CBRM Celebrates Its Berth Day

Monday’s second coming berth announcement was a star-studded affair. Everyone who is anyone in Nova Scotia politics wanted to be there in person to see the CBRM’s $20 million concrete dream come true.

Victoria the Lakes MLA Pam Eyking, Sydney-Victoria MP Mark Eyking, NS Premier Stephen MacNeil and Sydney-Whitney Pier MLA Derek Mombourquette finding things funny.

Cape Breton-Canso MP (and Master of Ceremonies) Rodger Cuzner got laughs by warning those in attendance from New Waterford that the gathering was not, actually, Chase the Ace.

Nova Scotia Transport Minister Geoff MacLellan got laughs by telling Cuzner that half the room didn’t get his “849ers” joke (the two are both originally from Glace Bay, Glace Bay phone numbers begin with 849, land lines barely exist anymore).

Tie color was the source of much hilarity — Liberals wearing blue, Tories wearing red, the Premier got his laugh by pointing out he was wearing both.

And CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke got laughs by saying that he woke up thinking it was Christmas Day, and sang “I Saw Two Ships Come Sailing In…and Both of Them Got to the Berth.”

(Only a churl would point out that the song is “I Saw Three Ships” and besides, the new berth means the Port of Sydney will actually be able handle three ships on Christmas Day in the morning or any other time.)

Personally, I laughed hardest when I heard the numbers for the economic impact of the cruise industry in Cape Breton, but as usual, I was alone in finding them funny. Everyone else appears to take them very, very seriously.

Rodger Cuzner, Geoff MacLellan, Mark Eyking

Cape Breton-Canso MP Rodger Cuzner, NS Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal Minister Geoff MacLellan and Sydney-Victoria MP Mark Eyking taking things seriously.


The Cape Breton Post coverage was interesting — reporter Nancy King pointed out, as she has in every story since the release of the CPCS report, that cost overruns related to the purchase of land for the berth, the extent of the contamination of that land or the need to move to another, less favorable location will be borne by the CBRM. But smack dab in the middle of her story (as in the middle of an earlier story) was this:

See editorial on this issue, page 8

I actually followed those instructions and turned immediately to the editorial which, predictably, was a rave for the funding announcement — although even the Post had the sense to hedge its bets, noting that the visionaries who have been pushing the project saw:

[T]he benefits the $20-million project offered — the work required to build it, the likely increase in cruise ship traffic [emphasis mine], the positive spinoffs for local businesses.

Any $20 million construction project will provide short-term jobs, we could build a Big Piano to go with the Big Fiddle and we’d create short-term jobs. If you lead with that and follow up with the “likely” increase in cruise ship traffic, you’re telling me that even you don’t really believe this thing is going to help the economy long-term.

Coincidentally, last night I happened to read a piece by New Yorker writer James Surowiecki on “Big-Ticket Transit” expenditures. It contained this line:

Politicians, meanwhile, like big, splashy projects that will win headlines and capture the public’s attention. This is why we end up putting money into new projects while skimping on maintenance, even though the return on investment from simply keeping roads and bridges in good shape is usually higher.

Our “splashy” project will cause a certain amount of hustle and bustle around the harbor, tradespeople will get a few months work and then will we be, as we’ve always been, at the mercy of the famously unmerciful cruise lines who will decide when — and if — they will deign to use our new berth.

We can keep cooking the economic impact numbers — hell, we can tell outright fibs about the number of passengers we’re expecting in any given year, as the Post did on Tuesday, stating in large type on Page A3 that Sydney will see 187,000 passengers in 2017. The actual figure, according to the “Tentative Cruise Schedule for 2017” posted on the Port of Sydney website, is 137,596 passengers. A Post story on the same page cites the correct figure. But the number in big type, the one readers are meant to notice, is 187,000 and it’s not true. (For the record, there was no correction printed on Wednesday.)

Cruise Ship numbers from 24 January 2017 CB Post

The 24 January 2017 Cape Breton Post gets the wrong number.

And we can also keep stressing the optimistic scenario from the consultant’s analysis of the potential economic impact of the second berth — keep talking about the $48 million in direct and indirect GDP impacts over 30 years, don’t think about the less sunny scenario in which, over the course of 30 years, it just about pays for itself, generating $19.9 million. I was actually so amazed by that figure I had to double check with Vijay Gill of CPCS, the consulting firm that produced the report. He said:

Yes that is by in large the correct interpretation. Though as we point out in the report there are significant uncertainties regarding the cost side of the equation, and we do not consider any potential crowding out effects of the investment (economic impacts being generated through other investments that may have been made in place of the second berth).


But let’s end on a high note. Let’s end with a quote from that Post editorial, which concludes that a $20 million investment that may not actually pay for itself over 30 years:

“Sounds like serious bang for your thirty-three cent buck in our books.”

Because, you see, CBRM taxpayers only have to provide 33 cents out of each of those 20 million bucks. The other 66 cents come from the provincial and federal governments so…

Sorry, what’s that you say?  The federal and provincial shares come out of our taxes too? Seriously?

Man, who’s going to break it to the Post?



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