Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

Chinese itineraries

CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke has yet to publish an itinerary for his November 30-December 6 trip to China on which he was accompanied by CAO Marie Walsh, Economic Development Manager John Phalen and his executive assistant Mark Bettens.

As it happens, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in China at the same time, as were Sydney-Victoria MP Mark Eyking and Glace Bay MLA and Business Minister Geoff MacLellan. In addition, Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil had been in China not long before the federal and municipal delegations. All of which gives me the chance to compare and contrast their People’s Republic of China itineraries.


First, the prime minister’s.

There is no shortage of transparency and accountability problems at the federal level in Canada — just ask CBC reporter Dean Beeby — but when the prime minister travels abroad on official business, he tells Canadians where he’s going and who he’s meeting with. Here’s just a sample from his itinerary for December 4:


I am not saying, by the way, Canadians shouldn’t be asking questions about these meetings — you should always wonder what your PM is doing talking to people like Henry Kravis — but at least we know the meeting took place.

As for Sydney-Victoria MP Mark Eyking, I contacted his office yesterday asking for an itinerary and was told they would get back to me. I will update when they do.


Premier Stephen McNeil visited China and Japan from August 30 to September 17 last year. In October, a journalist FOIPOPed the province of Nova Scotia for a copy of his itinerary.

As reported in the Spectator, the response the journalist received was heavily redacted: basically, the names of everyone with whom the premier met were blacked out either for “privacy” reasons or because disclosing the names would have a harmful economic impact on the province.

As Michael Karanicolas, president of the Right to Know Coalition of Nova Scotia, wrote in an opinion piece for the Chronicle Herald in December:

It is an absurd misreading of Nova Scotia’s freedom-of-information rules to suggest that privacy should prevail over meetings that the premier carries out in his official capacity. The idea that merely disclosing the names of people whom the premier met with, or the names of markets the premier made an official visit to, would somehow undermine Nova Scotia’s financial interests, is also not credible.

Heads of government around the world routinely publish full details of their meeting schedules. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who himself made a recent trip to China, published the names of all the business leaders whom he met with. I strongly doubt that Jack Ma is considering cutting his ties with Canadian companies as a result.

Here’s a sample of the premier’s itinerary:


Redacted it may have been, but at least the premier had an itinerary for his trip.

I requested an itinerary for Nova Scotia Business Minister Geoff MacLellan’s December trip to China and this is what spokesperson Chrissy Matheson told me in an email:

Minister MacLellan travelled to China on Dec. 2-7, 2017.

I don’t have a specific itinerary for the trip. Part of the Minister’s work over there was supporting a delegation from Cape Breton, including municipal and First Nations representatives, on some files he’s also been involved with as a Minister.

There are also meetings around trade, tourism, and immigration.

I hope this is helpful.


And although Matheson’s response was not really helpful, it was more helpful than the answer I received when I asked Mayor Clarke’s spokesperson, Christina Lamey, for a copy of the mayor’s China itinerary:

Aspects of the trip to China for the overall delegation were coordinated by the Mayor’s Office and involved several itineraries.

Subtext: But I’m not going to give you any of them.


Transshipment vs PRT

Richie Mann of the Melford Group, which is promoting the development of a container terminal in the Strait of Canso, contacted me after I’d published this week’s piece on the likelihood of a transshipment hub for ultra-large container ships ever seeing the light of day in Nova Scotia.

Rendering of Melford container terminal.

Rendering of Melford container terminal.

Although I wrote largely about the Port of Sydney project (as is my wont, given the depth of our municipal government’s involvement in it), I lumped Sydney and Melford together in the story and Mann says that’s not fair:

The Melford project is significantly different than the Sydney project we read about (we do not pretend to fully understand their business case). To start with, we have never suggested Melford will be a Transshipment Hub. [emphasis his]. If there are transshipment opportunities, so be it, we will look at those, but that is not our business model.

Anyone who has taken the time to meet with us and look at our proposal, will know that Melford has been and is intended to be a PRT (pure rail terminal) with as much as 95% of the cargo moving inland by rail.

I should have known better, especially since I had actually discussed PRT models with Brian Slack, the professor I interviewed for the story — Prince Rupert, BC, being a prime example of one.

I will make up for it next week by writing in greater detail about PRTs generally and the Melford proposal in particular, so you’ve got that to look forward to!



The Inverness Oran has a good story this week by John Gillis on “confidential research” done by the provincial department of natural resources (DNR) into land in the West Mabou Beach Provincial Park — land Cabot Cliffs/Cabot Links co-founder Ben Cowan-Dewar (whose name sounds like a single malt) is rumored to be eyeing for yet another “world class” Cape Breton golf course. (You’ll need a subscription to the Oran to access the story.)

Oran editor Rankin MacDonald dedicates this week’s editorial to the subject, arguing that Inverness County Council’s failure, during a recent meeting, to pass a motion cementing their commitment to protecting protected lands was a missed opportunity to “walk the high road.” There’s also a letter to the editor arguing that allowing development in any part of the park, which is home to “one of Nova Scotia’s most extensive dune systems” would be “unacceptable.”

