It remains one of the most intriguing and enduring mysteries of the Gerald Regan era. Who stole the tape recording of the interview with the page girl — and why?

That story began in the late winter of 1977 following a night sitting of the Nova Scotia legislature. Jennifer Oulton,[1] an 18-year-old legislative page who’d been working in the House of Assembly for two years, had asked for a meeting with the premier. She hoped Regan could point her in the right direction to obtain more permanent employment. Instead, she would later testify, after a “business-like” interview in his office, Regan suddenly grabbed her, shoved her up against a wall and drove his tongue down her throat. She bolted from his office in tears, encountered the House of Assembly’s sergeant-at-arms and the story spilled out with her tears.

In the hothouse atmosphere of the legislature, of course, such explosive news spread like lightning. Several reporters — local and national — investigated and attempted to publish the story, but were stymied by nervous bosses and threats of “expensive” lawsuits.

Bette Cahill, then a radio reporter with CFDR (and later the province’s chief of protocol), “tried another tack. She approached Oulton — as a female rather than as a reporter.”

“She seemed like she was there to help, to be supportive,” Oulton would recall later. Cahill urged her to sit down for an audiotaped interview of her recollections while her memories of what happened were clear. If Oulton decided to go public, they agreed, Cahill would then be able to use the taped interview to break the story. In the meantime, Oulton would maintain possession of the tape. Oulton testified at Regan’s preliminary inquiry she kept the tape on her bureau in the bedroom of her apartment — until, she says, it mysteriously disappeared following a break-in.

Enter Allen Stockall, one of the “most intriguing and mysterious — some say sinister — characters in Nova Scotia politics in the seventies.”

In the late 1950s, Stockall, a Dartmouth alderman and prominent Tory donor, had created his own “union” for provincial highway workers — with him as its all-powerful president. He then signed a secret deal with the Stanfield government to represent those workers so the Tories could avoid having to negotiate with a real union.

The highway workers became increasingly unhappy with the deals the union made and with Stockall’s close relationship with their employer. During one 1971 union meeting, after some members demanded to know more about their union’s finances, Stockall warned them: “I have 14 strong arms outside, plus the two men who came with me, to take care of guys like you.”

Surprisingly, Regan’s new Liberal government also quickly cozied up to Stockall following its victory in October 1970. That may have been because Stockall himself had instantly switched political allegiances and become one of the Liberal party’s biggest financial donors, targeting key cabinet ministers like Attorney General Peter Nicholson and Highways Minister Garnet Brown.

Although Regan had been considered a progressive on labour issues in opposition, he quickly became one of Stockall’s staunchest public defenders. “If there is a highways worker with a grievance against this union,” he told the legislature, “tell them to write me and I’ll certainly look into the matter.” A few days later, NDP leader Jeremy Akerman stood up in the House and tabled more than five hundred signed letters from highways workers expressing dissatisfaction with Stockall’s union.

“Regan blanched noticeably,” reported The 4th Estate, the local alternative newspaper.  

The government finally, reluctantly allowed a free vote among the workers, which the Canadian Union of Public Employees won in a walk.

As for Stockall — who died in February 2016 — he soon re-emerged as a real estate developer, buying up land and announcing ambitious plans for a $170-million shopping-centre-hotel-convention-centre-sports-complex-high-rise-residential-development in Dartmouth.

“Where Stockall obtained his initial financing for his land purchases remains unclear,” The 4th Estate noted at the time without comment.

Stockall’s subsequent connections to Regan’s Liberal government — not to mention to the page girl incident  — are documented in a fascinating and remarkably revealing 1980 report. John Buchanan’s Conservative government, which had defeated Regan’s Liberals in 1978, commissioned then-Truro lawyer and later judge Ken Matthews to prepare the report as part of its preparations to defend against a lawsuit Stockall had filed over expropriation of lands he’d owned.

As a justice department lawyer would later put it, Matthews’ densely detailed report — my recollection now is that the report ran to some 900 pages and included transcripts of interviews with key Regan-era cabinet ministers — revealed an “un-investigated case of alleged criminal activity reaching into and implicating members of the provincial cabinet affecting the Attorney-General’s office, state coercion and the suppression of evidence that could well have led to criminal charges if the matter had been fully investigated.”

