The province’s move to have the conquered people case heard in Supreme Court of Canada amounts to a desperate Hail Mary attempt to cover up information the courts have already ruled should be made public, says Progressive Conservative leader Tim Houston.
“The Liberals are so determined to hide information that they use the judicial system to punish anyone who dares to stand up and ask reasonable questions,” said Houston. “They have asked the highest court in the country to allow them to keep information secret that two Nova Scotia courts say they must release. There are no limits to Liberal secrecy.”
At stake are internal documents connected to a lawsuit brought against the province by former government lawyer Alex Cameron. Both the Nova Scotia Supreme Court and the province’s Court of Appeal have sided with Cameron, granting him access to the information and rejecting the government’s right to invoke solicitor-client privilege in an ongoing court battle dubbed the conquered people case.
The documents were scheduled to be made public on Friday. But the Court of Appeal granted the province’s request to keep the information redacted pending its application to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Cameron was removed as government counsel in an Indigenous rights case in December 2016 after arguing the Mi’kmaq were a conquered people and therefore the province had no duty to consult the Sipekne’katik Band in its decision to approve a plan by Alton Gas to store natural gas in salt caverns near the Shubenacadie River.
Responding to a firestorm of public criticism, Premier Stephen McNeil and the provincial government condemned Cameron’s controversial argument. McNeil has insisted that the lawyer was acting on his own. But Cameron , who is suing the provincial government for defamation and constructive dismissal from his job, has argued the documents the province is attempting to keep secret prove otherwise.
“The premier’s vilifying (Cameron) for doing something and now he’s in the courts to make sure the lawyer can’t tell his side of the story,” said Houston. “Multiple times the courts have said this is not fair, let this man tell his side of the story and the premier is determined not to let him tell that side of the story and is continuing to vilify him.
“Let the information come out and let the people see what the instructions were and let them draw their own decisions.”
Department of Justice spokeswoman Heather Fairbairn would not comment on the planned Supreme Court of Canada application.
“As this is a matter that remains before the courts it would be inappropriate to comment further,” said Fairbairn.
A recent MQO Research poll shows the Liberal Party has slipped behind Houston and the Tories for support among decided and leaning voters in the province. Wayne MacKay, a Dalhousie University law professor, says Houston has put forth a consistent and compelling case against the province that’s likely registering with some voters.
“He’s putting a coherent and connected narrative of all the ways in which the current government is not transparent and not particularly accountable from the cancelling or changes to the legislature’s public accounts committee, the legal action Houston’s taking on the Yarmouth ferry case, and I give him credit for that.
“People are looking at that and evaluating that and that’s a good thing.”
The Yarmouth ferry case remains before the Court of Appeal. Houston is asking for the province to publicly disclose the amount of money it pays Bay Ferries to operate the Yarmouth to Portland ferry. The party took legal action against the province after it dismissed the province’s privacy commissioner’s advice to make those details available to the Tories.
“The government has more lawyers and more resources than any Nova Scotian,” said Houston. “For them to use their might to hide information from Nova Scotians with prolonged legal procedures says a lot about their character. They refuse to just do the right thing.”