Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

We are a…province?

Organizers of the Father Greg MacLeod lecture series promised the talks would explore “radical,” “daring” and “out-of-the-box” ideas and I have to say Senator Dan Christmas, who gave the inaugural lecture last night, delivered.

His daring idea? Cape Breton should be a province.

Oh, I know, I know — not in a million years. Imagine convincing the rest of the country that an island with a population of 132,000 should have more capacity for self governance, more ability to levy taxes, more authority to decide its own future than, say, the City of Toronto, population 2.7 million.

But what an opening gambit! Once you have, with sad (and totally fake) reluctance, agreed to drop the demand for provincial status, there would still be so much left on the table — a fair share of federal equalization payments, our own Nominee Program for immigrants, increased powers for municipal governments, an agreement that all federal government offices in the province should be in the CBRM. (That last option, by the way, is one I think deserves more discussion. I’ve been thinking about it ever since a local academic pointed out to me that Nova Scotia is the only province in Canada that doesn’t have a “second city” — where British Columbia has Vancouver and Victoria, Alberta has Edmonton and Calgary, New Brunswick has Fredericton and Moncton, Nova Scotia has…Halifax. Maybe we need to lobby the provincial government under the slogan, “CBRM: We Can Be Your Edmonton.”) Really, there are lots of possibilities and they all hold promise.

Senator Christmas said Cape Breton as a whole could learn from the experience of Membertou, which went from being almost bankrupt to one of the most prosperous First Nations reserves in Canada, a transformation Christmas said it accomplished by relying on “its own resources” and taking charge of its own destiny.

The story of that transformation is starting to take on the trappings of legend, and I always approach legends with caution, but there are elements of it that do seem instructive. Consider this, from a 2011 Jon Tattrie article on Membertou in Atlantic Business Magazine:

Chief [Terrance] Paul says the recovery started when the band council dispatched him to bring Membertou’s sons and daughters home. “It comes down to getting people who are smarter than you and getting them to work for you,” he says. That included people such as Bernd Christmas, a hotshot lawyer Paul met in his legal office on Bay Street. “I offered him a job with Membertou. It was less pay and a lot of hope,” Paul laughs.

The decision to seek ISO 9000 certification, which Tattrie describes as “a sought-after stamp of approval for good governance and business practice from the International Organization for Standardization” and which Membertou received in 2002, also looks like the kind of thinking we need to emulate.

But it’s also worth noting that Membertou’s economic revival is largely based on something less pretty, as Tattrie noted elsewhere in the same piece:

In 2002, the band took a big gamble literally – by opening the Membertou Gaming Commission. It currently has five locations in Cape Breton and operates 23 hours a day, seven days a week. The aboriginal gambling sites, including dozens of video lottery machines, can stay open longer than non-aboriginal ones and allow smoking. That, plus the proximity to Sydney, brings in off-reserve money, employing about 50 people and pumping millions of dollars into the Membertou economy. Some of that goes directly to band members (about $1,500 each annually) and the rest can be invested in other potential growth areas.

Chief Paul told Tattrie:

It’s the area that makes us the most money, unfortunately, as it has these social issues about problem gambling.

To its credit, the band has been working to diversify its economy away from gambling and has at least put the profits to good use — you can’t enter Membertou today without appreciating that. And certainly “sin” taxes — on cigarettes and booze — have long been a source of revenue for the provincial government.

But back to the matter at hand: asked by event moderator Ian MacNeil what was the “turning point” in his thinking — when did he begin to contemplate a step as drastic as province-hood for Cape Breton — Christmas said it went back to his time on the Ivany Commission. He said they started each public meeting with a slide showing Nova Scotia’s population figures and as he looked at the decline in Cape Breton — from 161,700 in 1991 to 132,000 in 2016 — he started to wonder, “Where is this going?”

Christmas said Cape Breton First Nations had labored to get to the table only to find the table is “not only bare but is about to collapse,” a reality that hit home hard recently when the newly completed, multi-million dollar Membertou Sports and Wellness Centre found out that Sydney Academy would not be icing a hockey team this year. That team was supposed to play out of Membertou. Christmas said it made him realize “All of our hard work and all of our investment may have been in vain.”

And from that, came his call for what he termed a “drastic intervention.” Senator Christmas said he hoped last night’s lecture would start a dialog — get people thinking and talking and researching and making suggestions and proposals of their own. If you weren’t there last night (or watching the livestream) you can watch the lecture here and see if it gets you thinking:



Dr. Ron Stewart

Dr. Ron Stewart. (Photo via Dalhousie University

Dr. Ron Stewart. (Photo via Dalhousie University)

Thanks to Elizabeth (Betsy) Chambers — whose name you might recognize from her days as the Cape Breton Post‘s legislative reporter — for this next Fast & Curious item.

Chambers alerted the Spectator to the recent activities of former Nova Scotia health minister — and Boularderie Island resident — Dr. Ron Stewart. Writes Chambers:

Dr. Ron Stewart, the former Liberal Nova Scotia health minister and widely honored emergency medicine expert who remodeled and modernized the province’s patchy emergency health services in the 1990s has committed $1.5 million of his own funds to set-up an international leading-edge symposium on emergency health services every five years in Nova Scotia. An undisclosed portion of the funds will also be used as seed money to begin fundraising for a $5-million endowed Chair in Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Research at Dalhousie University’s Department of Emergency Medicine.

The announcement was made Tuesday at a packed dinner of emergency health service professionals from Canada, the US and the UK attending the EMS 20-50 Celebration Symposium in Halifax, marking the 20th anniversary of emergency health services in the province and the 50th anniversary of mobile coronary care.

