“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.
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.