Develop Nova Scotia slammed for lack of transparency over waterfront beer gardens

Stubborn Goat Gastropub eventually won the tender that Nova Scotia's Information and Privacy Commissioner has slammed the Waterfront Development Corporation for over lack of transparency. Alexander Quon/Global News

A series of missteps by a Nova Scotia Crown corporation has led to a critical report over its refusal to release documents around its creation of a waterfront beer garden, currently operated by the Stubborn Goat.

Information and Privacy Commissioner Catherine Tulley released the report last week, criticizing Develop Nova Scotia — at the time known as Waterfront Development Corporation Limited — for its decision to withhold most of the information about successful and unsuccessful bids placed in 2015 to create a waterfront beer garden.

The organization that had requested the documents is not identified in the report, but it says information was requested about the five businesses that had submitted bids to create the beer garden.

According to Tully, the Crown corporation’s refusal to turn over the documents despite a request under the province’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIPOP), fly in the face of “public accountability in the expenditure of public funds.”

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The report details how the Waterfront Development Corporation attempted to redact or remove information in response to the request by saying it would harm the corporation’s economic interests as well the economic interests of the companies who had submitted bids.

Despite the corporation’s claims, the privacy commissioner found that they had not provided any evidence to back up its decision and neither did any of the companies, even after they were contacted and told that they had the opportunity to do so.

“One of the fundamental purposes of FOIPOP is to provide for the disclosure of all government information with necessary exemptions that are limited and specific,” writes Tully before adding that “it is certainly not apparent what information” could have been used to harm any organization’s economic capabilities.

As a result, the office recommends that the Crown corporation provide all of the records as requested.

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Develop Nova Scotia says they support full disclosure “whenever possible,” but recognize that they must sometimes protect “commercially sensitive material.”

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“The vast majority of the projects we undertake involve multiple parties and private sector partners,” wrote Deborah Page, the director of marketing and communications for Develop Nova Scotia, in an email. “[At] the time of this response we believe we acted according to the spirit of provincial FOIPOP requirements while erring on the side of caution.”

Page says the Crown corporation, having reviewed the report, intends to support the commissioner recommendations.

The company says that in Oct. 2017, they have handed off their FOIPOP requests to the province’s information access and privacy division, which handles requests for all government departments in the province.

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