By Richard Bell
Shortly after Education Minister Zach Churchill announced the replacement of Eastern Shore District High (with no mention of Gaetz Brook) in March of 2018, Churchill said that he would be replacing the site selection rules. Under the new rules, he said the primary driver would be ““technical evaluations” of prospective sites. There was no definition of what measures such a “technical evaluation” might consist of.
The existing rules provided for meaningful public participation in the site selection process. But Churchill said that the new rules would eliminate such public participation in order to speed up the process.
However, Churchill then delayed the process himself by taking more than a year to finally coughed up a 5-page site selection document. True to his promise, he eliminated public participation from the new rules. The word “public” only occurs once, in section 14C, which explicitly requires the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal (TIR) to provide information on the “technical evaluation” to the public before making a recommendation to the Minister. Here’s what it says:
“DTIR, in consultation with the Minister and the Regional Centre, MUST provide information to the public on ALL of the following:
- a) the site selection process;
- b) DTIR's findings in respect of the proposed recommended school building site."
However, DTIR has never voluntarily made even a single word public about the site selection process or its findings about the “technical evaluation” of the site that Churchill announced on February 2, 2021.
Hiding the “Technical Evaluations”
We only know that any “technical evaluations” took place because of the Department was forced to release a document in response to a Freedom of Information request.
Churchill’s new rules required that the first “technical evaluation” take place at the existing ESDH site. (Gaetz Brook was still not included at this stage.) If the existing site passed the “technical evaluation,” then the replacement school would be built at the existing site. If the ESDH site failed the “technical evaluation,” then the Department would do “technical evaluations” at two other sites of its choice.
There were reports from ESDH that people who appeared to be surveyors had been seen on the site, engaging in activities that might have been part of a “technical evaluation.”
But as the months dragged on, the Department failed to produce a “technical evaluation” of ESDH, or “technical evaluations” of any other sites.
Finally in the fall of 2020, Jean McKenna began filing a series of Freedom of Information (FOIPOP) requests in an attempt to force the Department to comply with its own regulations.
McKenna was the official agent for MLA Kevin Murphy’s first election. Murphy stunned a community meeting in Musquodoboit Harbour on June 8, 2014 with his proposal to rip the heart out of the village by moving the high school, the Birches, and the rink to what he called a “community campus” at the Eastern Shore Industrial Park.
McKenna founded and headed the Community Campus Vision Association (CCVA) in the fall of 2014, whose initial purpose was to fight for Murphy’s “campus” concept. But by October 2016, McKenna announced that CCVA thought the “campus” proposal was “impractical,” and that CCVA would now focus “on replacement of Eastern Shore District High School, Gaetz Brook Junior High School, and the École des Beaux Marais.”
McKenna lobbied indefatigably over the next three years, but by the fall of 2019, she had run out of patience with the Education Department’s refusal to at least produce the “technical evaluation” for Eastern Shore District High. The Department rejected her first two FOIPOP requests, claiming that “After a file search, we have located no records responsive to your application.” But on her 3rd request, she received the document you see here, a document whose stinginess of revelation about what the Department has been up to for the last few years is appalling for anyone who believes in the principles of openness and transparency in keeping governments from acting in authoritarian ways.