At the end of the day, however, Stockall’s lawsuit did not proceed, so Matthews’ report never became public.

During my research for Not Guilty, I’d heard about the still-secret report and some of its conclusions. The then-editors of Frank Magazine, who had managed to obtain a copy, graciously allowed me to read the report and make notes in their offices, although they didn’t allow me to make a copy of it.

Much of the story that follows is based on that report. I originally wrote it to be included in Not Guilty: The Trial of Gerald Regan, but after the jury’s not guilty verdict, the publisher elected to cut it.

***

The Premier, the page girl and the real estate promoter

Sometime during the spring of 1977 Gerald Regan and Allan Stockall crossed paths again. A secret government report would later suggest Stockall might have been blackmailing Regan, threatening to go public with information about his relationships with women. Stockall’s supposed lever against the premier: a stolen audio tape of an interview journalist Bette Cahill had recorded with Jennifer Oulton — the legislative page he’d allegedly attacked in his office earlier that winter.

Stockall had not been idle since his loss of the highways workers to CUPE. He began to bill himself as a real estate developer, though real estate promoter might have been a more accurate description. During the early seventies Stockall assembled a huge bank of land on the edge of Dartmouth known as Portland Estates. Although he would later claim he planned to turn the land into a residential housing development, the evidence suggests he was initially more interested in turning a quick profit by reselling the land to the Nova Scotia Housing Commission.

Within weeks of getting the final options on the 554-acre site from a variety of local landowners, Stockall met with Housing Minister Scott MacNutt to discuss a deal.

The problem was that MacNutt’s department had already looked at the land and decided it couldn’t be developed economically. For starters, part was in Dartmouth and part in the County of Halifax, making getting the necessary development approvals a bureaucratic nightmare. But an earlier municipal plan had designated much of the land as parkland, meaning there would have to be a formal re-zoning as well. And the land wasn’t serviced for water and sewer. Finally, most of the property was within what was referred to as an “Airport Box,” airspace used by jets from the Shearwater Air Force base. There were sixty-thousand take-offs and landings from the airport each year, and the planes operated twenty-four hours a day. That made housing in the area so undesirable Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation wouldn’t lend money for housing construction there. The only use for the land, according to housing commission staff, would be for land-banking, and that would only make sense if the purchase price was low enough for the province to justify holding on to it for up to twenty-five years before it might be developed.

Stockall, however, wanted $12,500 per acre, or $6.875 million for the entire five hundred and fifty acres. Since he’d only paid $1.8 million for it, that would have given him a profit of more than five million dollars in less than a year for little more than buying and selling the properties.

The housing commission recommended against it. Walter Fitzgerald, an independent-minded former mayor of Halifax who took over the housing portfolio after MacNutt lost his seat in the 1974 election, told Stockall in a letter dated January 8, 1975 that he would be recommending the purchase to cabinet. He didn’t. His actual report to cabinet was, in fact, less an endorsement than a careful stating of the facts.

Despite that, Stockall’s proposal had support around the cabinet table — from then Attorney General Peter Nicholson, Environment Minister Glen Bagnell, Tourism Minister Garnet Brown and Regan himself.[2] Cabinet instructed officials in the housing commission to continue negotiations with Stockall to purchase the land.

When those negotiations failed to produce Stockall’s desired result, Nicholson became directly involved in the matter and had officials in his department prepare expropriation papers.

Why expropriation? Another secret report prepared in 1989 by Ian Darrach, a senior solicitor in the provincial Department of the Attorney General, as part of his preparation for continuing litigation with Stockall over the expropriation,[3] suggested Portland Estates was a “scam” from the beginning. Stockall, he argued, had never intended to develop the property and that it had been assembled simply “to promote the sale [of the land] to the provincial Housing Commission. When that failed, Darrach suggests, Stockall set about “arranging to have it expropriated to make a fast buck.”

When Housing Minister Fitzgerald refused to sign the expropriation order, the entire file was turned over to the Attorney-General’s department to complete. At one point Fitzgerald became so exasperated by what he considered interference by Regan and other cabinet ministers, he gathered up all the files, carried them into the premier’s office and deposited them on the floor. “You take over,” he told Regan. “You’re already doing it.”

On November 25, 1975, the province officially announced it was expropriating the land, ostensibly for land-banking purposes.

