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Canadian polling firm files $2M defamation lawsuit against Antigonish town, mayor

Town of Antigonish Mayor Laurie Boucher speaking to the standing committee on law amendments at the Nova Scotia legislature in Halifax on Monday. (Nova Scotia Legislature/YouTube - image credit)
Town of Antigonish Mayor Laurie Boucher speaking to the standing committee on law amendments at the Nova Scotia legislature in Halifax on Monday. (Nova Scotia Legislature/YouTube - image credit)

A Canadian market research company has filed a defamation lawsuit against the mayor and Town of Antigonish, over what it says are defamatory comments made in Province House in Halifax this week.

Mainstreet Research conducted two polls about the proposed consolidation of Antigonish town and county, showing most respondents wanted a public vote on the issue. In March 2023, 70 per cent of the respondents called for the vote. That number rose to 75.8 per cent in a February 2024 poll.

The polls were commissioned by local group Let Antigonish Decide which has long called for a plebiscite on consolidation.

Mayor Laurie Boucher spoke before the law amendments committee at the Nova Scotia legislature on Monday, defending the move to consolidate. The provincial government has introduced a bill to allow the move.

"I would like to take an opportunity to point out some serious flaws with these polls," Boucher told the committee.

An exterior shot of Nova Scotia Supreme Court in Antigonish, N.S., on Nov. 27, 2019.
An exterior shot of Nova Scotia Supreme Court in Antigonish, N.S., on Nov. 27, 2019.

Mainstreet Research filed the lawsuit in Nova Scotia Supreme Court in Antigonish. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

She said the company has made errors in the past, including during Calgary's 2017 mayoral race, and said the Antigonish survey results didn't represent local demographics. She also said the response rates on interactive voice response (IVR) or "robocalls," which Mainstreet used, are not within industry standards.

Quito Maggi, Mainstreet president, said Boucher was wrong on multiple counts, cited the data incorrectly in her arguments, and never attempted to call his company to ask for more details.

"That really misrepresents the work that we do. It's very damaging," Maggi said Friday.

Quito Maggi is president of Mainstreet Research, a polling firm that released several polls about Calgary's mayoral race ahead of the Oct. 16 municipal election.
Quito Maggi is president of Mainstreet Research, a polling firm that released several polls about Calgary's mayoral race ahead of the Oct. 16 municipal election.

Quito Maggi is president of Mainstreet Research, a polling firm that released two surveys around a public vote on consolidation between Antigonish town and county. (CBC/Mainstreet Research)

Maggi emailed Boucher on Tuesday, asking her to correct her statements to the committee and apologize. He said he never got a reply. On Thursday, Mainstreet's lawsuit against Boucher and the town was filed in the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia.

It is seeking $2 million in damages.

"The mayor is entitled to her opinion on Bill 407 as are any residents of Antigonish, but she is not entitled to fabricate, lie and misrepresent our work," reads the statement of claim.

But Boucher's comments are likely legally protected by what's known as privilege, said Alex Marland, professor and Jarislowsky Chair in Trust and Political Leadership at Acadia University.

He said it's his understanding anyone testifying to a Nova Scotia legislature committee would have the same protections as witnesses in front a committee in the federal House of Commons.

Alex Marland, a political scientist at Acadia University, called Hutton's win a shocker.
Alex Marland, a political scientist at Acadia University, called Hutton's win a shocker.

Alex Marland is a political scientist at Acadia University. (Acadia University)

In the House, "witnesses enjoy the same freedom of speech and immunity from prosecution or civil liability as do Members of Parliament," according to the House of Commons website.

"You have to balance somebody's good name and somebody's reputation with the ability to have strong political discourse," Marland said.

However, this immunity doesn't apply if the same testimony is repeated publicly outside such a committee meeting.

Maggi said he'll let the courts decide if privilege is a factor, but evidence may also come out through the case that the same comments were made outside the legislature.

Maggi said he will "of course" drop legal action if Boucher corrects the record and apologizes.

A spokesperson from the Town of Antigonish said Friday the town does not comment on ongoing legal matters.

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