Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

Double vision?

I promised to ask when and how Dennis Campbell of Ambassatours Gray Line got the nod to develop the property formerly occupied by the Royal Cape Breton Yacht Club on Sydney’s harborfront and let you know what I found out.

As you may recall, Campbell, whose firm operates seven different boat tours and the Murphy’s Cable Wharf restaurant and gift shop on the Halifax waterfront, appeared during this year’s Port Days event in Sydney with a video presenting his “vision” for a similar development on our own dear waterfront. (He was very specific, however, that this was a “vision” and not an “announcement.”)

I can’t find a copy of his video online but I did find this clip of his initial presentation to Port Days, in which he paints a bright future for the cruise industry in Sydney predicated largely on dark clouds elsewhere. (Sample: “It’s unfortunate that Zika is happening in the Caribbean but it is and talking to the senior cruise executives they tell us that they are redeploying ships out of the Caribbean because of that and it’s just a fact.” Ditto for Europe and terrorism.)

I now know how Campbell came to be involved in our waterfront development — he told the Port Days crowd that his participation was solicited by Mayor Cecil Clarke and Clarke’s executive assistant Mark Bettens, who showed up in Campbell’s office in Halifax the day after Ambassatours bought the Murphy’s enterprises in 2014.

That was the same year Ekistics Planning and Design of Halifax presented its own “vision” (I am on record as calling it more of a “hallucination”) of Sydney’s harborfront to Council. Ekisitics also created the video conception of Campbell’s vision (I can’t believe I just wrote that), and Ekistics CEO Rob LeBlanc appeared with Campbell at Port Days.

I asked mayoral spokesperson Christina Lamey if Campbell had a deal with the CBRM to develop the former yacht club property (which was transferred from the federal government to the CBRM in February 2016) and if so, had Council approved it? She responded by email:

Mr. Campbell’s concept is consistent with the vision for the waterfront presented by Ekistics and accepted, in principle, by Council. A development proposal has not yet come forward.

So…he has yet to put forward a proposal but was nevertheless invited to Ports Day to discuss his proposal? And is Lamey actually suggesting that because the previous Council accepted “in principle” Ekistics’ “vision” for the Sydney waterfront, the current Council is bound to accept any development “consistent with” that vision?

Moreover, are the two “visions” actually consistent?

Here’s what the yacht club property looks like in Ekistics’ 2014 plan:

And here it is in Campbell’s video:

Ambassatours' Dennis Campbell pictured on the front page of the Cape Breton Post with a "conceptual video" of the Sydney waterfront.

Ambassatours’ Dennis Campbell pictured on the front page of the Cape Breton Post with a “conceptual video” of the Sydney waterfront.

It does look like Campbell’s imaginary restaurant/patio fits nicely next to Ekistics’ imaginary office towers, but should we be concerned that our actual marina seems to have disappeared? And really, how hard is it to add another dream element to a dream landscape?

Answer: Not hard.

I just can’t get past the notion that, as usual, our potential private sector “partners” know more about what is being planned for the Port of Sydney than we citizens do. What kind of pitch did Clarke and Bettens make Campbell? Did they offer to sell or lease him land? Because their track record with land deals does not inspire confidence.

I hope Council is paying attention.


My non-scoop Clip Art House with For Sale Sign,

While driving past the federal government-owned building on King’s Road housing Business Cape Breton and Destination Cape Breton Association the other day, I happened to notice the “For Sale” sign had disappeared. (The property is one of a number of former Enterprise Cape Breton Corporation properties currently on the block.)

Sensing a scoop, I contacted ACOA to find out who had purchased the property and for how much. I received this response from Shalon McLachlan, spokesperson for Public Services and Procurement Services Canada, which is handling the sales:

The property has not been sold. The contract with the realtor listing the building recently expired. PSPC is now considering its options to re-list the building in the near future.

In other words, move along. There’s nothing to see here…


Boat ramp to nowhere

If you haven’t read Tim Bousquet’s story about some funny business around that school being built in Premier Stephen McNeil’s riding, then bookmark it now and read it with your Saturday morning coffee. (I don’t know about you, but I do my best reading over coffee on a Saturday morning, except when I sneeze and spill coffee all over the newspaper which, of course, I absolutely never do.)

he newly constructed cul-de-sac, looking east from Faye Road towards the new school. The curb and sidewalk are on land owned by Rice Contracting. Note the curb cuts and utility connections that will service Rice’s land to the right. Photo: Halifax Examiner

The newly constructed cul-de-sac, looking east from Faye Road towards the new Bridgetown school. (Photo: Halifax Examiner)

Here’s the Coles Notes version, from Bousquet himself:

Construction of an access road to the new Bridgetown school is more than $2 million over its original $1.3 million dollar budget. A friend of Stephen McNeil’s is the beneficiary of the work, and has been fined for illegally building a boat ramp on nearby public land.

What the article drives home for me is how much time and effort it takes to piece together a story like this. Per Bousquet:

I spent a month or so researching the issue from afar, and visited the site in February, when I realized it was even more complex of a situation than I had been told.

I started asking questions of government communications people in the Department of Environment and the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, but soon hit brick walls: they stopped returning my emails.

So over the next couple of months I filed three Freedom of Information requests.

Holding government to account is a full-time job, one that doesn’t pay nearly as well as becoming a government spokesperson but that is so much more important. A subscription to the Halifax Examiner costs $10 a month ($5 for seniors/students/low-income). That’s a deal. And there’s an even better deal coming for those of you who would like to subscribe to both the Spectator and the Examiner.

Watch this space…