Dan Fraser responds To Briefing Note from Sydney Tarponds Agency
All members of JAG:
I am sending this information to you with deep sadness and sincere regret. It is an issue of concern to me as your Chair and although I tried to resolve it Friday past, I was unsuccessful. Today, Tanya Collier MacDonald of the Cape Breton Post came to the office to interview me on the issue, which relates to the contents of a briefing note prepared by Sydney Tar Ponds Agency.
On Monday, June 16, 2003, a plain white envelope addressed to the Joint Action Group, Sydney Tar Ponds Clean-up, 320 Esplanade, Sydney, NS was received in our office. Janet Gnatiuk opened the letter and realizing there were no other markings other than postal marks on the envelope, decided to retain the envelope after seeing the contents. Janet brought the envelope and briefing note directly to me as she realized the sensitivity of its contents. When I read the briefing note, I was saddened and quite upset at the tone of the briefing note.
I wondered, do I send it out to all members or since it was not signed, do I bring it first to our government partners for an explanation. Realizing there was an Executive Committee of the Cost Share Agreement scheduled for Friday, June 20, I decided to ask for time at the meeting to bring some issues forward. Mr. David Darrow, the Chair of the Executive Committee agreed to provide me with time to bring up several issues.
Following my presentation of several issues such as the AGM, the business plan, severance and others, I then indicated that I wanted to address the Sydney Tar Ponds Briefing Note. Most members of the Executive Committee were shocked to learn that such a briefing note existed and one wanted to see it before I proceeded to have any discussion. The briefing note is not signed and therefore, a question was posed to Mr. Darrow that he verify if this briefing note was authentic or not. Mr. Darrow stated that, "The briefing note was prepared by someone in the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency", that he (Mr. Darrow) supported some aspects of the note, but, the contents was not the position of the Provincial Government".
Once it was verified that the briefing note was authentic, I was given permission to raise my points of concern. I have included the notes below that I used during my presentation to the Executive Committee as I went through each of the points of concern.
At the conclusion of my presentation, I asked the Executive Committee for some direction and resolution to the entire matter. I had also advised the Executive Committee that Tanya Collier MacDonald was phoning our office asking about the apparent review by Public Works and Government Services Canada on the various cleanup options presented in the RAER and the workbooks. She knew something we were not aware of but certainly she had apparent knowledge of the contents of the STPA briefing note. I have been expecting to hear back from the Executive Committee and in particular, Mr. Darrow on what I might expect, if anything, regarding the Briefing Note. I have not been contacted and have been waiting with some concern as I did not know who else might have received an anonymous copy of this briefing note as we had. Why would it only be sent to the Chair of JAG?
Today, my worst fears were realized when Tanya Collier MacDonald arrived with a copy of the briefing note. When she came to the office, started to speak to me, I asked for some time and I went to phone Mr. Darrow to have a discussion. I was unable to reach him through his office or cell phone. Tanya had the briefing note, I was in the office, and I certainly could not play a game of evasiveness as that has not been my style since becoming your Chair. Open and transparent has been our method of operating and that is still my position.
Again, I regret that we will again be in the news but unfortunately, as is often the case, others determine what is or is not news about JAG. Thank you for your understanding of the position in which I found myself and the efforts I have taken to work within the intent of a partnership. Others have certainly breached that aspect with this briefing note and, it certainly is disturbing.
Dan Fraser Chair JAG
Response to Briefing note
"JAG staged" - the meeting was to be an open house, advertised as such and all of the government communicators had an opportunity to review the flyer and suggest changes. It was only after the changes were made did the flyer get distributed. Mr. Stuart Chaulk of the Point Aconi Development Association had made promises to residents and he worked the room to create an atmosphere of a Q&A format. JAG agreeing to the meeting was in keeping with the open communications governments and JAG agreed to six years ago. This approach has resulted in the most successful community engagement program for an environmental remediation the country has seen, and it makes governments look good.
"gave critics of the community an opportunity to frighten local residents" - the critics were doing this silently but effectively anyway. This showed the community the project is willing to hear their concerns and is not afraid to deal with them. Allowing critics to play their game is part of why the previous attempts failed.
