Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

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Mayor Clarke

Cecil Clarke

I have been critical of CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke’s high-handed style of governing, his penchant for secrecy and his preference for springing deals on council at the last minute, forcing them to digest reams of information and vote on important motions without adequate time for deliberation. I have been critical of his decision to hire “political” staff outside the municipal hiring process and of his seeming determination to remain mayor of the municipality while running for the leadership of the provincial Progressive Conservative party.

I will continue to be critical of all these things.

But yesterday, I heard him come out as gay on CBC Mainstreet Cape Breton and while words can’t express how little I care about his (or anybody else’s) sexual orientation, I did  feel sorry for him as he told Wendy Bergfeldt his decision to go public about his private life was sparked by a threat to out him — and presumably derail his provincial political ambitions.

I feel sorry for anyone who has to discuss their private life on the radio. And I feel sorry for the mayor if he truly reached “one of the lowest points” of his life this week due to the threat. But I don’t think being outed as gay in 2018 can derail your political ambitions, given that the premiers of PEI and Ontario are both openly gay — and Wade MacLauchlan and Kathleen Wynne are about 10 years older than Clarke, so it’s not a generational thing.

I think what could cause you problems in 2018 is the perception that you’re ashamed of being gay, and as someone who has spent his entire adult life in politics without publicly acknowledging his sexuality, Clarke was open to that charge. I think that’s what he had to get out in front of and he did. (I don’t know what to do with the information that he was sexually assaulted as a child — Bergfeldt didn’t seem to either. It’s a terrible fact that seemed to belong to another conversation entirely.)

Clarke is clearly not “ashamed” of being gay — he sounds completely comfortable discussing his sexuality and his relationship — which makes you wonder why he waited so long. Perhaps it was a political calculation that made sense in 2001 but needed reworking in 2018.

I’m sorry the circumstances around the announcement were ugly, but I’m glad he’s given us the chance to show him it doesn’t matter.

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming…

 

Potemkin Municipality

In other news, Clarke has booked a hall and hired a band (metaphorically speaking) for Saturday in North Sydney, when he is expected to announce his candidacy for the leadership of the provincial Progressive Conservatives.

(If he doesn’t — if he’s booked a hall and hired a band to announce he’s not running — it will be the Cape Breton political equivalent of Geraldo Rivera and Al Capone’s vaults.)

Having your mayor decide, mid-term, that he’d actually rather be doing something else is always problematic, although I guess we should have seen this coming — there were signs. Like his announcing, immediately upon being re-elected, that he would not seek a third term. And his “I’d rather be leading the provincial PCs” bumper sticker.

What most concerns me is his rush, before his announcement, to tie up loose municipal ends, or at least, to give the appearance of tying them up.

Take the container port project. In Clarke’s version of things, it’s an all-but-done deal, with good news expected from our port developers any day now. The reality? Well, nobody, including our council, knows what’s really happening with the port because any information not shrouded in confidentiality or non-disclosure agreements is simply withheld (like any details about the mayor’s pre-Christmas trip to China). But think about this: if Clarke had actually succeeded in brokering a deal to turn the Port of Sydney into an international transshipment hub for ultra-large container ships, wouldn’t he be running on that success? Wouldn’t he be telling anyone who would listen, “I have secured the economic future of the CBRM and I can do the same for Nova Scotia?” Of course he would.

But he’s not.

And how about the CBRM Charter? It was in his 2012 platform but hung fire until just recently when he suddenly announced that we would be seeking an “initial” charter covering three items, all related to the container port project. What happens next remains to be seen, but between public demand for a more comprehensive document and Municipal Affairs Minister Derek Mombourquette’s insistence on separating the port from the charter, the need for a three-item “initial” document seems to have vanished.

Then there’s the second cruise ship berth. The CBRM issued a tender for its construction this week — as in, days before Clarke’s scheduled announcement. Was it rushed to accommodate his timetable? Here’s a hint: the tender documents weren’t actually available at the time the tender was announced:

To the best of my knowledge, the CBRM has yet to secure the land on which the second berth is to be built. The owner of the land, businessman Jerry Nickerson, is said to be asking $6 million for it. The CBRM has budgeted $1.5 million. If the CBRM expropriates and the owner appeals, we could end up paying much more than $1.5 million — and the cruise berth budget has no contingency funds built into it.

