South Shore-St. Margaret's MP Bernadette Jordan basked in the announcement that the former HMCS Cormorant has now been completely dismantled, but her responses were short and guarded when it came to questions concerning the ongoing litigation centred around the vessel which the government had towed away.
A news release issued July 7 by Fisheries and Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG), of which Jordan is minister, announced that the planned dismantling of the former navy ship that was exiled from Bridgewater last year "is complete."
Meanwhile, months before the controversial ship was towed away, the private sector entity that had custody of the vesse,l and that owns the former government wharf in Bridgewater where the ship languished for 20 years, filed a lawsuit in federal court.
The Port of Bridgewater and its president, Rick Welsford, are seeking damages from the CCG and Jordan for "the unlawful conversion of cargo and equipment" from Cormorant. Welsford et al allege the CCG and the local Liberal MP allowed people "to pilfer souvenirs" from a former navy ship and behaved "in an unlawful and piratical manner" by "misappropriating and giving away as booty" several items from the vessel.
In a telephone interview with LighthouseNOW following the dismantling announcement, Jordan, declined to discuss the litigation issue. When asked whether it was awkward being in a legal fight with Welsford, a former Liberal candidate in two provincial elections, who also served on the executive of the local federal grits' riding association, she avoided an answer, though she did respond to a question as to why she is choosing to let government lawyers do the talking.
"I've never been one to hide, but there are legal reasons that we can't speak about these things if there are court cases pending," she said.
And what about the court filing accusing her of being a pirate?
"As I said, there's not much I can say with regards to ongoing legal issues with regards to the Port of Bridgewater and Mr. Welsford," said Jordan.
Federal court filings allege Jordan and the CCG gave away the Cormorant's submersible, ship's wheel, and a port-side generator, among other items, after exiling the 75-metre vessel. Further, Welsford and the port accuse federal officials interfered with the port's south LaHave Street operations and didn't have proper grounds to seize the ship, of which the port assumed custody in 2019 after American owners stopped their involvement.
Welsford has long claimed the Canadian government blocked opportunities for the port to sell the Cormorant, suggesting there was an understanding that allowed for both the recovery of cargo and for the vessel to be sold. However, the CCG stepped in and seized the Cormorant and led efforts to remove contaminants from the ship. This served as a catalyst to the lawsuit led by Welsford and the port.
In a statement-of-defence, the federal government disputes there was any deal concerning the Cormorant with Welsford and the port. It "denies all other alleged causes of action in the claim" and "asks that the court dismiss the plaintiffs' action with costs."
None of the allegations in the court filings have been tested in court.
Jordan was made available by her aides to speak to LighthouseNOW by phone for up to 10 minutes, during which she relished the "good news the vessel is completely gone." The final dismantling, she said, happened a few days prior to the public announcement.
But Cormorant's dismantling was expected. Ottawa had awarded a $1.8 million procurement to an Antigonish County firm in October 2020 to remove "bulk pollutants" from it and tow it to a Halifax County shipyard for dismantling and recycling. In the July 7 statement, the federal government said "more than 1,000 metric tonnes of metal was recycled" from the Cormorant.
Meanwhile, at the port, two more ships - the Ryan Atlantic II and the Hannah Atlantic - continue to sit abandoned. Jordan said the CCG is monitoring the situation. "The other ones that are there, the last time they were assessed they were not assessed as much of a pollution threat as the Cormorant was," the MP told LighthouseNOW.
Jordan emphasized federal intervention happened in the case of the Cormorant because the ship "was a significant" pollution threat. Welsford's statement-of-claim disputes that point, suggesting it was removed on the basis of it being "an eyesore," making the seizure unlawful.
Jordan, a two-term parliamentarian, has been linked to several funding announcements in recent weeks coinciding with rumours of a general federal election on the horizon.
She indicated to LighthouseNOW that the announcements are making up for lost time, explaining that the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic made it tough to get out and do the publicity earlier.
"A lot of things were held," she said. "We're very excited about the fact that we're able to get out and see people and make these announcements."
Jordan disputes the perception of political opportunism amid the millions of dollars that have been dispensed with the various announcements she has overseen recently.
"I won't make apologies for bringing money into our riding," she commented. "That is one of the reasons I was elected, is to make sure we're were addressing" concerns and issues important to Canadians.