"inept start" - to say this was an inept start to engaging this community is an insult. There was already a sense in the community regarding anti Pt. Aconi co-burning, that was brought to our attention by Stuart Chaulk and reported in the CB Post. This is the natural reaction to be expected from any community finding itself a potential host for someone else's waste. This 'meeting' actually provided much needed venting of feeling by that community and it gave them a sense of being heard. It was not an inept start but a necessary beginning. It was also a logical continuation of the public participation process as outlined in our Public Participation Plan and approved by all levels of the partnership before it was finalized.
"makes the political job of selling a solution that much harder" - the open approach adopted in the JAG process has provided by far the most support from the community that the cleanup attempts have seen. The former failed closed approach has no more chance of being successful now than it did the two times it already failed. A government serious about continuing to have a quick-moving cleanup that is a model for community empowerment and involvement would not be talking this way.
"unrealistic expectations" - to declare that JAG is promoting unrealistic expectations not only threatens the integrity of the work that was put into the RAER but threatens the credibility of the Province of Nova Scotia and the rest of the partners who participated in its development. The Province was the lead in its development. As such the province had the responsibility to ensure that it was done properly and thoroughly. JAG depended on the Province to oversee and deliver the RAER in such a way that its quality could not be challenged. In this briefing note by STPA all that has come to be questioned is the fact that, the Province itself, is stating that their own work was inept.
"Cadillac cleanup solution of dubious feasibility and affordability" - solutions fitting this description were not to be included in the RAER. Many tests were applied to ensure they were screened out. A very extensive review of the document by STPA, the PMC, PWGSC and JAG was then carried out to ensure that the options were sound. Finally, STPA had a responsibility to all governments and the community to accept documents with only feasible, cost-effective options.
"options evaluation report prepared for JAG" - like all Cost Share Agreement works, the report was prepared for governments (who maintain complete contractual and technical control) at the request of JAG. This particular report was requested by CRA and JAG and governments agreed with the decision.
"in-house risk analysis" - why was this not done before the RAER was completed? The partners all had the opportunity to offer changes and review all the aspects of the report. They had a responsibility to not accept the report if it was flawed. CRA and CBCL now look as though they have failed in their product and governments have failed in their role to accept only sound products. This could very well result in absolute loss of any trust that government may have gained in this community or in governments' ability to protect the public purse.
"Cost has never been a factor of concern for JAG" - There are no examples of this. Cost effectiveness is one of JAG's Core Principles and all the Core Principles are factors of concern. The many cost-effective tests required in the RAER are testimony to this. JAG has been on governments' back constantly to move the project along because spending time without progress is not cost-effective.
"Technically feasible and fiscally responsible cleanup options do exist" - STPA had the responsibility to ensure the RAER contained 10 of them. Other governments and JAG had input but STPA, advised by CRA, made the decision to accept.
"encourage JAG's increasingly unhelpful interventions in community consultation" - as Chair of JAG, and on behalf of an organization which has "laid the groundwork for future community consultation in Canada", a statement declared not by JAG but by our federal government partners, we find this statement particularly offensive and demoralizing. JAG has delivered big time on a promise and has done so through the efforts of dedicated volunteers and a small but dedicated staff. We have made a recommendation based on a report prepared by experts and accepted by governments and now we are accused of 'unhelpful interventions'. These unhelpful interventions have resulted in the most public confidence the project has seen.
"(driven, in part, by JAG staff, fearful of losing their jobs)" - To accuse the staff of JAG that they are leading a crusade to keep their jobs is absolutely unfounded since they are only executing what has been asked of them. Their actions have remained completely consistent with their actions over the past years. Fear of losing ones job generally makes one get in step with the wishes of those who will decide their fate. Have any of you seen any indication of this???
"wrest control" - this is the basis to the entire problem Sydney Tar Ponds Agency has had with the project. Through the MOU, JAG was deemed to be the face of the community and was charged with interacting with it and to engage it. Government could not execute communications in the community because, quite simply, they are not trusted and their efforts have failed badly both times. The authors of the MOU acknowledged that and saw to it that JAG performed that function. It did it well to the point in fact that in gaining trust in its own function it raised the level of trust the government gained as well. All of that could quickly come to an end, with this briefing note or the replacement of communications by a government. Have we not learned anything over the past six years? JAG has taken government-driven failure and changed it into community-driven success that makes government look good.
It is clear the author of this briefing note has no place working on this project if government wishes to remain with a cost-effective, timely cleanup the community will support.