Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

Marconi Campus

I’m not sure when announcing that you’re going to do a feasibility study into the possibility of doing something became as good as actually doing something in this province, but that seems to be where we’re at.

The latest example is Premier Stephen McNeil traveling all the way to Sydney (home town of Auditor General Michael Pickup, a fact I wish I’d had the foresight to spray paint on our sign last night) to announce that the province will conduct an eight-month feasibility study into the possibility of moving the Marconi Campus of the Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC), currently located on Grand Lake Road, to downtown Sydney.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it would be great to have the campus in the downtown, but I don’t give pols points for hiring consultants to do studies. A study is not the same as a revitalized downtown Sydney or a revitalized Glace Bay and area or a growing creative economy or a new library, just to name a few CBRM projects that (to date) exist only in the form of consultants’ reports.

Here’s the provincial government’s request for proposals for the study. The deadline for applications is 3 January 2018:

NSCC Marconi Campus RFP


Sobeys ‘Layoffs’

I’m just going to put these two items side by side for your consideration:

First, Sobey’s is firing 800 office workers. (Why do some news outlets persist in calling these things “layoffs?” Do they really believe these are temporary measures?) This will affect its corporate offices in Stellarton, among others.

It’s part of something called — I kid you not — “Project Sunrise,” which Sobeys Inc launched in May 2017 and which is intended to “deliver $500 million in annualized savings by 2020.”

The press release announcing the project contained this incredible quote from Sobeys President and CEO Michael Medline:

We have an aggressive goal to transform our organization, better serve our customers, empower our employees and assuredly move from defense to offense in the market. To do this we need to unleash the talents and scale we already have at our disposal. The future Sobeys will operate with a simpler, leaner structure, more efficient core processes and tools and will better leverage its $24 billion national scale. This will free us up to be extremely nimble, thrill our customers and grow market share. Results of this transformation will take time, but we are committed to seeing them through given the compelling prize.

Today’s announcement means they’ve “empowered” 800 employees to find new jobs — and just before Christmas! Jolly old Sobeys, so nimble, so quick! And I can see where this might have thrilled their shareholders, but I really don’t see why it would have their customers dancing in the aisles — especially customers related to those 800 employees.

Sobeys history timeline. (via Sobeys website

Sobeys history timeline. (via Sobeys website)

Second, back in September 2017, with Project Sunrise well underway, Donald Savoie wrote an amazing op-ed in the Chronicle Herald under the headline, “When economic opportunities surface, too many Maritimers remain on the sidelines.” I wrote about some of his most incredible assertions at the time, but reading about the Sobeys job cuts today reminded me of one of them in particular.

Savoie, whose lives in New Brunswick and whose idea of “shopping local” is buying from the Irvings, Sobeys and the McCains, had this to say in defense of these corporations:

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.

But when the “strategic decision” is to cut a bunch of those head office “high-salaried jobs,” is it really a plus that it was taken in Nova Scotia?

And do you suppose the executives behind the decision to buy the Safeway grocery chain, which seems to be at the root of the company’s woes, will be among those whose jobs are cut?

I’m going to go out on a limb and say, “No,” to both questions.


Fly, Be Free!

Why oh why don’t more people fly from Sydney to Halifax for business? That’s the question Sydney Airport CEO Mike MacKinnon put to the Sydney and Area Chamber of Commerce this week. After all, flying is so convenient and affordable, as the Post reported:

The average all-in cost for a base fair [sic] travelling one-way is a little more than $150 to fly to Halifax, he said.

Quoting a one-way base fare for what would surely be a return trip seems a little misleading — I’m surprised MacKinnon tried it in a room full of businesspeople. It would be like quoting them a price for one shoe.

MacKinnon also put the flight time at about 50 minutes, which is true, but as anyone who has ever flown knows, flight time and travel time are not the same. This is what the JA Douglas McCurdy Sydney Airport website advises about check-in:

Passengers are reminded to check-in at least 90 minutes before their departure to avoid the risk of being denied boarding.

The airlines are strictly enforcing their check-in cut off time of 45 minutes prior to departure. The terminal is busy with three early morning departures and passengers have to get through security.  The airlines finalize their weight and balance calculations 45 minutes prior to departure and that process takes up to 40 minutes.  Please check-in 90 minutes prior to your departure to avoid the risk of being denied boarding.

And unless your business meeting happens to be at the Stanfield International Airport food court, you’ll have to travel into Halifax. You could rent a car, which could cost you as little as $16 (depending on your tastes) plus fuel. You could take a taxi or a limousine — according to the airport website, that would cost you $63 (one-way) into the city. So add another $126 to your travel costs for a return trip. You could take the bus, for $3.50, but it would take you an hour and 15 minutes to get into town. Maybe you are one of those lucky creatures who get cars sent for them, and you walk into the arrivals area and find a driver holding a sign with your name on it. (Unrelated side note: if I were writing a novel and needed names for my characters, I would go to the airport and write down all the names I saw on signs.)

