Gosse calls STPA 'a mess'

Review reveals dysfunction, lack of confidence

By Tom Ayers
Cape Breton Post
Fri.,Nov. 7, 2008

Sydney - An independent review of the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency last summer found the organization was dysfunctional and wracked with internal conflict, leading government and other stakeholders to lose confidence in the agency's ability to clean up the tar ponds on time and on budget.

The provincial New Democratic Party used a freedom of information request to access the review and other associated communications, and raised them Thursday in the House of Assembly.

Cape Breton Nova MLA Gordie Gosse, whose riding abuts the tar ponds, said even though the agency is a $400-million creation of the federal and provincial governments, the province is responsible for any cost overruns. "The Conservative's Sydney Tar Ponds Agency has been described as dysfunctional, lacking focus, preoccupied with internal conflicts and lacking leadership," he said. "Those aren't my words. They are the words of the deputy minister of transportation. David Darrow says: 'Recent developments have caused key stakeholders, including me, to doubt the . . . agency's ability to deliver the project on time and within budget.'"

Gosse also tabled a briefing note to cabinet that states the project's independent engineer says there is "slippage in the schedule and original cost estimates are escalating." " Things are so bad that the Tories had to hire a consultant to tell them why the agency they put in place to clean up the tar ponds mess was in such a mess itself," said Gosse. " We have a secret public liaison committee," he added. " Why didn't they bring this forward? This is not open and accountable government."

Transportation Minister Murray Scott dismissed the NDP's concerns as typical "negativity." He said the agency hit some " bumps in the road" and the province has taken steps since then - including replacing the agency's president - as a result of the report. "Overall, the project will be on time and on budget," said Scott. "I'm very proud of that project. It's being held up around the world as a great example of a cleanup. "I can tell you the department is pleased with the progress of the cleanup and look forward to it being completed in 2014."

The review was conducted in June and July, and the government announced in August that Kevin MacDonald would be taking over from Frank Potter.

Scott said he is "absolutely" confident in the new president's ability to get the job done, adding that people living around the tar ponds are also pleased with the progress.

Marlene Kane, a Sydney resident who has been critical of the tar ponds agency's methods and communications in the past, said she isn't sure the public can be happy with the progress when they aren't being given any information. " There doesn't seem to be any communication with the public, as far as what's going on with the project," said Kane. "I find a lot of people don't know what's going on." For example, she said, it took three months to get a response to a request for information on daily air monitoring reports during the cooling pond work earlier this year. "I don't think they're communicating with the community at all."

STPA spokesperson Tanya Collier MacDonald said because the province requested the audit and "owns" the report, the agency would not be commenting. " The province commissioned the report and they'll be speaking to it; the Sydney Tar Ponds agency will not be," she said. " We refer all comments to Nova Scotia Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal." She also said the new president was announced back in August, but has only been with the agency "a couple of weeks" due to a transition period, so he wouldn't be available to provide an update on the progress of the cleanup.

Review Findings

The province requested an independent organizational review of the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency earlier this year. The review was conducted by Grant Thornton in June and July, and the province replaced Frank Potter with Kevin MacDonald as agency president in August.


  • Internal conflict hampered operations
  • Focus on communication and branding, rather than project execution caused stakeholders to "universally" express loss of confidence in agency leadership
  • Relations with stakeholders deteriorated due to potential cost overruns and delays
  • Agency and government departments were divided on management of the design consultant, undermining the agency's authority
  • Lead cause of internal conflict was between STPA directors of engineering and support services
  • Staff performance appraisals were not done, leading to lack of internal accountability
  • Federal government becoming increasingly involved in operations due tolack of confidence