Cecil Clarke’s Chopstick Diplomacy & Other Seasonal Highlights

The Cape Breton Post was very good to CBRM Mayor (and potential provincial Tory leadership candidate) Cecil Clarke this Christmas.

It allowed him to “open up” about his publicly funded trip to China in back-to-back articles on December 19 and 20. It helped puzzled Cape Bretoners decide what they should buy him for Christmas and made the case for him as Tory leader on December 22. And on December 30, it simply handed him the keys to the editorial page, allowing him to write his own ode to his 2017 accomplishments. (Neither this nor the accompanying “Guest Shot” by Premier Stephen McNeil — whose name is misspelled —  is yet available online for some reason. Late onset journalistic embarrassment, perhaps?)

In the name of holding government accountable — a job the Post has apparently abdicated — I’m going to conduct a post-mortum of the paper’s Christmas Clarke coverage.


Opening up

My problems with the December 19 story begin with the headline:

“Opening up” is what Angie does about the divorce from Brad. What Meghan Markle does about her “cozy engagement” to Prince Harry (and her first meeting with Kate Middleton and her “passion for volunteering” and her career insecurities). It’s what Meghan Markle’s engagement ring designer does about Meghan Markle’s engagement ring.  It’s not what a democratically elected mayor does about a trip made on the public dime, on public business.

And to add insult to injury, he doesn’t “open up” about anything:

Clarke received some criticism for the clandestine nature of the trip, but in an interview with the Cape Breton Post on Tuesday he made no apologies for the secrecy surrounding the trade mission.

“Whatever the frustrations that people have, we have to honour the rules of the marketplace while at the same time trying to adhere to the rules and procedures of government,” said Clarke.

He didn’t even tell us he was going to China — the first I heard of the trip was a Post story written upon his return — that’s the level of secrecy he’s defending here, and the Post doesn’t call him on it.

The story doesn’t mention the actual dates of the China trip (November 30 to December 6) or the members of the CBRM delegation. Because in addition to NS Business Minister Geoff MacLellan and Membertou Chief Terry Paul and Eskasoni Chief Leroy Denny, Clarke’s traveling companions included his executive assistant Mark Bettens, CBRM CAO Marie Walsh and the municipality’s Economic Development Manager John Phalen. These last three, like Clarke, were traveling at the CBRM’s expense, a fact surely of interest to Post readers.

And finally, the story doesn’t provide an actual itinerary for the mayor’s trip to China. I’ve requested one (again) from Clarke’s spokesperson Christina Lamey but I’m not holding my breath; I’m assuming I will have to FOIPOP it. I’m also assuming it will turn out to be a bunch of illegible scribbles on a cocktail napkin from the lobby bar at Jean Chrétien’s hotel. (Chrétien, you’ll recall, works for the law firm Dentons and is listed as an international adviser by our port promoters, Sydney Harbour Investment Partners. He was in attendance at some of Clarke’s China meetings. This Nick Fillmore piece from 2016 explains how Dentons collects politicians like they were Star Wars action figures. In addition to Chrétien, the firm counts former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, former Manitoba Premier Gary Doer and former speaker of the US House of Representatives Newt Gingrich as advisors and/or consultants.)


When in China

The second Post story about the mayor’s trip to China, which appeared on December 20 under the headline, “CBRM mayor optimistic about port deal in light of positive relations with China,” was fantastic.

In it, Mayor Clarke shared with us the secret of doing business in China:

“Anytime you’re with the Chinese you use chopsticks – you don’t touch a fork or knife even if they are provided, you just use the chopsticks as they use them and that is considered a sign of respect,” said Clarke…

There you have it — you don’t need to speak Mandarin, or have an understanding of Chinese history, or even a background in business, all you need is the manual dexterity to wield chopsticks.

I did some googling and discovered a few other things about using chopsticks (which are, it seems, “small” but “adored by many people in the world”):

First, don’t use it to hit the side of your bowl or plate to make a lot of noise, because Chinese people think only beggars would do this to beg for meals.

Second, when you use it, don’t stretch out your index finger, which would be regarded as a kind of accusation to others. Never use it to point at others.

Third, it is thought to be an impolite behavior when you suck the end of a chopstick. People will think you lack family education.

Fourth, don’t use it to poke at every dish without knowing what your [sic] want.

And last, don’t insert it vertically into the bowls or dishes. Chinese people do this only when they burn incense to sacrifice the dead.

I can only hope our mayor’s mastery is such that he didn’t leave potential investors thinking he was a recently bereaved beggar lacking family education.