The announcement was curious for a number of reasons. It was the first time the provincial government had acquired land its own experts in the housing commission had never asked for. And, of course, it was the only time the housing commission’s role in an expropriation had been usurped by the Attorney General.

Walter Fitzgerald was convinced, as he told Ken Matthews, that Stockall “had something on somebody.” He wasn’t the only one to feel that way. Scott MacNutt suggested to Matthews that Stockall “was able to compromise some of these ministers through the use of money and hookers.”[4] Regan’s own executive assistant, Robbie Shaw, added that “with respect to Mr. Regan, it may have been Mr. Regan’s involvement with some women.”[5]

In the period leading up to the unsuccessful attempt to sell the land, Stockall had certainly done his best to win the goodwill of the Liberal government. According to MacNutt, Stockall gave at least $60,000 to the Liberals in the 1974 election — $20,000 to the provincial campaign and $10,000 each to MacNutt, Bagnell, Nicholson and Sullivan (the last through a tavern[6] with which he was associated in Sydney). In his report, Matthews suggests that Stockall, during the time he was attempting to convince the Liberal government to buy Portland Estates from him, may have been the biggest individual contributor to the Liberal party.

Despite his unquestioned influence with elected officials, Stockall had less success with bureaucrats. By 1977, he’d become angry at what he considered their unacceptably low settlement offer in the expropriation and, as several people told Matthews, had begun threatening to expose alleged misdeeds of various cabinet ministers.

According to some people, he’d been making threats since even before the expropriation. Gerald Eisenor, who acted as a broker for Stockall in acquiring some parcels of Portland Estates property and later served as a front man for Stockall’s interest in a Halifax tavern, told Matthews he overheard one conversation between Stockall and Garnet Brown in which Stockall said that if the government failed to go ahead with the expropriation, “some of the things that we have been involved in are going to come to light.”

In the spring of 1977, around the time of the page girl incident, the report says Stockall also allegedly threatened to “overthrow Mr. Regan’s government if his conditions were not met.”

When, shortly after that threat, Regan told his executive assistant, Robbie Shaw, that he had to go to Toronto for a meeting with Stockall, Shaw offered to accompany Regan to serve as a witness to whatever transpired. They met in the Skyline Hotel where Stockall demanded that Regan not only increase the province’s offer for the Portland Estates land but also that the premier approach the Bank of Nova Scotia on Stockall’s behalf to get the bank to extend Stockall more credit. Otherwise, he told Regan, there would be unspecified “revelations.”

There is speculation in the Matthews’ report that one of those revelations may have been of the audio tape Jennifer Oulton made at Bette Cahill’s request. The report says Cahill had discussed the tape with her boss, CFDR president Arnie Patterson, and told him Oulton was keeping the recording in case she decided to go public. As a result, its existence had become common knowledge among Liberal insiders and others, including — quite possibly — Stockall, a longstanding acquaintance of Patterson’s.[7]

At any rate, soon after that, someone broke into Jennifer Oulton’s apartment. The only thing taken was the tape Cahill had given her. Though she reported the break-in to the Halifax City Police and even explained to them why someone might have wanted to steal an audio tape, the police apparently didn’t believe the story behind the story — involving allegations against the premier as well as the possibility someone might have stolen the tape for blackmail purposes — was important enough for them to investigate.[8]

Whatever it was Stockall had threatened to reveal about Regan during the meeting in the Skyline, Shaw says Regan “kept his cool” throughout the discussion. In the end, Regan couldn’t accept Stockall’s terms, Shaw says, because the price for the land would have been so high it would have attracted unwelcome scrutiny from the press and the opposition.

But Regan did assign Shaw to call the Bank of Nova Scotia to ask it to increase Stockall’s credit line, and he also urged Environment Minister Glen Bagnell to become involved negotiating payments to Stockall for some road widening projects.

Perhaps most interesting, Regan began negotiating an extraordinary contract with Stockall. Under the terms of the agreement, the Department of Development would hire Stockall as a consultant, paying him $200,000 up front and $6,000 each month thereafter. That would have made him, according to Matthews, “the highest paid person in the employ of the government, making  more than twice as much as the premier of the province.”