Bottom line: your travel time will be considerably more than 50 minutes and your costs will be considerably higher than $150.

I decided to compare and contrast flying to Halifax (up and back in a day for a business meeting) to other modes of travel. Because air fares vary, I did three calculations for flying, pretending the meeting was this Friday, a week from Friday and on December 15th.


I searched Expedia (which is what I do whenever I actually fly) and as I write this on Thursday, the best return price I could find for Friday November 24 was $559.18. If I were to travel on December 1, the best price I could find was $448.78. 

If I were traveling on December 15, though, I could get a return ticket for $232.58. That means the fare each way would be less than $150. If I had a very important meeting in Halifax three weeks in the future and didn’t want to drive, or couldn’t drive, or had lost my license or gone temporarily blind (I really should write that novel) it wouldn’t be hopelessly expensive to fly.

(I should say right here, I realize there are people for whom a $232.58 flight would be an impossible dream and I don’t mean to be insensitive to that. I’m just trying to see if it would make sense for business travelers who I sometimes think are the only reason we have an airline industry at all.)

Now let’s consider my other options:


If I wanted to go to Halifax and back by bus for a business meeting on a weekday, I could just about manage it, if I traveled on a Friday and actually did schedule my meeting for the food court at the Halifax Airport, because the bus gets into Halifax proper at 3:00PM and the return bus leaves for Sydney at 3:00PM, which is no good, but it gets into the Halifax Airport at 2:15PM and the return bus would pick you up there at 3:50PM so there would, in theory, be enough time for a business meeting.

It would cost me $121.20 but as plans go, I think we can all agree, it’s for the birds.


If I took a shuttle – I’ll use East Coast Shuttle for my comparison — it would cost me $140 return (taxes included) to go to Halifax and back, but I’m not sure I could realistically travel up and back in day and actually have time to do anything in Halifax other than go to a bathroom.

Pick-up time in Sydney is 7:00AM and pick-up time for the return trip is 1:00PM. If I made the trip in five hours, I’d have an hour for my meeting then I’d have to get back on the shuttle, so I’m thinking this is also a non-starter.

Rent a Car

The interwebs tell me that I could rent a Chevrolet Spark for the day for $15.54, total. I’m not even going to bother calculating fuel costs because clearly, this would be far cheaper than my cheapest option so far, $121.20. I could travel up and back in a day, meet wherever I wanted to meet and give whoever I wanted a ride to and from Halifax. On the down side, I’d be tired by the end of it and I would not be able to work while in transit, which is something I’ve done successfully on buses and planes (although not on shuttles).

Baby, You Can Drive Your Car

Final option, I take my own car and pay for fuel. (In this thought experiment, I have a car.) This method would have the same pros and cons as renting a car but would be less expensive.

Carbon footprint

I haven’t done a proper carbon footprint analysis of these various methods, but, depending on occupancy (or as they say in the airline biz, the “load factor”) bus and shuttle would probably be my greenest options.

Miscellaneous considerations

I would also like to note that none of the non-flying options would involve me having my luggage searched, taking my shoes off, passing through a metal detector, sitting in a holding pen prior to boarding, sitting in an assigned seat or waiting for the “High Class,” “Big Enchilada” and “Petit Chouchou” passengers to board before me.

Also, I could bring industrial-sized bottles of shampoo and conditioner, nail clippers, corkscrews — hell, if I drove, garden shears and a scythe.

Definite bonus.


Having weighed all the options I have decided I would…like to go somewhere.



In Defense of Stock Photos

Stock photo of a journalist caring more about content than form.

Ian Whytock writes:

Dear Ms. Campbell,

The timing on your November 15th article, “Nothing Says ‘We Care’ Like Stock Photos”, was perfect, as I had just received my local MLA’s flyer too, I recognized them as stock photos as well, but thought, “wonderful, they actually saved some money, and didn’t go out and have professional head shots and photo shoots.” Like most Nova Scotians, I don’t give two hoots about the photos, it’s the content I’m concerned about. I think you were correct, when you admitted in your article that “Perhaps I’m just being too sensitive,”.

As a journalist, please take care to be more concerned with content over form.

Although I still think that throwing some work to a Nova Scotia photographer or two isn’t a bad use of government money; and that photos are, in fact, “content;” and that, had I focused on the text in the government’s budget propaganda flyer, I probably wouldn’t have been any more impressed; I am not going to argue with Whytock.

Whytock speaks for “most Nova Scotians,” and when “most Nova Scotians” speak, I listen.





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