It all got me thinking about something a reader told me last year about golf as a sport — namely, that it’s dying. I googled “golf dying” and found two main types of headlines: the “Golf is Dying” variety and the “It’s Time to Stop Saying Golf is Dying” variety.

Proponents of the idea that golf is dying say Baby Boomers didn’t take it up in the numbers expected and millennials won’t do anything that takes more than 90 minutes (the average round of golf takes about five hours), that nobody has that kind of leisure time anyway, that equipment is expensive, that fees are expensive and that people find the learning curve discouragingly steep. If they still haven’t convince you, they’ll point to golf course closures, the decisions by both Nike and Adidas to sell their golf equipment divisions; and statistics like those from a 2012 Canadian Golf Consumer Behaviour Study commissioned by the National Allied Golf Associations (NAGA):

The inference is that among the effective population of Canadian golfers (approximately 5.7 million), we do not have engaged consumers. Those that are engaged represent 25% of the golf population (approximately 1.4 million) while 75% of the golf population (approximately 4.3 million) are of the mind that they can take or leave the game (ambivalent about the game.)

The majority of rounds are being played by less than 26% of golfers (approximately 1.5 million).

Defenders say participation is cyclical, Nike and Adidas were simply shedding non-core assets, recent stats show golf is once again on the upswing (at least in the US) and nothing feels better than making a successful shot on a beautiful course.

Interestingly, the most hopeful signs for the sport can apparently be found at its polar opposite ends. On the one hand, optimists point to the success of the Topgolf chain in attracting millennials to the sport — or at least, to something resembling the sport. Here’s how Michael Santoli described Topgolf for Yahoo Finance:

A Topgolf “store” is typically a combination three-level driving range, upscale sports bar, pro shop and nightspot. They can exceed 70,000 square feet and sit on some seven acres. The driving-range tiers have dozens of tee-off bays opening onto a course with nine sunken, circular targets, each of them divided into pie-like sections, appearing a bit like a dart board.

The microchip-carrying Callaway balls play just like a regular ball. An electronic system keeps score and tracks distance and allows for a number of game formats. Players can compete with others in their group, try to beat their prior best scores and climb the “leader board” capturing everyone playing at the entire location.

Topgolf itself says of Topgolf:

 Think of it like bowling or darts, but for golf!


At the other end of the spectrum are challenging courses with spectacular views like Cabot Cliffs and Cabot Links which are succeeding because they attract serious golfers — who clearly had the time and the money to master the learning curve — anxious to test their skills and acquire bragging rights.

I would like to end by settling the question of golf’s imminent demise once and for all, but my golf experience is limited to once having driven some balls (badly) in a limestone quarry and having walked the length of the course in Dundee one summer, watching other people play golf (an activity I do not recommend to anyone who has other entertainment options — like watching their clothes dry — to choose from).

What I’d really like to do is write something informative about the impacts (positive and negative) of golf on our local economy but that will require some serious research.

For now, having nothing more of value to say, I will head for the clubhouse.


Plastics, Ben, Plastics

CBC Cape Breton has been providing interesting coverage of the plastics issue from a number of angles this week.

As I’m sure you know, China — which recycles half the world’s garbage — has ceased accepting “film plastics,” like those in grocery bags. Municipalities around the world — including our own — must find other markets for the materials or otherwise dispose of them.

A truck laden with products to be recycled travels along a highway in Shanghai. (Photo by Paul Louis, own work, GFDL, via Wikimedia Commons)

A truck laden with products to be recycled travels along a highway in Shanghai. (Photo by Paul Louis, own work, GFDL, via Wikimedia Commons)

Here in the CBRM, solid waste manager Francis Campbell says such plastics represent only a small fraction of overall recyclables — 50 tonnes out of an annual 6,000 tonnes of blue bag content — and that we’ve got room to stockpile them until summer, which should give us time to find a solution. (Possibilities include getting the companies who manufacture the plastics to pay for their disposal).

The Halifax Regional Municipality got emergency permission to bury plastics that had been stockpiled outdoors but became “contaminated” (in some way I haven’t seen explained) and had to be disposed of. According to the Chronicle Herald, HRM hasn’t actually buried any plastics because it had already made arrangements with “another province” to take the stuff before the province granted permission to bury it. Nevertheless, Halifax’s burying plan made the New York Times yesterday, as part of a roundup story on the effects of the plastics ban worldwide.

The situation has made me, personally, vow to remember to bring my reusable bags with me when I go to the grocery store. I have them. I like using them. But I never remember to take them with me (or I sometimes drop into the grocery store on my way home from somewhere else, so I don’t necessarily have them with me.)

Luckily, the interwebs of full of suggestions and I found one that might actually help me:

Always start your shopping list with “bags” so you remember to get them out of the car before you start shopping.

Except that I’d have to start my shopping list with “shopping list” because I have a terrible habit of forgetting it too.






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