Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

Economic Development

I heard CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke discussing economic development with Steve Sutherland on CBC Cape Breton’s Information Morning on Thursday [The interview is no longer available online]. The mayor raised a number of issues I will write about in greater detail in next week’s edition — chief among them, his incredible admission that the CBRM has neither federal nor provincial funding for its economic development activities — for now, I would just like to add what little I know about the hiring of John Phalen as “Manager of Economic Development and Major Projects.”

The requisition form for the post was sent to the CBRM’s Human Resources Department on 22 March 2016. I FOIPOPed a copy of it and it looks a little something like this:


As you can see, the new manager was intended as a replacement for former economic development officer John Whalley who quit in May 2015 after he was relieved of all duties on the port file. Whalley subsequently filed a civil lawsuit against the CBRM for constructive dismissal. (The case has yet to go to court.)

Why the CBRM waited almost a year to replace Whalley remains a mystery.



The regular, full-time, confidential position was posted internally and the closing date for applications was 7 April 2016.

The job went to Phalen, the CBRM’s manager of Public Works, who (according to what the mayor told Sutherland Thursday) was the only internal applicant for the post. Clarke said Phalen has been in the job “for several months.”

The information I received didn’t specify when Phalen was hired but as late as October 2016, he was still the municipality’s head of Public Works, as evidenced by this CBC story about the Thanksgiving floods.

If there was any fanfare about Phalen’s hiring, I missed it. The first I became aware of his new title was a February 2017 reference to him in the Post.

As for the job itself, here’s the official description. Make of it what you will:


Blood on the Mountain

Watching the 2016 documentary Blood on the Mountain  (directed by Mari-Lynn C. Evans and Jordan Freeman and available now on Netflix) about the coal industry in West Virginia is like reading Cape Breton’s diary.

It’s not just the company houses and stores, the violent protests of the early 1900s, the use of armed police to combat strikers, the black lung and silicosis —  it’s the players themselves. When the film describes the incredible events involving Tony Boyle, the corrupt boss of the  United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), and his challenger, Jock Yablonski, it’s entering familiar territory for Cape Bretoners of a certain age.

When Boyle died in 1985, United Press International remembered him this way:

Mr. Boyle was convicted of murder for ordering the deaths of UMW insurgent Joseph “Jock“ Yablonski, 59, his wife, Margaret, 57, and daughter, Charlotte, 25, who were shot to death in their sleep by three young triggermen in the Yablonski family`s Clarksburg, Pa., farmhouse on New Year`s Eve, 1969.

Following the murders, Jock Yablonski’s sons, lawyers Joseph (“Chip”) and Kenneth, formed Miners for Democracy and sought to reform the UMWA. In that capacity Chip Yablonski, who also served for a time as UMWA counsel, visited Cape Breton in the early 1970s. The Cape Breton Highlander, which had followed the Yablonksi murder case closely, documented Yablonski’s arrival at Sydney airport and the delegation of miners waiting to greet him, including Jake Campbell, later president of UMWA District 26, who then headed the local Miners for Democracy movement.


But the links between West Virginia and Cape Breton are not just relics of the past — they’re alive and well in the form of former Performance Coal Company President Chris Blanchard. Blanchard was president of West Virginia’s Upper Big Branch mine, which exploded in 2010, killing 29 miners.

Blanchard escaped prosecution for his own role in the explosion by cutting a deal with West Virginia prosecutors to testify against his former boss, Don Blankenship, the CEO of Massey Energy. Blankenship, who looms over Blood on the Mountain like some sort of coal industry Voldemort, was sentenced to a year in jail for willfully conspiring to violate health and safety standards at Upper Big Branch.

And Blanchard? Why, Blanchard ended up right here in little ol’ Cape Breton, part of the team setting up the Donkin Mine project, a fact revealed through the excellent investigative work of  Global Television’s 16X9 team (which has since been axed for cost-cutting purposes).

I really can’t recommend this documentary enough.


Fixed Election Dates Drawing of a ballot box

I had to modify that subheading because I originally wrote, “Fixed Elections,” which I decidedly do not advocate. Fixed election DATES, on the other hand? Hell yeah!

The nonsense leading up to this latest Nova Scotia election call almost made a monarchist out of me. (You know where you stand with a monarch: they’ll be in office until they drop dead.) Instead, we got to live through months of speculation during which Premier Stephen McNeil, who normally throws nickels around like manhole covers, suddenly started throwing dollar bills around like confetti. Could it mean an election? OF COURSE IT MEANT AN ELECTION!

We need to nail this thing down — pick a date and stick to it. Campaign for a month before. Stop letting politicians treat the election date like the location of a super cool warehouse party. It’s not like we don’t have examples to follow — Nova Scotia is the only province in Canada that hasn’t passed fixed-date legislation.

And I know, we’ll be trading off one kind of political opportunism for another — governments will exchange the right to call an election when they’re doing well in the polls for the right to align policy and funding announcements for maximum, pre-election impact — but they actually do that already.  And at least we won’t have to listen to the kind of incessant “will he/won’t he” news coverage we’ve been subjected to since the dawn of 2017.

To the list of 6,947 items I plan to discuss with any candidate who has the misfortune to knock on my door during the next three weeks  I hereby add: fixed election dates.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Note: This story has been updated to explain that signatures are redacted from FOIPOP documents for security reasons. As Merritt’s name is also printed on the document in question, the redaction of his signature doesn’t matter. Thanks to Joe Ward for that clarification!


Featured image includes headshot of John Phelan via CBC.




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