“This needs to be an open book, you can’t start hiding how public money is being spent just because you’ve entered into a contract to provide that money to a third party.”- David Coon
Article by: JOHN CHILIBECK
Photo by: JOHN CHILIBECK Legislature Bureau
Green party leader David Coon leaves the Fredericton courthouse Monday after appearing before a judge to argue the provincial government should release financial information on a contract it signed with Shannex to run nursing homes.
The fight over the provincial government’s decision to withhold information on several deals with a private nursing home has landed in court.David Coon, the leader of the Green Party, was in Fredericton’s Court of Queen’s Bench Monday to argue the Department of Social Development should release the full contents of contracts it had forged with Shannex.
The company based out of Nova Scotia runs nursing homes in Fredericton, Saint John, Quispamsis, Moncton and Riverview with the help of taxpayers’ dollars.“We’re talking about public money,” Coon told reporters on the courthouse steps shortly after the case was adjourned.
“New Brunswickers want to know.“How is this public money being spent and are we getting value for our money?”
The province has said it cannot release the full contents of the documents because it’s dealing with Shannex’s sensitive commercial information.
A lawyer for Shannex, Ryan Burgoyne of Cox and Palmer, asked for intervener status in the case Monday, arguing the release of the blacked out information could hurt his client financially because it would allow its private industry competitors to figure out how it manages its operations.Justice Terrence Morrison granted the request and adjourned the case until Feb. 27.
Burgoyne and the lawyer hired by the government, Allan Morgan of the law firm Stewart McKelvey, offered no comment afterwards.Shannex first established itself in New Brunswick a decade ago under a previous Liberal government. It now runs seven nursing homes in five locations in the province.
Coon said releasing the information was essential in light of the comments Premier Brian Gallant made to Brunswick News last month in a year-end interview.The premier said his Liberal government would soon release a new nursing home plan that would include additional beds, based on the private-public partnership, or 3P, model.Under such a model, the government avoids paying the upfront costs in the tens of millions for building nursing homes but must pay the private operator money over many years to run it.
Shannex initially avoided going through the tendering process with the provincial government when it first built homes in New Brunswick under a pilot project. According to a report by the New Brunswick auditor general’s office in 2009, the government wanted to open more beds quickly and considered the situation urgent enough to warrant an exemption to the tendering rules.
The same report said the rates Shannex charged appeared to be reasonable, but recommended the provincial government do a more extensive analysis before signing off on such deals.The seed for Monday’s court appearance germinated more than a year ago when the Green party made a right to information request to see the Shannex contracts.
In January of 2017, the department handed over the documents, but much of the information was blacked out, with the province citing privacy rules.Coon appealed the decision to the right to information commissioner, Anne Bertrand, who on Aug. 27, 2017 recommended the contracts be released in their entirety.
The provincial government rejected her recommendation, so Coon took the case to court.“This needs to be an open book,” Coon told reporters Monday. “You can’t start hiding how public money is being spent just because you’ve entered into a contract to provide that money to a third party.”
The Green party leader said it was important to see if the province would be better off following the traditional model, building new nursing homes with taxpayers’ money and allowing nonprofit organizations to run them.
The Department of Social Development declined comment Monday, with spokeswoman Anne Mooers stating it wouldn’t have anything to say on the matter while it’s before the courts.Shannex spokesman Sophie Cormier said if her company released the information, it could hurt its chances of winning future contracts.
“When Shannex submits materials to the government in response to a request for proposal (RFP), those RFP materials contain detailed, competitive information that, if shared publicly, would put Shannex at a competitive disadvantage for current and future RFPs,” Cormier said in an email Monday.