A SaltWire Network Publication

Top News

JIM VIBERT: Liberal secrets in Alton Gas briefs getting expensive


The province has filed a leave to appeal with the Supreme Court of Canada. They want that court to stay the Appeal Court’s order to unseal documents pertaining to the Alton Gas file in the meantime. - File
The province has filed a leave to appeal with the Supreme Court of Canada. They want that court to stay the Appeal Court’s order to unseal documents pertaining to the Alton Gas file in the meantime. - File

The second best question about the provincial government’s legal war with Alex Cameron is: How much are those high-flying Toronto lawyers the Liberals hired costing Nova Scotia’s long-suffering taxpayers?

The best question is: What is the government so desperate to hide?

The government retained top-flight, high-priced Toronto-based lawyers from Lenczner Slaght, to help it try to dodge what looks like a well-aimed political bullet, locked and loaded in Cameron’s suit against the McNeil government.

The provincial Justice Department refuses to say how much the Lenczner Slaght lawyers are costing Nova Scotia taxpayers, claiming legal costs are “confidential” because they are covered under the solicitor-client-privilege exemption in the Freedom of Information Act. Seriously.

The folks at Justice are also unable to articulate any benefit to Nova Scotians from its high-cost appeal — on the Liberals’ behalf — to the Supreme Court of Canada. That appeal is the government’s third attempt to bury the documents Cameron needs to pursue his suit. It tried and failed in the Nova Scotia Supreme and Appeal courts.

If there’s no benefit to Nova Scotian taxpayers, why is the province appealing two decisions from Nova Scotia’s top courts to the Supreme Court of Canada, and incurring extraordinary expense for taxpayers in the process?

Government types might try to argue they are protecting the principle of solicitor-client privilege, but the Nova Scotia courts made clear that the release of the documents does not damage that principle. The government waived its privilege when it publicly blamed its solicitor, Alex Cameron.

The documents in question should shed light on whether Cameron, as a Justice Department lawyer, took an argument to court without the knowledge or consent of his client, the government. Various provincial officials, including Premier Stephen McNeil claim that’s what happened.

Of course, if the documents show the government was aware and approved — tacitly or explicitly — of Cameron’s brief, which has become known as the “conquered people” argument, the government has very big problems. Its credibility with the Mi’kmaq would be destroyed, and the rest of the province should likely follow the First Nations’ lead.

Cameron wants the documents unsealed for all to see. The government wants them locked away forevermore. There may be a clue there as to who’s telling the truth.

Cameron, you may recall, was the provincial government’s lawyer, who submitted a brief to court arguing that the province is not obligated to consult the Sipekne’katik Mi’kmaq because the Mi’kmaq submitted to the Crown back in 1760. The Sipekne’katik band was appealing the province’s permission for Alton Gas to empty tonnes of salt into the Shubenacadie River and store gas in the emptied caverns.

The “conquered people” argument is offensive to Indigenous people, who have a point when they note the Crown has broken pretty much every treaty it ever made but will still try to use disputed history against them.

Premier McNeil and others in his government were quick to lay all the blame for “the conquered people” argument at the feet of Cameron, and disavow all knowledge that he intended to include it in court documents.

Cameron was removed from the case and the offending argument was removed from the province’s brief. Cameron left the provincial civil service about a year later and sued his former employers for defamation, constructive dismissal, abuse of office and violating his charter rights.

In order to effectively pursue those matters, Cameron needs the court to unseal the documents.

The Supreme Court of Nova Scotia and the Nova Scotia Appeal Court have ruled the documents in question are no longer protected by solicitor-client privilege, because the client — the Liberal government — effectively waived that privilege when various Liberal politicians tossed Cameron under a bus.

“It would be manifestly unfair to allow the Province to hide behind solicitor-client privilege while at the same time impugning the conduct of its solicitor,” said the Appeal Court in a unanimous decision by a three-judge panel that ordered the documents unsealed.

But the government appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada, and this week sought and got that court to order the documents in question remain sealed until the court decides how to proceed.

The McNeil government is going to extraordinary lengths and running up big bills to keep those documents under wraps.

One can only speculate what they would reveal. But, if they confirmed the Liberals’ story that Cameron went rogue, it’s a good bet the government wouldn’t have gone to the highest court in the land to try to keep them secret.

RELATED:

Recent Stories