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Bay Ferries, PC Caucus face off in Nova Scotia Supreme Court over CAT ferry management fees

Nicole LaFosse Parker, lawyer for the Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative Caucus, talks to media on March 12, 2019.
Nicole LaFosse Parker, lawyer for the Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative Caucus, talks to media on March 12, 2019. Alexander Quon/Global News

The legal battle for details of the Yarmouth-Maine ferry contract continued in Nova Scotia Supreme Court on Tuesday, with the service’s operator arguing the case should be thrown out.

Scott Campbell, one of the lawyers representing Bay Ferries Ltd., argued on Tuesday that the Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative Caucus had run out of time to challenge a ruling by the province denying its request to reveal the company’s management fees for the ferry, better known as the CAT.

The PC Caucus has asked a judge to order the Nova Scotia government to release the information after the Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal (TIR) Department rejected a report from Nova Scotia’s Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC) to release the management fees.

READ MORE: Nova Scotia refuses to release management fees for CAT ferry

Campbell argues that the PCs have failed to file the proper paperwork.

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An application to appeal the government’s ruling must be filed within the 30-day time period allowed under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIPOP), and the act stipulates that it should be filed by a person.

Scott Campbell of Stewart McKelvey, the legal team representing Bay Ferries Ltd., on March 12, 2019.
Scott Campbell of Stewart McKelvey, the legal team representing Bay Ferries Ltd., on March 12, 2019. Alexander Quon/Global News

As the PC Caucus filed the appeal and did not name the person who filed the original FOIPOP application, Campbell says the proper procedure was not followed and the case should be thrown out.

Nicole LaFosse Parker, a lawyer for the caucus, says it is amending its application to include the name of the staff member who filed the original FOIPOP.

LaFosse Parker, who also serves as the chief of staff to party leader Tim Houston, told media that she disagrees with Bay Ferries’ position and called it a “delay tactic.”

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She added that the caucus had filed its documents well ahead of the March 1 deadline required under the act and that this should have given anyone concerned with the paperwork time to raise the issue with the PC Caucus.

Campbell said he was not authorized to comment on the trial.

Agnes MacNeil, representing Nova Scotia’s Department of Justice, told the court that the province was not taking a position on the matter.

All parties are set to appear in court on April 1, 2019, at which time they’ll present arguments on Bay Ferries’ motion.

WATCH: Tories sue Nova Scotia government over details of Yarmouth-Maine ferry fees

Tories sue Nova Scotia government over details of Yarmouth-Maine ferry fees
Tories sue Nova Scotia government over details of Yarmouth-Maine ferry fees

Management fees

At the heart of the disagreement is a payment described as a management fee and agreed to as part of a 10-year deal between Bay Ferries and the Nova Scotia government in 2016.

As part of the deal, the province agreed to cover any cash deficiency the company incurs for the year, as well as a management fee and any bonus, should the ferry perform better than expected.

But the price tags for the management fee and a possible bonus have been kept secret.

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Without that information, it’s impossible to tell how much of the ferry’s annual subsidy — it received approximately $10.9 million for 2018 — is paid to Bay Ferries for simply being in charge of the service.

The privacy commissioner’s report came after three groups — including Marieke Walsh, then a reporter with Global News — requested the financial information that TIR has refused to provide in the spring of 2016.

READ MORE: Bay Ferries is not Nova Scotia’s agent, despite what the minister has said

But the government refused, saying it could harm the financial or economic interests of Bay Ferries to do so and could also create a competitive disadvantage for the company.

Bay Ferries also objected to the release of the information.

The government said the disclosure of the management fee could harm Bay Ferries’ ability to negotiate a move to Bar Harbor, Maine, or allow competitors to have an advantage at the negotiation table.

The CAT’s service to Bar Harbor is set to begin in June.