The Nova Scotia Supreme Court has ruled Nova Scotians should know how much the province is spending on the Yarmouth Ferry.
Leader Tim Houston and the PC party took the province and operator Bay Ferries to court to learn what Nova Scotians are paying in management fees to the company. He calls the verdict a good decision.
“It’s only the government that wanted to keep it hidden. Everyone else knows it should be out there. So I’m happy that the Supreme Court has now seen what most Nova Scotians would know. That this is public information that should be made public,” said Houston.
Premier Stephen McNeil and successive ministers of transportation and infrastructure renewal have refused to release the details of the arrangement as they say it would put Bay Ferries at a competitive disadvantage.
McNeil argued the government has been forthcoming with the financial details.
“Every penny that has been spent on the Yarmouth Ferry has actually been accounted for,” said McNeil. “What we’re talking about is proprietary information of a company. Where I disagree, vehemently, with Mr. Houston is you should not be able to dig in and put a company at a disadvantage and I believe that’s what this does.”
In court documents, Bay Ferries Limited CEO Mark MacDonald says they considered the management fee to be the profit margin to operate the ferry.
The PC party filed a freedom of information request in 2016 to learn the details of Bay Ferries management fee and in late 2018, the privacy commissioner determined government should release that information.
When government refused to follow the commissioner’s guidance the PCs took their request to the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia.
In a 23-page decision released Tuesday, Justice C. Richard Coughlan said the evidence presented did not demonstrate either Bay Ferries Limited or the government of Nova Scotia would be negatively affected by the release of the management fee.
Under cross-examination, MacDonald acknowledged while competitors may be able to glean how Bay Ferries approaches their fee structure based on this management fee, the amount the company would charge in a future circumstance could be different.
Houston says the PC party supports the Yarmouth ferry under the right circumstances.
“I see potential in the market but we have to find the right deal and that means at the right cost, that means at the right schedule, that means with the right vessel,” said Houston. “There’s a lot of moving parts to it and I think the taxpayer has been let down.”
The premier is concerned the ruling will scare private business from working with government in the future.
“This sends the wrong signal,” said McNeil. “It puts a chill over private-sector i
nvestment in this province and if that’s what the Conservative government wants to run in the next election, good luck.”
Houston says whenever someone does business with the province of Nova Scotia, they should expect it to be made public.
“Just like when you make a political contribution to a party, it will be made public. That’s just the deal. The taxpayers always have a right to know where their money went and then they can decide. That’s what elections are for. People will decide if they think government made wise decisions with their money but they have the right to know what decisions were made with their money. That’s just the way it works,” said Houston.
The management fee was not released in court documents as Bay Ferries Limited and the provincial government now have 30 days to decide whether they will appeal the decision.
Reported by Ed Halverson
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