Former Premier Stephen McNeil has been named to an “advisory board” to Maritime Launch Services.
Maritime Launch Services is the company that wants to launch Ukrainian rockets (that have never been built or flown) into orbit from the tiny fishing community of Canso in Nova Scotia.
The company describes the construction of a dirt road to the proposed launch site and a very small concrete pad as “significant momentum” and synonymous with the “construction” of a spaceport that will cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
Following up on that much-to-do-about-not-much, Maritime Launch Services announced this week that it was introducing members of its new “strategic Advisory Board.”
“The Advisory Board is comprised of individuals with unique leadership experience that will help guide the Company’s success throughout construction and operations of Spaceport Nova Scotia,” boasts the Maritime Launch press release.
The VP Communications and Corporate Affairs for Maritime Launch, Sarah McLean, is chair of the Advisory Board. The press release says this about her:
A leader in inclusive community engagement, Sarah has led the public affairs and community engagement strategies for Maritime Launch since 2016, joining the company full time in 2021. Previous to Maritime Launch, Sarah was Associate Vice President at Canada’s largest public relations firm located in Halifax. Prior to that, Sarah led policy development for high profile federal Cabinet Ministers in Ottawa, serving as Director of Policy to the President of the Treasury Board, Policy Advisor to the Minister of International Trade and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency. [emphasis added]
“Membership [of the advisory board] consists of senior Canadian and international leaders with diverse expertise in key areas and sectors including international space industry and technology development; space law; construction management, international, federal and provincial public service and private sector experience; Indigenous law, culture, and leadership,” it reads.
But the Advisory Board doesn’t just include regular old folks with “federal and provincial public service” experience, it also includes McNeil.
Revolving rocket doors, anyone?
The Halifax Examiner wrote to McLean to ask about the role of the Advisory Board, and whether members are remunerated, but had not received answers at the time of publication. This article will be updated when McLean replies.
Public servants hijacked for private interests
In 2019, the Halifax Examiner waded through more than 1,700 pages of a Freedom of Information (FOIPOP) request to the Municipality of the District of Guysborough (MODG) for all records relating to Maritime Launch Services (MLS) and its proposal for a spaceport in Canso.
That FOIPOP showed that public servants such as MODG economic development director Gordon MacDonald, acted more like a private secretary to Maritime Launch Services CEO Steve Matier than he did like a public servant whose salary is paid by the public and whose first duty is to look out for the public good.
As the Examiner reported, correspondence between MacDonald and Matier made the former sound like Matier’s de facto assistant who seemed happy to be at his beck and call, organizing countless meetings, handling logistics, providing information, introductions, and contacts.
Related: Opposition to Canso spaceport grows
The FOIPOP also showed that another publicly paid official, Harvey Doane, who was then Director, Defence, Security and Aerospace and “Business Development Executive, Investment Attraction” at the Crown corporation Nova Scotia Business Inc (now Invest Nova Scotia), was also engaged with Matier and the promotion of Maritime Launch Services within the government.
According to Doane’s LinkedIn page, after 11 years with Nova Scotia Business Inc, in June 2021 he left the public service to join Maritime Launch Services, where he is now Chief Operating Officer.
And now Maritime Launch Services has nabbed the services of former Nova Scotia Premier McNeil to help do its bidding.
This is certainly not McNeil’s first tango with Matier and his Maritime Launch Services.
As the Examiner reported in 2019, even before he left office, McNeil was doing favours for the company. Under his government, the province decided the spaceport project should undergo the shorter and less onerous Class I environmental assessment. On June 4, 2019, Nova Scotia’s (and Premier McNeil’s) environment minister Gordon Wilson approved the spaceport project, albeit with some conditions.
Maritime Launch Services (MLS) submitted its proposal to Nova Scotia Environment in June 2018.
But well before this, as the results of the Freedom of Information results revealed, on April 24, 2017, Nova Scotia Environment hosted a “pre-environmental assessment meeting” for the spaceport proposal, at which five federal officials and five provincial officials made presentations, as did Steve Matier.
Four days after that meeting, held more than a year before MLS would even submit its proposal to the Nova Scotia government for environmental assessment, then-Premier Stephen McNeil wrote a letter of support for MLS. It was addressed “To Whom It May Concern” and offered this endorsement of a newly formed foreign-owned company that wanted to blast untested rockets from Nova Scotia’s shores:
I am pleased to offer this Letter of Support to Maritime Launch Services in support of their new project, a Spaceport, in the community of Canso, Nova Scotia.
… I have personally met with and discussed this project with Mr. Steve Matier and some of the other principals behind this exciting development as well as their Ukrainian partners. Their professionalism and drive to make this facility a reality have impressed me.
The Government of Nova Scotia is fully behind this exciting and innovative development and look forward to the day when they launch their first satellite from their new facility.
Despite having met with the premier to promote their private spaceport project, neither Maritime Launch Services nor Stephen Matier were registered as lobbyists on the provincial registry of lobbyists.
A search of the Nova Scotia Registry of Lobbyists turns up only one lobbyist for Maritime Launch Services, David Tarrant from Enterprise Canada, who registered in April 2022. MLS has five registered lobbyists in Ottawa, which makes sense, given that MLS is seeking federal (public) money from the Strategic Infrastructure Fund.
With his appointment to Maritime Launch Services’ “strategic Advisory Board” this week, it looks as if the former premier’s support for the company and its project in Canso while he headed the provincial government has paid off – for both him and MLS.
The Examiner sent an email to McNeil to ask if he sees any conflict of interest in joining the MLS Advisory Board given that his government approved the project and even before that he openly supported it. So far, there has been no reply, but if there is, we will update this article.
In its press release, MLS lauds McNeil who was premier from 2013 until 2021, as “an expert in international trade,” and says, “Stephen supports global companies as they build business in Atlantic Canada.”