“This symposium is to become an onward project that would celebrate the field and rally participants across the country and around the world,” Brian Thompson, the Dalhousie Medical Research Foundation’s chief executive officer told the crowd. The periodic professional gathering will be named for Stewart.

The three-day celebratory symposium has generated enthusiastic buzz among the participants. One paramedic was overheard calling it “ the best thing I’ve ever been to.” It’s a one of-a kind event that brought together paramedics, nurses and physicians in emergency services to focus on academic aspects of their work, with an emphasis on research. Peer-reviewed data collection and analysis are considered essential groundwork for emergency services improvements.

“We’re grateful for your commitment to bring an evidence-based approach to emergency medical services through data collection and analysis and implementation of novel innovative approaches to improving medical care,” said Thompson

The symposium was also the scene of a book launch for The Evolution of Pre-Hospital Emergency Care: Belfast and Beyond to which Stewart’s name was also affixed as an author along with Drs. John S. Geddes and Thomas F. Baskett. The book tracks the rise of modern emergency services, including Nova Scotia’s, beginning with the revolutionary experiment of a pre-hospital mobile coronary care ambulance in Belfast, only 50 years ago.

Stewart is professor emeritus of Medical Education, Dalhousie Faculty of Medicine.  


Be careful out there, kids

Fentanyl blotter. Personally, I'd eat the Reese's Pieces first. (Photo via Winnipeg Police Service)

Fentanyl blotter. Personally, I’d eat the Reese’s Pieces first. (Photo via Winnipeg Police Service)

The contrast between Halifax Examiner publisher Tim Bousquet’s take on the perils of Halloween and that of the unnamed editorialist at the Cape Breton Post this week could not have been sharper — or funnier.

Here’s Bousquet on Monday, girding himself for the annual onslaught of tainted candy stories:

Some kids will soon pretend to have received Halloween candy that has been tampered with. This will perhaps start as a silly inside joke for an Instagram post between kids, but an adult will learn of it and it’ll explode to the point where local media start reporting the story in alarming tones, and then other children will see those reports and pretend to also have received candy that has been tampered with.

Then, police will pretend to conduct investigations into the tampered candy — they can’t, after all, accuse the kids of being little shits, even though they know the kids actually are little shits. I mean, if the police really took these accounts seriously, they’d map out trick-or-treating routes, flood the neighbourhoods with cops, issue search warrants, call in suspects and witnesses, and so forth, but since they don’t do any of that, well, we can assume they don’t take the reports seriously.

None of the reports of tampered candy in the past have ever resulted in criminal charges. And they won’t this year either.

And here’s the Post:

Pins inside apples. Razor blades lying in wait implanted in chocolate bars. Muscle relaxant pills in among the loose candy. These are some of the hazardous items that were reportedly [emphasis mine] found lurking in children’s Halloween loot last year in Canada.

Sadly…there always seems to be a rotten apple or two out there hoping to — at the very least — put a damper on the fun or, at the very worst, harm an innocent child. How else can you explain the regular Nov. 1 news reports of dangerous items found among children’s Halloween stashes?

How else, indeed? Certainly not by considering the possibility that kids mess around and parents and news organizations over-react. Especially when you’re in the middle of over-reacting yourself — not content with pins, razor blades and muscle relaxants, the Post throws in pot gummy bears (discovered by Quebec provincial police in a northern Cree community “recently”) and drug blotters bearing “kid friendly images” found by Winnipeg police at some unspecified time in the past and believed to contain “fentanyl or possibly carfentanil.”

Then, having raised the specter of your child being given a blotter of carfentanil and dying this Halloween (TRICK!), the Post relents somewhat, admitting “the chances of either of these illicit products ending up in the hands of Atlantic Canadian trick-or-treaters seems remote.” (Is it just me, or does the editorialist sound slightly wistful?)

In the end, we weathered another Halloween without losing a single child to pins, razor blades, muscle relaxants, pot gummy bears or blotter fentanyl (although two were apparently menaced by de-alcoholized beer) leaving the Post free to turn its attention to the next big threat: cyanide-tipped Remembrance Day poppies.


The Scramble for Amazon

I enjoyed this episode of Open Source — a podcast by veteran journalist Christopher Lydon — which trains a critical eye on Amazon’s reality-show approach to locating its second North American headquarters.

Among Lydon’s guests is Shirley Kressel, described as a “landscape architect, urban designer, and local housing activist” whom Lydon characterizes as Boston’s version of the “late, great” urban activist Jane Jacobs.

Kressel’s thoughts on the perks cities offer companies like Amazon are really eye-opening, especially given that our own provincial capital is spending money on a bid. Kressel tells Lydon the tax breaks cities offer these mega-companies don’t actually factor into the companies’ decisions at all. The money, she says, “is just a shakedown, it’s just gravy,” something companies ask for because they know they can get it.

Business decisions she says, are made on the basis of “skilled workforce, quality of life and amenity and infrastructure.”

In a “Dear Amazon” letter (one of many) published in the New York Times in September, Kressel made her pitch for Boston saying:

We will give you no tax breaks, no free public land and no environmentally harmful zoning favors, all of which would, in the long run, reduce the quality of life in the city you would call home. We will be business-friendly, not by disrupting the workings of the private market, in which you have been so successful, but by investing our resources in infrastructure, education and other public services that will make Boston an ever better place for you, and others, to work, to live and to enjoy.

Amazon thinks ahead. So does Boston.

Lydon situates the discussion of “what Amazon’s second headquarters could do for your city” within a larger discussion of what Amazon and its “ultra-tech mindset,” one it shares with Facebook and Google, is “doing to our minds and souls our culture our word.” It’s worth a listen.