Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

Municipal Affairs Says…

I couldn’t help noticing the Cape Breton Post picked up my story about port marketer Albert Barbusci and his reports to CBRM council.

The Post‘s take is very much “nothing to see here folks” — the article makes the point, not once but twice (first in a statement, then in a quote from District 2 Councilor Earlene MacMullin), that the meeting was held not in council chambers but in a Civic Centre board room.

Of course, this makes absolutely no difference — council may meet anywhere, remember when it used to travel around like the Bill Lynch Shows? One month at the Frenchvale Fire Hall, another month at the former Sydney Mines Town Hall, the next month in the Big Pond Fire Hall? 

So, no, it doesn’t matter where council meets, it matters that council is meeting and that the meeting is not being announced publicly. And I know, dear readers, that you do not need me to explain why a municipal council should not get into the habit of meeting secretly.

I asked the Nova Scotia Department of Municipal Affairs about the situation and this is the one-line reply I received via spokesperson Sarah Gillis:

 The Municipal Government Act (MGA) outlines that three days’ notice of meetings held by council must be given.

Which is sort of helpful, as the applicable clause from the MGA states:

19(2) In addition to regular meetings, the council may hold such other meetings as may be necessary or expedient for the dispatch of business at such time and place as the council determines, if each council member is notified at least three days in advance and the clerk gives at least two days public notice of the meeting.

I’ve contacted Gillis to clarify this, but I read the response as recognition that the meeting with Barbusci is a council meeting and therefore subject to the rules governing council meetings.

So the next time the Barbusci Show comes to council (like the Bill Lynch Shows except there’s only one, big ride) we should expect to be told, in advance, that it is happening.



I know spring is traditionally the time for cleaning but we here in Cape Breton don’t have a spring, so this week seems as good a time as any to try to deal with some of the loose ends lying around The Spectator office.


Lie detector

Security screening at the Clinton Engineer Works. Lie detector test, circa 1945 (By Ed Westcott, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Security screening at the Clinton Engineer Works. Lie detector test, circa 1945 (By Ed Westcott, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Back in April, I wrote a piece about the Cape Breton Regional Police force’s Polygraph Unit and mentioned, in passing, that the Halifax Fire Department used polygraph tests as part of its recruitment process, a fact I’d gleaned from the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) website.

Brendan Elliott, senior communications adviser with HRM, contacted me immediately to say that “lie detector tests are not used in the recruitment process for our firefighters.” (And, in fact, the HRM website seems to have been updated to reflect that change in policy.)

I corrected my story but asked Elliott when the fire department had abandoned the use of polygraph tests and why. He promised to get back to me as soon as he received an answer from the department. That was, as noted, three months ago.

The Halifax Fire Department and its polygraph tests actually made headlines back in 2008, not because of the dubious science behind the technology or the potential invasion of a testee’s privacy, but because the private company conducting the tests, Integrity Personnel Screening and Interviewing Consultants Inc, had enjoyed what the Chronicle Herald called a “lucrative sole-sourced contract” with the department for a decade.

Integrity Personnel Screening, which folded in 2009, was owned by two Halifax police officers and employed another officer, Anthony McNeil, brother to former Halifax Deputy Police Chief Chris McNeil and current Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil.

The firm, and its tender-free contract, returned to the news in 2011, when an unknown party claimed Chris McNeil had lied under oath about brother Anthony’s involvement with the company. Chris McNeil was suspended for four months while the matter was investigated and was then reinstated. (He retired in 2013 and established a firm of his own, Seventeen Consulting, which he dissolved in 2015 upon being appointed to a five-year term with the federal Veterans Review and Appeal Board.)

Did any of this have anything to do with the Halifax Fire Department’s decision to scrap lie detector tests? I’m still waiting to find out. I tried emailing Elliott today for an update but he’s out of the office until July 17 and it seems unfair to expect the person filling in for him to deal with this.

So this loose end is going to have to stay loose.


Railway fees

CBNS railway, Sydney. (Photo via Scotia Rail Development Society

CBNS railway, Sydney. (Photo via Scotia Rail Development Society

Back in May, I reported that the NS Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal (TIR) had commissioned consultant Neil MacNeil to study the fees charged landowners along the Sydney Subdivision of the Cape Breton and Central Nova Scotia Railway (CBNS) by the line’s operator, Genesee & Wyoming (G&W).

As TIR spokesperson Brian Taylor explained at the time:

The consultant has been asked to gather information about the specific concerns of property owners, to gain clarity on the fees charged by G&W and for what purpose, to understand the federal and provincial policy and regulatory environment within which these fees are applied, to gain clarity on how these crossing fees compare with other crossing fees in similar situations across Canada and to consider options to help resolve or improve the perceived situation for property owners in Cape Breton whose properties are adjacent to the Sydney Subdivision rail line.

(For the record, The Spectator actually did some comparisons between fees charged by G&W and those charged by CN way back in November 2016.)

Taylor told me the report was expected by “early summer” which, by my calculations, means about now, so I contacted him to inquire about getting a copy and was told it has yet to be submitted, but I am “free to check back in” whenever I like.

So, another loose end still dangling.

(In case you’re wondering, this is how much of my actual housekeeping ends up too.)



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