Secret Santa

The December 20 story headlined “What to get those hard-to-buy Capers,” was another holiday delight:

I’m guessing the headline should have read “those hard-to-buy-for Capers,” as the way it’s written suggests the people involved — including the mayor and the chief of police — are on the take, but even that doesn’t really make sense. Why would I be buying Christmas presents for the mayor and the chief of police? The adults in my extended family exchange names at Christmas, and I’m pretty sure neither the mayor nor the chief of police even gets his name in the hat.

Still, let’s accept the premise for the sake of argument and consider the rest of the article.

Say you were one of the 49 workers fired by Donkin vice president Shannon Campbell in November and you wanted to show your appreciation — you could have bought him (and his wife and children) tickets to China:

“If I had to choose a gift it would be airline tickets to China so my wife Teena, children and I could explore the Great Wall of China for three weeks,” he said, adding he’d also need something else.

“An OK note from my boss to take the time off,” he added laughing.

Ha ha ha.

It’s funny, because for Campbell’s boss, an “OK note” to take three weeks off would probably look a lot like a pink slip.

Or maybe you were one of the 27 men named and shamed in Cape Breton Regional Police Chief Peter McIsaac’s John-Be-Gone sting operation. Better still, maybe you were one of the four whose charges were later dismissed or the three who were found not guilty and now you want to show your gratitude to the Chief for ruining your life.

You could have bought him piano lessons. (And maybe thrown in the sheet music to “Christmas in Prison.”)

As for CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke, he wants a Dutch oven. But what really makes him happy at Christmas is playing Santa:

“My biggest joy is doing the secret Santa thing,” he said. “It’s when you give to others and don’t know who the recipient is.”

Which a) isn’t actually how secret Santa works — you know the recipient, the recipient doesn’t know you, otherwise it would be called “secret recipient;” and b) means that he’s secretive even about Christmas (or as a friend said, he likes to play “in camera Santa.”)


Leadership bid

The December 22 editorial, under the headline, “CBRM mayor building up resume for run at PC leadership,” basically argues that, as long as no high-flyers (like Peter MacKay) join the race, Clarke has a chance to become the next leader of the provincial Tories.

Let’s face it. When it comes to politics, Clarke has rarely met a race he didn’t like. He’s put his name on the ballot at the federal, provincial and municipal levels and far more often than not he’s won.

I like the airy implication that Clarke has run for office dozens if not hundreds of times. Translated into actual numbers: Clarke ran for federal office twice and lost twice; he ran for provincial office four times and won four times; he ran for mayor twice and won twice. So his record is a very healthy 6 wins, 2 losses.

The editorial then goes on to list Clarke’s many achievements as mayor, but it’s the achievement not listed that is most striking: there is no mention of the container terminal project which Clarke is on record as saying is the focus of his second term in office. This is what he told Steve Sutherland on CBC Information Morning Cape Breton on December 19:

What I have said is…the first election was, would I see my four years out? And I committed to that. This last election was about finishing what I started on behalf of the citizens and that was with the wider port. I believe in the coming weeks, as was indicated with the trip to China, that people will see the outcomes and the benefit of our hard work, but I’ll leave it to our partners to be able to come and deliver that news themselves in the New Year.

What gives? Has even the Post become dubious about the “wider port?”


Ode to Me

CB Post, 30 December 2017

CB Post, 30 December 2017

My guess is that this assessment stung, so on December 30, Clarke took pen in hand and wrote his own assessment of his time as mayor, starting out with the container terminal:

Cape Breton Regional Municipality (CBRM) council recently approved the municipality’s final agreements with the developers for the construction and operation of a container terminal.

That’s more like it. That sounds like a project that’s about to proceed in leaps and bounds.

A working group of our investment partners from China will arrive early in the new year.

Okay, that sounds less shovel-ready, although I’m excited to finally see who our investment partners are. If we’re allowed to see them, that is. Maybe they’ll appear at the back of the Joan Harriss Cruise Pavilion in safety vests and hard hats only to disappear in a puff of tugboat exhaust like the visitors from China Communications Construction Company did that time.


Merry Christmas, Mr. Clarke

All that ink, and nary a critical word about the mayor of the CBRM. The worst the editor of the Post could say was:

Of course, Clarke has his detractors (i.e. too many closed-door meetings). Every politician does including the only declared candidate to date, Pictou East MLA Tim Houston.

I like the implication the editorial writer does not rank himself among these “detractors.”

But “holds too many in camera meetings” is a valid criticism of a mayor, not a subject you raise only to dismiss immediately in an editorial. It’s a criticism I’ll continue to raise and for the record, it doesn’t make me one of Cecil Clarke’s “detractors.”

It makes me a journalist.