By Richard Bell
The Facebook comments on the mystery map story (“The Mystery Map: What Did They Know and When Did They Know It?”) show that I did not explain clearly enough why the existence of the mystery maps raised serious questions about whether Liberal politicians and department bureaucrats had conducted a legally unbiased site selection process.
Fettering Their Decision
Under Nova Scotia law, public officials involved in making policy decisions like selecting a school site are supposed to begin this process with an open mind towards all possible choices.
The map matters because it raises the legal question of officials “fettering their decision.” “Fettering” is a legal term describing a situation in which an official or department was committed to a single outcome before going through the legal decision-making process. In a judicial review proceeding, for example, if a judge finds that the evidence showed that an official had violated their duty by “fettering their decision,” the judge could find the official’s action to be “unreasonable,” and overturn the decision.
The WSP May 24, 2018 map shows that someone paid WSP to prepare a detailed map of locating the replacement of Eastern Shore District High in the Eastern Shore Industrial Park in East Chezzetcook some time before May 24, 2018, only a few weeks after EECD announced the replacement on April 30, 2018. The CCVA 2015 map shows that someone had produced the critical part of WSP’s 2018 map at least as early as October 28, 2015. The government’s refusal to release the relevant documents makes it impossible to know who produced the original version of this map, and when this version was produced.
The existence of such detailed maps years before the announcement of the replacement of ESDH raises unavoidable questions about whether EECD and TIR were spending their own resources, and/or contracting with WSP or other consulting firms, to conduct studies of the Eastern Shore Industrial Park site long before the public announcement of the replacement. Such spending would raise questions about the fettering of their decision to pick the industrial park site.
(Thus far, there is no evidence on the record that anyone at EECD, TIR, or WSP studied any other potential sites for the ESDH replacement before the April 30, 2018 replacement announcement.)
Confusion Over Different Chamber Reports
Comments on Facebook also show there is some confusion between two Musquodoboit Harbour & Area Chamber of Commerce & Civic Affairs (MHACCCA) reports. In 2018, the Chamber collaborated with the Musquodoboit Harbour & Area Community Association, The Old School Community Gathering Place, and community members in preparing a report, “Eastern Shore High School Site Selection: A business case for building the new school in Musquodoboit Harbour,” released on October 22, 2018. This report was researched and written entirely by volunteers with no public funding. This report made the case for locating a replacement high school in Musquodoboit Harbour. The report recommended building the replacement of ESDH in Musquodoboit Harbour. This report had no maps.
In their comments, people have been confusing this 2018 volunteer-written report with an earlier Chamber report, “Musquodoboit Community Development Plan” released in the spring of 2017. This plan was an update and extension of the 2007 “Musquodoboit Harbour Vision and Strategic Action Plan” prepared through the 2006-2007 community visioning process sponsored by HRM and approved by Regional Council.
The Chamber raised roughly $30,000 to hire the design firm, Ekistics Plan+Design to prepare this report. The Harbour East-Marine Drive Community Council approved the expenditure of $10,000 from the Musquodoboit Harbour Area Rate fund for this report. HRM Councillor David Hendsbee provided an additional $10,000 from District 2 Capital Funds. HRM Planning and Development treated the project as a pilot program using 3rd parties to do planning and development work and contributed $10,000.
The 2017 “Musquodoboit Community Development Plan” has one paragraph on future school locations, under the heading, “Combined Junior and High School.” The maps scattered through the plan show various potential school locations, but other than the paragraph headline, there is no other discussion in the plan of a combined junior/senior high school.
[page 67, “Musquodoboit Community Development Plan”]
“COMBINED JUNIOR AND HIGH SCHOOL
The community made it heard that the school must stay in the community. Though any closure of the existing high school could be many years off, the steering committee felt strongly that a site should be identified for a future school somewhere close to the future village green. This could include the lands north of the Train Museum, the lands south of the East Petpeswick Road or the existing High School site. Whatever site is eventually chosen, it should be well connected to the village core by sidewalk or the Musquodoboit Trail.”
Finally, in the original mystery map story, we were not as clear as we might have been that former EECD Minister Churchill’s rewriting of the site selection process to exclude public participation means that there can be no public input to the site selection process for new schools anywhere in the province, not just on the Eastern Shore.