Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

Exporting our ‘expertise’

So, this happened:


According to the article in the 23 October 2017 Cape Breton Post:

Officials from the Cape Breton Partnership and the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities completed their first mission to Vietnam in June.

The officials will be providing their expertise to counterparts in Vietnam over the next four years as part of an initiative implemented by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and is funded — including the exchange trips —by Global Affairs Canada.

The national program, Partnerships for Municipal Innovation: Local Economic Development is an effort to encourage sustainable economic growth by strengthening municipal governments in several overseas countries.

I am a horrible person and I know that because the comparison that immediately occurred to me was Big Tobacco, facing declining sales in the Western world, targeting the developing world with its terrible product.

If Canadian municipalities have any insights into “strengthening municipal governments” they should really be sharing them with Canadian municipalities which are, famously, creatures of the provinces with no Constitutionally designated powers of their own. Attend any municipal government meeting in Cape Breton and I guarantee you that at some point someone — either a councilor or a municipal staff person — will bemoan the lack of response from either the province or the federal government that has hogtied the community’s latest plans, whether for port development or wastewater treatment or tax collection or hub-school establishment or [insert project here].

As for the suggestion that any Cape Breton municipal official or government-funded agency has “expertise” in the area of “sustainable economic development,” that should really have been labeled a choking hazard because I almost choked when I read it. Our island has been the object of 50 years’ worth of economic development efforts and where has it left us? With high rates of child poverty and unemployment, a declining and ageing population and no industrial or commercial base to speak of.

The Post says a group from Vietnam will come “to Canada” in the spring. If they come to Cape Breton, what are we going to do, stuff the employment and child poverty stats under the couch? Make sure they don’t actually attend a council meeting? Meet them in Halifax and pretend it’s Sydney, like some crazy Three’s Company episode?

Seriously, we have got some planning to do…


Post docs

Here at the Spectator, we believe in sharing all the information we get with the public. So, when we receive a response to a freedom-of-information request, we like to post the actual documents so our readers can see them and draw their own conclusions.

It’s not a belief shared by all local media outlets but fortunately, because the federal and provincial governments eventually make all information released as a result of an access to information request public, the Spectator can share other outlets’ responses for them. (The Spectator learned a long time ago that sharing is ALWAYS better when you share other people’s stuff.)

In that spirit, then, here’s the response the Cape Breton Post received from the Department of Municipal Affairs to a request for:

Any cost breakdown submitted by The Cape Breton Regional Municipality in support of its funding application to the province for construction of a second cruise ship berth at the port of Sydney.

SPOILER ALERT: The documents have been almost entirely redacted, but I find it’s good to see these things with your own eyes and realize just how crappy our provincial access-information-system is. And as you gaze upon the empty, grey spaces that should contain information remember, citizen of the CBRM, YOU will be paying these costs:




City planning

Thanks to Tim Bousquet at the Halifax Examiner for this one — the videos from a one-day conference, Art of City Building, held in Halifax on October 23, are now available online.

I haven’t had time to watch them all, but I watched the presentations on Waterfront Development. (Okay, okay, I fast-forwarded through the part about Halifax to get to the guy from Malmö, Sweden but I think we’ve already established I’m not a nice person).

Västra Hamnen, Malmö. (CC by SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Västra Hamnen (Western Harbor), Malmö, Sweden. (CC by SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

It’s really fun to see how Malmö transformed its former industrial waterfront into a public park with a beach and a mixed commercial/residential neighborhood. (And it’s instructive to see that it didn’t properly account for rising seawater in all this development and is now doing catch-up on that front.)

A second presenter talks about waterfront development in Amsterdam and although he warns Haligonians there may not be many lessons in it for them, given Amsterdam’s rather unique features (the city owns 80% of the land in Amsterdam, for example), I still found it interesting to see how — again — former industrial spaces were transformed into high-density neighborhoods.

I really recommend you watch it — it makes you understand what a valuable resource a waterfront is.


Open Post

I really didn’t intend to base so much of this week’s Fast & Curious on the Cape Breton Post but what’s a person to do when the local daily decides it’s the top story of the day?

This was the headline above the fold on this morning’s paper:

“Readers” plural may have shared their feelings about the Post during an open house at the Holiday Inn on Thursday night, but the paper managed to find only TWO it could quote. (One, Omar Tag El-Din, pictured above, gets the opening SEVEN paragraphs of the story to himself!) Both El-Din and Shelley Bennett Trifos, the other person who reads the Post, were positive about the paper, although Trifos wished it would cover more “good news,” like local festivals and events.

Host Mark Lever, CEO and president of the Saltwire Network (or SaltWire Network, they don’t seem to have settled on a spelling yet), which bought the Post and 27 other Transcontinental Media properties in Atlantic Canada earlier this year, told the “crowd”:

What I heard everywhere today is that the brand of the Cape Breton Post is important to people whether they’re 25, 35 or 85, and this community is not going to be better without it.

The brand is important to people? Surely it’s having a paper of record that’s important to people (Trifos actually said she always starts with the obits). And “this community is not going to be better without it” is a very strange sort of endorsement — it makes it sound like he’s been seriously considering what the community would be like without the Post.

But the strangest element in the story has to be this:

Cape Breton Post managing editor Carl Fleming said she appreciated all of the comments he heard from readers Thursday night.

“It’s always great to get feedback from our readers…There’s things they like, things they want to see more of — more listings for arts and entertainment, more local news.”

Being misidentified as a woman by the newspaper you run is bad enough, but having your readers tell you they want more local news from their local newspaper (a problem a Post reader of my acquaintance characterizes as “Too much Truro”) has got to be worse.

When it was announced that Lever and wife Sarah Dennis, owners of the Halifax Chronicle-Herald, were going to buy almost every newspaper in Atlantic Canada, I thought, “That sounds like a really bad idea.”

And that is still what I think — in fact, it’s what I really think.




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