When the department’s deputy minister, Les Single, heard about the proposed contract, he was appalled. He went to Shaw, who was equally aghast. Shaw then took up the issue with the secretary to the cabinet, Robert MacKay. When the two of them told Regan they would resign publicly if the contract went through, Regan backed down. In the end, the contract signed between Stockall and Development Minister Sandy Cameron on April 1, 1978, simply called for Stockall to get $6,000 a month on an ongoing basis, with no upfront money.

Stockall, Shaw told Matthews, “was not expected to, and did not do, any work.”

***

According to a 1989 letter from Ian Darrach, the senior solicitor in the Attorney General’s Department, the Matthews report on the Portland Estates case contained enough information for the RCMP “to initiate an investigation into apparent criminal activity respecting soliciting bribes in office, blackmail, attempted blackmail, break, enter and theft, extortion, threats of personal violence, tax frauds, kickbacks, payoffs, influence peddling, misappropriation of funds, etcetera, etcetera,” yet no one in the Buchanan government of the day thought to turn the material over the Mounties to investigate.

Someone did eventually send the Matthews file to the RCMP in a plain brown envelope marked “Personal and Confidential.” But the officer in charge of the Mounties’ Halifax subdivision at the time, Superintendent D. F. Christen, dismissed the possibility of blackmail charges. “In view of the vagueness of the allegations,” he wrote to Deputy Attorney General Gordon Gale, “it is not anticipated enquiries about this would meet with much success.”

The report remained dormant for nearly ten years until Darrach, who was researching the Portland Estates file to prepare for continuing litigation with Stockall, came across the Matthews material.

After reviewing it, Darrach wrote to his boss, Deputy Attorney General Bill MacDonald, on March 7, 1989. “What we have,” he said, “is an un-investigated case of alleged criminal activity reaching into and implicating members of the provincial cabinet affecting the Attorney-General’s office, state coercion and the suppression of evidence that could well have led to criminal charges if the matter had been fully investigated.”

He recommended the RCMP be asked to investigate and re-interview all of those Matthews had interviewed in 1980. Then-Attorney General Tom McInnis wrote to the Mounties “directing” an investigation of the Portland Estates case. It’s not known whether such an investigation ever took place or, if it did, what the Mounties uncovered.

No charges were ever laid.

***

NOT GUILTY: The missing Gerald Regan Chapters, Part 2

The two excised chapters from the original Regan book have been restored and are included, along with other lawyer deletions, in a new e-book edition under its original, pre-verdict title: Aphrodisiac: Sex, Politics, Power and Gerald Regan.

[1] Jennifer Oulton is a pseudonym I used for the page girl in Not Guilty: The Trial of Gerald Regan. As one of the complainants in the case, her actual identity is protected by the courts.

[2] Brown and Bagnell were among those who wrote letters to their fellow cabinet ministers, soliciting support for the Stockall proposal. Although the letters were marked “Strictly Confidential,” copies were sent to Stockall. Investigators would later suggest some of the letters “were either composed or actually written by Mr. Stockall for the signature of some ministers.”

[3] Stockall, who continued to claim he intended to develop the area for residential development, sued the province for $133 million compensation for the expropriation.

[4] MacNutt made the same comment to me during a 1998 interview.

[5]  When the CBC’s fifth estate program quoted Shaw from Matthews’ report in a 1994 program on Gerald Regan, Stockall sued both the CBC and Shaw. The lawsuit was not pursued.

[6] Stockall at the time was a member of the provincial Liquor Licensing Board and should not have had a financial interest in any bar or tavern. But according Matthews’ investigation, Stockall was actually involved through front men in four taverns, three in Halifax and one in Sydney.

[7] Patterson told me he remembered the tape but doubted he would have ever discussed it with Stockall.

[8] The police did ask Oulton to submit to a polygraph test. She passed. No one was ever charged in connection with the break in.

Stephen Kimber

Stephen Kimber is an award-winning writer, editor, broadcaster, and educator. A journalist for more than 50 years whose work has appeared in most Canadian newspapers and magazines, he is the author of...

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  1. Thanks, Stephen, for your usual scrupulous reporting. Eye-opening, thoughtful, and cringe-worthy in places. Great that this work could see the light of day. And on a writerly note, the 1954 Funk & Wagnall’s citation was a lovely touch in the middle of a very sordid story.