Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

Shovel-ready

Wednesday marked a momentous day in the history of Sydney port development: two First Nations Chiefs and a Montreal property developer came together to shovel…something.

Part of me is ashamed at my inability to grasp the importance of Wednesday’s event, but part of me thinks that since neither Barry Sheehy nor Albert Barbusci – our port “developers” – seem to have attended the ceremony, it may not have been as momentous as all that.

Chief Terry Paul, Canderel CEO Jonathan Wener and Chief Leroy Denny with shovels.

Chief Terry Paul, Canderel CEO Jonathan Wener and Chief Leroy Denny with shovels.

The most cynical part of me thinks Team Port noticed there would be a lot of bigwigs in town for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Symposium at Membertou on Wednesday and somehow convinced them that rather than having what I’m sure was a lovely lunch at the Trade and Convention Centre, they should come and sit in a field in Point Edward.

And what, exactly, was being celebrated in that field? According to the Post, the CBRM broke out the beribboned shovels because their First Nations “partners” are going to apply to the federal government for infrastructure money to help them develop their 250-acre portion of the Novazone logistics park.

(That’s the logistics park that will serve Novaporte, our non-existent ultra-large container ship terminal. It’s being marketed and will supposedly be built by Canderel, represented at the ceremony by CEO Jonathan Wener.)

A party pooper would point out that this would be yet another example of public money being expended in support of what has been endlessly touted as a private development. Membertou Chief Terry Paul stressed the private nature of the development in the same breath as he admitted they’d be seeking government money for it:

While he said they will apply for government assistance for components of the project, Paul said it will involve substantial private investment.

CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke told the Post the event was timed to “build” on recent announcements about the local rail line. Those announcements, which themselves were timed for the Friday before the Labor Day weekend, involved a deal to keep Genesee & Wyoming from applying to abandon the line in the next seven months and the decision of the Port of Sydney to spend $80,000 on the first phase of a rail study.

Clarke seems to think that the existence of 250 serviced acres combined with the knowledge that our rail operator will not be abandoning our line for next seven months will convince shippers we have the “capacity” to handle ultra-large container ships.

Maybe it will.

Or maybe the 250 Mi’kmaq-owned acres will end up just as empty as most of Sydport which, you will recall, is an industrial park funded largely by public money that has been poised since the late 1990s to capitalize on the offshore oil and gas industry.

And before you accuse me of hopeless pessimism, before you say that people like me are the reason nothing good ever happens in Cape Breton –- that our negative thoughts form a shield around the island that actually, physically, repels great ideas –- let me just say that I would like to believe this project is real but I have yet to see a shred of compelling evidence that it is.

I’ll keep looking, though.

 

Martin Shkreli

There is no local angle to this story — Martin Shkreli did not announce his support for our port project or invest in the Donkin Mine or buy a local Tim Hortons franchise only to promptly quintuple the price of a double-double.

Martin Shkreli testifying before House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, 2016, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Martin Shkreli testifying before House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, 2016, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

No, the only Cape Breton connection is that I was in Cape Breton when I read in the New York Times Thursday morning that Shkreli, who “gained notoriety as a pharmaceutical executive for increasing the price of a lifesaving drug, Daraprim, by 5,000 percent,” has had his bail revoked and is going to jail for offering $5,000 for a strand of Hillary Clinton’s hair.

Shkreli is awaiting sentencing on three counts of fraud in connection with two hedge funds and a pharmaceutical company he used to run. I don’t know why he wanted Hillary’s hair. Strangely, I find I don’t really care. In fact, I don’t care much for Shkreli period, but the story reminded me that I’d recently read the transcripts from the jury selection process for his trial and they are incredibly funny — nobody, it seems, cares much for Shkreli.

Here’s a sample exchange between Judge Kiyo Matsumoto (“The Court”), a potential juror and Shkreli’s lawyer, Benjamin Brafman:

The Court: The purpose of jury selection is to ensure fairness and impartiality in this case. If you think that you could not be fair and impartial, it is your duty to tell me. All right. Juror Number 1.

Juror No. 1: I’m aware of the defendant and I hate him.

Benjamin Brafman: I’m sorry.

Juror No. 1: I think he’s a greedy little man.

The Court: Jurors are obligated to decide the case based only on the evidence. Do you agree?

Juror No. 1: I don’t know if I could. I wouldn’t want me on this jury.

The Court: Juror Number 1 is excused…

You can read the full transcript here.

 

Donald Savoie Shops “Local”

Funny as the Shkreli jury selection transcript was, I think Donald Savoie’s latest Chronicle Herald op-ed may be even funnier.

Savoie, who holds a Canada Research Chair in governance and public administration at the University of Moncton, has written 45 books and countless articles, was involved in the establishment of ACOA and has won pretty much every prize up for grabs in this part of the world except Atlantic Lotto’s Set for Life.

I’ve read some of his writing, I agree with some of his ideas, but this latest commentary (under the headline, “When economic opportunities surface, too many Maritimers remain on the sidelines”) is a real head-scratcher.

Savoie’s starting point is the publication, two months ago, of his latest book, Looking for Bootstraps, which is not, sadly, an exploration of Maritime men’s fashion, but a book about Economic Development in the Maritimes.

Since its publication, Savoie says he has received letters and calls from readers anxious to know what one “individual” can do to promote economic development in the Maritimes. His answer? Well, I’ll let him tell you:

My wife and I make it a point — as much as we can — to buy from Maritime businesses. We buy all our frozen food from McCain Foods, all our groceries from Sobeys, gasoline and natural gas from Irving Oil and we always go to Kent Building Supplies for home repairs. We look to local farmers for fresh produce and turn to home-grown and locally owned restaurants and bookstores rather than national chains.

Is he serious? He lives in New Brunswick and tries “as much as he can” to buy from McCain Foods, Sobeys and Irving? IRVING? Does he try “as much as he can” to get his news from Irving, after he’s bought his gasoline and natural gas and building supplies (because Kent Building Supplies is owned by Irving too)? It’s like announcing that you try “as much as you can” to get your oxygen from the atmosphere.

And if supporting these businesses, all of which have been around for decades, is so good for us, why are New Brunswick and Nova Scotia in such rough economic shape? What have the big businesses of Atlantic Canada done for us lately?

Savoie’s best answer:

It is not possible to overstate the importance of head offices to a region. It is where strategic decisions are made and high-salaried jobs are located. Maritimers should also take note that when our public institutions, from our universities and hospitals to our community organizations, set out to raise funds, their first calls are to the McCains, the Irvings and the Sobeys, among other Maritime businesses.

Maritimers should take note that our public institutions are supposed to be funded by our government (hence the term “public institutions”)  from the taxes it collects from us and from corporations like McCains, Irving and Sobeys. If our system worked as it should, our hospitals would not be constantly fundraising and they certainly wouldn’t be beholden to corporations like Sobeys.

Savoie ends with this sage advice:

I offer the following as my contribution to the debate. I start from the premise that the private sector, notably our own business community, holds the key to our region’s economic future.

I maintain that wealth and jobs have to be created and no one is better at it than the private sector.

To encourage this, we need a business-friendly agenda and this is more important now than at any other time in the past.

Um, isn’t that what we’ve been trying for the past 40 years? I cannot imagine a more business-friendly environment than New Brunswick’s where the Irvings basically own the province. And yet, as I’ve already mentioned, New Brunswick is not in great economic shape. How can that be, if Savoie’s premise is solid?

I have lots more I could say on the subject but I have to go bootstrap shopping. I hear Sobeys has introduced a nice new line.

 

 

 

 

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