNeil defended his campaign manager's right to lobby while also promising the file would be examined on its merits to taxpayers.

In Ontario and Manitoba, Teranet made large upfront payments to provincial governments in exchange for exclusive long-term contracts to operate the land and property registries. 

In 2010, Teranet paid Ontario $1 billion upfront for a 50-year deal. In Manitoba, the company got a 30-year deal for an upfront payment of $75 million.

Nova Scotia says it has made no decision on the file.

More fees for Nova Scotian homebuyers?

In a release, the Nova Scotia Association of Realtors said it is concerned a move to privatize the land registry would mean more fees for home buyers in the province.

"We've been monitoring this issue since it was brought to our attention earlier this year," said NSAR president Gord Burns in the release.

"And frankly, we're concerned that privatization of a public service like the land registry could result in higher fees, less publically available data, and reduced access to services."

Based on what happened in Ontario and Manitoba after the land registry was privatized, NSAR said it's concerned the costs for home purchase-related services such as legal and surveyor fees could go up.

"If service providers need to pay increased fees to access the registry, then that will be passed on to consumers," said Burns. 

"Realtors in Nova Scotia believe that the possibility of home ownership is a fundamental right. Anything that would hinder people from purchasing or selling a home, such as higher fees or lack of access to public data, is something that our members are very concerned about."

Increased fees for others?

In its announcement on Tuesday, the McNeil government explained why it continues to explore privatization and has given vendors five weeks to respond.

"The intent of this endeavour is to improve net revenues for the province and avoid capital costs while maintaining or improving client satisfaction levels," says the Service Nova Scotia tender issued Tuesday for what it calls "Alternate Service Delivery (ASD)."

The Opposition NDP focussed on another element in the document.

"Respondents may propose a fee increase model. However, in any ASD arrangement the province would establish the parameters for fee increases or changes to balance the respondent's reasonable needs against the financial impact on citizens of the province," said a news release.

NDP Service Nova Scotia critic Sterling Belliveau demanded the McNeil government tell the public what level of fee increase they can expect as a result of privatization.

"It's bad enough the privatization of registries will cost the province hundreds of millions of dollars in future revenue along with jobs, but now we learn the McNeil government plan could end up costing Nova Scotians more for basic things like renewing a driver's licence," Belliveau said in the second NDP release issued Tuesday on the potential registry privatization.

About the Author

Paul Withers

Reporter

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.

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