Sydney waterfront development? Also apparently done, with a plan to have been presented to council on Tuesday (again, days before the mayor’s big announcement), provided we find money for a new central library and Martin Chernin finds tenants for an office tower and the Casino moves to the waterfront (about which, more later).

The Bayplex? It will open again in 2019, although council hasn’t actually voted on a plan to repair it yet. (Did it strike anyone else that Clarke, having come down like the wrath of God on District 8 Councilor Amanda McDougall for attempting to influence matters before council by writing a letter to the editor, broke his own rule by going on radio to announce the Bayplex would reopen?)

None of these “accomplishments” involves anything concrete — there’s no port, there’s no charter, there’s no second berth, there’s no Sydney waterfront development and there’s no recreation center in Glace Bay. It’s a Potemkin CBRM. No citizen with an eye in their head would be fooled by it.

But maybe, viewed from the mainland, it’s convincing?

 

Frommer’s Top 10

Duke Diet & Fitness Center

See the Duke Diet & Fitness Center and die?

Arthur Frommer, the “pioneering founder of the Frommer’s Travel Guide book series” is 88 years old, which I think is worth keeping in mind when perusing his list of the world’s “10 most memorable places,” as published last Monday in the Cape Breton Post.

Some of his destinations were predictable: the island of Bali, the Peloponnese of Greece.

Some weren’t, strictly speaking, destinations, being either things (“the 13-panel altarpiece in the Cathedral of Ghent”) or experiences (“the cheapest of all African safaris” or a week of studying at Oxford.)

Some were very broad — China — while others were bizarrely specific — the diet and fitness center at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina (“Forget about all the other slimming programs. This one is the real thing…”)

I loved all of it, especially the sneaky political references — Frommer recommends the Off-Broadway theaters in New York City which have “introduced many of the most provocative, shocking and countercultural ideas and movements of America.”

But I really wished I could have seen the unedited version of the list, because what made it to print was so wacky I’m convinced the original draft must have included things like the Lost & Found office at Penn Station or the dairy section of his local Whole Foods. Alas, I will probably never know.

 

Cannabis deserts

Imagine if the Nova Scotia Liquor Commission (NSLC) operated only nine outlets in the entire province — with just one serving all of Cape Breton Island.

Imagine if there were no legal place to buy booze in university towns like Antigonish and Wolfville.

Do you think it would curb alcohol consumption or encourage bootlegging?

If you, like me, lean toward “encourage bootlegging,” then you probably feel the same way about the government’s decision to sell cannabis at only nine outlets across the province, including a sole outlet in Cape Breton — and none in the university towns of Antigonish and Wolfville. If it’s any comfort, the former RCMP officer behind the plan — Justice Minister Mark Furey — agrees with us, as the CBC’s Jean Laroche reported:

While one of the stated goals of legalized marijuana is to try to kill illicit trade of the drug, Furey acknowledged the province would initially likely fall short of that. “The black market will continue to exist,” he said.

Sadly, although the map of liquor stores in the province looks like this:

Furey isn’t optimistic about the widespread distribution of legal cannabis:

“I don’t believe that we would ever be able to provide a retail model in every community,” he told a news conference. “So communities will look to other options — and we believe that the online home delivery will be a key piece of that.”

Details on home delivery were not available as of January 30, when the plan was announced.

Now, I get that neither cannabis nor alcohol is without its attendant evils. But in Canada, recreational use of both will soon be legal, so the provincial government has no business making one readily available while making the other much harder to obtain. The excuse that they have to renovate NSLC outlets to allow for cannabis sales just suggests they should have opted for licensing private dealers already equipped to sell it. There’s a precedent there: we have satellite liquor stores. There’s another precedent: cigarettes are a restricted product and we allow retailers to sell them.

For now, though, there seems to be nothing to do but rework The Aberdeen Government Store for the cannabis age (with apologies to Amby Thomas):

Come all jolly miners of New Aberdeen,
Who stoners are now and who stoners have been,
And I’ll make your hearts glad tho’ they’re now sick and sore,
When I sing you a song of the government store.

