“The non-existence of true regulation of lobbyists and those they are lobbying gets to the very heart of the failure of democracy in Nova Scotia,” wrote Tim Bousquet in February 2021.
But now there’s no need to lobby: the provincial government has placed its own business-friendly operatives, two public employees paid from public coffers, inside Nova Scotia Environment and Climate Change, right at the heart of this crucial regulatory agency.
Documents released under a Freedom of Information (FOIPOP) request show that while Nova Scotia Environment and Climate Change first started discussing a new “business relationship manager” position in late 2018 under the Liberal government of Stephen McNeil, it wasn’t until the Progressive Conservatives formed government under Tim Houston that the gears went into motion to create and fill two such positions in the department.
These positions look like yet another door that industry can use to get into the corridors of provincial power and at the ears of senior technocrats and politicians, be they registered lobbyists or not, or CEOs of large companies who seem able to speak to our political leaders at the drop of a hat, or fly in for a visit at will.
Related: Atlantic Gold and Nova Scotia’s joke lobbyist registry
Related: Up close and privileged: Nova Scotia’s “One Window” process gives mining execs seats at the table in the halls of power
Related: Maritime Launch Services and its private/public servants
What role for the business relationship managers?
The first internal correspondence about the actual creation of two such positions in Environment and Climate Change (NSECC) under the Houston government shows up November 2021, when “Business Navigator” job description templates from 2018 and 2020 are resurrected and are sent out by a “human resource business partner” to NSECC staff members.
The job descriptions show clearly who the beneficiaries of the positions are supposed to be. Spoiler alert: it isn’t regular Nova Scotians. Rather, it’s all about making sure the businesses get what they want to succeed.
Here is a sample of items from those job descriptions:
The Business Navigator provides businesses with one-on-one, client management support to ensure business success.
Once contacted by the business, the Business Navigator is assigned to the business, and will do “whatever it takes” for “as long as it takes” to help the business open-up [sic] or deal with challenges that are preventing success.
The Business Navigator collaborates with external Business Clients to make it easy for businesses to comply with regulation, find critical resources, reduce burden, and save them time and money.
The Navigator is a senior resource who works and makes decision [sic] on the best way to support their business client. They are solely accountable to ensure the business success. [italics added for emphasis]
Deputy Minister focused on environmental ‘approval’ — not assessment
Then in March 2022, NSECC Deputy Minister Lora MacEachern sent out an email to several department staff following “discussions to create two new term positions, each one a year in length with the working title – business relationship manager.”
The deputy minister attached a list of “key elements” she put together for the business relationship manager positions. Among them is a highlighted note that says, “the role extends beyond ICE [Inspection, Compliance and Enforcement] Division to the entire environmental approval process, including the EA process within the Policy Division.” [italics added for emphasis]
MacEachern also wrote that the business relationship manager would be the “main point of contact for key regulated entities as they proceed through the environmental approval process” and provide information on the legislated process, policies, procedures and timelines.” [italics added for emphasis]
From this wording, it appears, incredibly, that the deputy minister of Nova Scotia Environment and Climate Change believes that “EA” refers to “environment approval” rather than “environmental assessment,” the process to which large scale projects are subject to ensure they comply with the Environment Act and Environmental Assessment Regulations.
The department’s own website notes that there are both Class I and Class II environmental assessments, depending on the scale of the development or industrial project, and says this about the process:
Environmental Assessment (EA) is a decision-making tool used to promote sustainable development by evaluating the potential environmental effects of major developments before they proceed. This is accomplished by involving the public along with various government departments and agencies during the environmental assessment.
There were subsequent internal email exchanges over the “key task roles” of the business relationship managers, but those changes were redacted in the documents provided to the Examiner, so the final job description was not made available.
An undated and unsigned document called “Buisness [sic] Relationship Manager” for “2 Term Positions May 1, 2022 – April 30, 2023) lists “primary accountabilities” for the positions. Among them:
Liaise with key regulated companies and department staff to facilitate the smooth, agile, and timely regulatory approval process
Provide information services that will meet client needs in a timely fashion on issues related to environmental approvals from the department … [italics added for emphasis]
On May 3, a human resource consultant with the provincial government, sent an email to two NSECC staff attaching the “temporary assignment paperwork” for two business relationship manager candidates for Deputy Minister MacEachern to approve.
In her email, the consultant referred to the “urgency of these positions” and said she thought it would be fine for the two candidates to start work on May 9.
NSECC then sent emails to the candidates on May 6, telling them they had been approved as business relationship managers, and would start work on Monday, May 9 for a period of 11 months.
Atlantic Gold quietly given approval
There’s no way of knowing whether the new business relationships managers, whose jobs were specifically designed to support businesses and get “environmental approvals,” had any role to play in the curious turn of events that Jennifer Henderson reported on in July 2022.
Henderson noted that in May, Craig Jetson, CEO of St Barbara Ltd, the Australian mining company that owns Atlantic Gold and Atlantic Mining Nova Scotia, which operates the Touquoy open pit gold mine in Moose River, had visited Nova Scotia and met with both Premier Houston and Environment and Climate Change Minister Tim Halman.
