Municipal affairs minister OK with CBRM council's private meetings

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Brendan Maguire is the province's new municipal affairs minister. (CBC - image credit)
Brendan Maguire is the province's new municipal affairs minister. (CBC - image credit)

Nova Scotia's new municipal affairs minister says he has no problem with Cape Breton regional councillors holding planning meetings behind closed doors.

Brendan Maguire told reporters Thursday he is OK with the practice for all municipalities — if councils have legal advice backing them up.

CBRM council came under fire from the public for holding private planning sessions over three days at a local resort two weeks ago.

The Municipal Government Act lists eight specific reasons councils can meet away from the public eye, but strategic planning is not one of them.

Maguire said CBRM got approval from its solicitor.

"As long as they're not breaking laws and rules and regulations within the MGA [Municipal Government Act], and they were told that they weren't, then, you know, the MGA is very straightforward," the minister said. "If they're following the MGA, then we're good."

CBRM councillors met privately at The Lakes at Ben Eoin resort two weeks ago.
CBRM councillors met privately at The Lakes at Ben Eoin resort two weeks ago.(Tom Ayers/CBC)

Maguire said he makes a distinction between a strategic planning meeting of council and an official council meeting.

"Was it a council meeting or was it a strategic planning session? There's a difference between the two," he said.

"I actually would encourage all municipalities across Nova Scotia to hold strategic planning meetings. But to be very clear on this, before their plans are finalized, they need to be open, transparent and consult with the public."

Mayor defends meetings

CBRM council did not advertise the meetings ahead of time and it held them behind closed doors.

Cape Breton University political scientist Tom Urbaniak said for those two reasons, the meetings contravened the act.

Although the meetings were not open to the public, the municipality invited several local non-profit organizations and representatives from two businesses to address council.

Urbaniak said that amounted to lobbying, which would have been less of a problem if the meetings had been held in public.

CBRM Mayor Amanda McDougall says no decisions were made during the meetings.
CBRM Mayor Amanda McDougall says no decisions were made during the meetings.(Cape Breton Regional Municipality/Zoom)

Mayor Amanda McDougall has defended the meetings. She said they cost $4,200 for 28 people over three days, the money was within budget, no decisions were made and the meetings allowed councillors and staff to get to know each other better.

She also released a list of the people and organizations invited to attend.

They were:

  • Carla Arsenault, CBRM Regional Enterprise Network.

  • Brad Jacobs, Colbourne Auto Group.

  • Kathleen Yurchesyn, Cape Breton Regional Chamber of Commerce.

  • Janet Bickerton and Christine Porter, Ally Centre of Cape Breton.

  • Terry Gibbs and members of the Climate Change Task Force.

  • Kelsea MacNeil and Jen Deleski, Membertou Development Corporation.

  • John Whalley, former CBRM economic development officer.

  • James Walsh, Doktor Luke's coffee shop.

  • Wayne MacKay, Coalition of Organizations Serving Youth.

  • Dr. Monika Dutt, public health expert.

The mayor also said Wesley Colford of the Highland Arts Theatre, and Beth Mason, CEO of the Verschuren Centre at CBU, were also invited, but did not make presentations.

Mason made a presentation at the next public council meeting and the mayor said Colford will appear at a future council meeting.

McDougall has promised to release a list of councillors and staff who stayed overnight at the resort after the first day of meetings lasted 12 hours.

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