 

President Dingwall

David Dingwall (Source: CBU https://www.cbu.ca/news-events/story/cbu-board-of-governors-names-next-president/)

David Dingwall (Source: CBU)

David Dingwall actually wants to be president of Cape Breton University, so he’s got that going for him. Having watched the institution unceremoniously dump its last president, I’d personally be hesitant to accept the job. Fortunately, “Hey, you know who would make a great CBU president? Mary Campbell,” is something that nobody ever has nor ever will say.

Dingwall, in case you didn’t know, is a Liberal and so are the provincial and federal governments, so that’s probably an advantage, since party politics continue to play far too big a role in our society.

Certainly, he seems like the person Joe Shannon, formerly on the board of CBU’s Shannon School of Business, was describing in this 2016 CBC interview:

The president of the university should have a stronger bent towards dealing with the issues that are going to come to pass in Halifax. Because the government has no money, number one. And number two, they want to reduce the cost of higher education in the province of Nova Scotia. That was the war cry coming out of Halifax. In that kind of environment…you want somebody that knows who’s on first, second and third.

I would suggest that Dingwall, in addition to knowing who’s on first, second and third, also knows who’s in the dugout, who’s on the mound, who’s about to be placed on waivers and who’s selling peanuts in Section 14:E this Saturday.

It will be interesting to see if Halifax will play ball.

 

Absolute discharge

Joe Shannon (Source: CBU)

Joe Shannon (Source: CBU)

Speaking of Joe Shannon, you may recall the Port Hawkesbury businessman’s recent spot of bother with the Commissioner of Canadian Elections, who took him to court in March 2017 on five charges of violating the limits on campaign donations.

I had never heard the outcome of that episode so I looked it up and discovered that in September 2017, he pleaded guilty to all five charges and was given an absolute discharge.

And the moral of the story is…it’s okay to break campaign contribution laws?

 

Casino Royale

I wrote this week about Martin Chernin’s (latest) plan for Sydney waterfront development, noting that one of the key elements in the proposal is an expanded Holiday Inn housing Casino Nova Scotia Sydney, which would move from its current location at Centre 200.

Sydney waterfront development concept.

Sydney waterfront development concept.

Chernin and his partners say they’ve discussed the possibility of moving the casino with the Great Canadian Gaming Corporation (GCGC), which operates the Sydney and Halifax casinos through an agreement with the Nova Scotia Provincial Lotteries and Casino Corporation (NSPLCC). Chernin’s group says GCGC would be open to moving the casino to the Sydney waterfront.

I was curious as to whether such a decision would be GCGC’s to make, so I asked the NSPLCC first about the relationship between it and the GCGC and Centre 200. As I reported Wednesday, NSPLCC spokesperson Monica MacLean told me in an email:

GCGC and NSPLCC both have an ownership interest in the Sydney Casino space and leases the land from Cape Breton Regional Municipality contributing approximately $335,000 in property taxes in 2016. This location also employs approximately 130 Nova Scotians in addition to supporting local community groups.

I then asked her if NSPLCC had been approached about moving the casino and she replied:

The Nova Scotia Provincial Lotteries and Casino Corporation (NSPLCC) has not been involved with this proposal.

Finally, I asked if the NSPLCC would have a say in any decision to move the casino and she said:

NSPLCC would be the entity that would evaluate and consider any proposal to relocate or develop a casino in any region of Nova Scotia. Extensive due diligence would be performed, including review of the business case and consideration for responsible gambling and harm mitigation strategies. We would also consult and work with several stakeholders, including the regulator (the Alcohol, Gaming, Fuel, and Tobacco Division of Service Nova Scotia) as well as our current casino operator, Great Canadian Gaming Corporation.

These are the sorts of details that make you suspect a development proposal is not all it’s cracked up to be — the proponents want to move the casino but have not discussed the idea with the entity that will say yea or nay to moving the casino.

They want to put the casino in an expanded Holiday Inn but they get the name of the company that operates the Holiday Inn wrong, calling it the Westmount Hotel Group instead of the Westmont Hospitality Group.

And yet, they nevertheless get lots of publicity in the local press, which happily announces a “multi-million dollar” plan to redevelop the waterfront without being so rude as to point out the developer involved has been proposing “multi-million dollar” developments for the waterfront for at least 14 years now.

“Potemkin” doesn’t begin to describe it.

 

 

 

 

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