In a July conference call with investors, Henderson reported, “Jetson praised Premier Houston as “supportive” and “very encouraging” with respect to the company’s plans for Touquoy and two other open-pit gold mines it wants to develop along the Eastern Shore at Beaver Dam and Fifteen Mile Stream.”
Shortly after that, Henderson had an opportunity to ask Premier Houston and Minister Halman about this following a cabinet meeting. From Henderson’s article:
The Examiner asked the premier if CEO Jetson’s description was accurate; does he feel comfortable supporting gold mining in Nova Scotia?
“I am a supporter of any company that can meet the standards of the province,” Houston said. “We have standards and for those who can meet them, I’m a supporter.”
And, wrote Henderson:
St Barbara’s CEO also told those on the recent conference call he felt encouraged by “a more collaborative permitting process” that Nova Scotia has recently put in place. The Examiner asked Environment Minister Tim Halman to explain. Halman told us that while the process hasn’t changed it has been “streamlined” to allow a company to receive more than one permit at a time.
Halman says his department has also hired two people to fill two newly created positions called “business relations officers.” Halman says their purpose is to provide one consistent point of contact for companies seeking information about what they need to do to comply with environmental regulations. In some cases, Halman says they need to explain or educate companies who may be unfamiliar with the landscape here.
In early August, three months after the new business relationship managers were hired, and after St Barbara CEO Craig Jetson flew in and met with Premier Houston and Minister Halman, Nova Scotians learned — but only because Jetson informed investors — that the Nova Scotia government had approved an increase in the height of the tailings facility at the Touquoy mine, as the Examiner reported here.
Of course this could all just be sheer coincidence, and have nothing to do with corporate or regulatory capture, which happens when regulatory agencies are “dominated by the industries or interests they are charged with regulating,” according to Investopedia. “The result is that an agency, charged with acting in the public interest, instead acts in ways that benefit incumbent firms in the industry it is supposed to be regulating.”
But placing people inside a regulatory agency who are “solely accountable to ensure business success” certainly hints of the latter.
Just remarkable! Such arrogance! They aren’t even TRYING to hide the blatant conflicts of interest anymore. Such blatant and brazen sidestepping of proper regulation and collusion with industry. One has to wonder if this is a job for Nova Scotia’s Auditor General to step in and remind government what proper process and prcedure looks like. This shameful demonstration of incompetence and unprofessionalism is truly bizarre!
Shortly after this article was published, an anonymous Twitter account posted a pdf [https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=&ved=2ahUKEwjw7Li-oaH7AhUikokEHczgBRIQFnoECBsQAQ&url=https%3A%2F%2Fnovascotia.ca%2Fnse%2Fdept%2Fdocs%2FEA-Timelines-FULL-Presentation.pdf&usg=AOvVaw0_dIDDsYR-PyQnKn4EU86n] from Nova Scotia Environment and Climate change, which would suggest that the term “environmental approval” process is a standard one, interchangeable as “EA” with “environmental assessment” process. I asked NSECC when that pdf was developed and posted, as it seemed to echo the subtle but extremely significant shifting of the terminology by NSECC deputy minister, described in the article. No surprise it does that. The NSECC spokesperson said the pdf was “developed and posted online in April/May 2022 as a public education tool on environmental regulatory approval processes. Information on our website is subject to change.” April/May 2022 is when NSECC was preparing the terms for the new business liaison persons, and the deputy minister referred to the “EA” process as “environmental approval.” There is a huge difference between an “environmental assessment” (EA) process, and one that assumes approval.
This is what happens to a province that has two conservative parties that swap government and a progressive one that is not seen as deserving to govern. IMHO the NDP really have to lift their game and look less like a small band of well intentioned activists and more like a potential government in waiting. Not likely in my lifetime, I guess.
You might think we could hardly do worse with the NDP. But I was an ‘insider’ that left before we reached government, because I could see the writing on the wall.
And the door to the Premeir’s office was just as open to business as in any other government. So much so that the forest industry was able to get the Natural Resources Minister shuffled off.
Part of that was the Dexter way, but there was a party behind that. And even the Minister in question never said a word.
I dont think we are doomed to a repetition if the NDP creates another shot for itself.
But for those of us out in the cheap seats, be careful what you ask for.
Couple this with the “Trusted Partner” concept for housing development described in another recent article https://www.halifaxexaminer.ca/government/city-hall/provincial-review-calls-for-less-public-consultation-on-halifax-housing-development/
and it certainly appears that the province is up for sale to the highest bidders, with no thought to the future of ordinary NS residents’ quality of life, let alone the quality of our ecosystems (as intimately entwined as they are). It’s disheartening and disgusting to see fascism “creeping in on little cat feet.”
Thank you, Examiner, for being the lighthouse and foghorn we need.
These business liaison positions do not belong in NS Environment. Putting them in NS Economic Development might be more appropriately separated from them having any influence over NSECC employees.
Within bureaucracies these ministers office level positions have a lot of power. If this was an ‘underling’ position with a lot of levels of oversight above it there might actually be some sort of logical sense to have liaisons of this type (who are also EA experts and minus the ‘ensuring business success’ nonsense) but putting these positions very high up in the chain with little oversight and having them not be EA experts is a recipe for corruption.