Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

Rail Schmail

Albert Barbusci (via Novaporte website)

Albert Barbusci (via Novaporte website)

Do my eyes deceive me, or has even the Cape Breton Post become a bit skeptical about the great Sydney container port project?

All it took was port developer Albert Barbusci suddenly playing down the importance of a functioning railway to their project. As the paper reported Thursday:

Efforts to bring a container port and logistics park to the Sydney area are not entirely dependent on a Cape Breton railway, says the head of the firm with the exclusive marketing rights to Sydney harbour.

You see, Sydney Harbour Investment Partners (SHIP), Barbusci’s firm, has two container port plans:

“One is trans-shipment, where we will use short sea shipment down the coast, but it won’t be as ideal for us as port developers and operators because the rail complements the other side, so the ideal option would be a combination of moving cargo by rail and short sea shipping,” said Barbusci.

The idea of a transshipment hub without a working railway is certainly innovative, but it doesn’t seem to jibe with the description of the project on SHIP’s own website:

  • A ‘New Build’ Mega-Terminal on Canada’s Atlantic Coast with a sheltered ice-free harbour and ample port property for future expansion. NOVAPORTE™ has a harbour deep enough to accommodate ULCV’s.
  • Using best-in-class operational processes and technology to achieve safe, high production and quick vessel turnaround times; NOVAPORTE™ will be designed to be the most efficient, lowest cost and greenest and most secure port facility in North America.
  • First North American Port-of-Call on the Great Circle Route from Europe and the Suez Canal and close to the mouth of the St. Lawrence River with access to the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Great Lakes. Two days sailing advantage over New York and at least a three-day advantage over Norfolk.
  • Ready access to Trans-Canada Highway and double stack rail.

Of course, Sydney harbor is not “ice-free;” and CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke himself is on record discussing the possibility that further dredging might be required to handle the largest of the ultra-large container vessels (ULCVs); and if you believe we have “ready access” to “double stack rail,” then you clearly haven’t read Rick Grant’s story on the state of the Cape Breton and Central Nova Scotia Railway (in which he “revealed” the results of a rail study done for the Port of Sydney about 12 hours before the Post “revealed” them again.)

But even if you accept all those whoppers at face value, you’re still left with a port development proposal that seems pretty dependent on a functioning railway. Port of Sydney CEO Marlene Usher seemed pretty certain it was when she spoke to the Post on January 31 about that above-mentioned rail study, for which the Port had forked over $90,000 (although they had initially hoped to fork over $460,000):

Usher said all of the upgrades would take about two years to complete. She said the railway is not only vital to a container terminal but to the development of manufacturing, mineral and agricultural sectors in Cape Breton.

“Obviously, it’s essential for container terminal but I would go further and say that it’s essential for all forms of commercial, economic development,” she said.

How does rail go from being “vital” and “essential” to the development of a container terminal to something the project is “not entirely dependent on” in the space of eight days?

The same way, I guess, Mayor Clarke can announce the municipality has done its bit for port promotion leaving him free to move on to other things while Barbusci claims that “the only way we will be successful is if we are all moving in the same direction.”

In fact, the dissonance is so marked, even the Post noticed it, wondering aloud where the project goes from here:

But what exactly those next steps might be remains somewhat of a mystery. Will Chinese interests invest in the project if there is no railway? And, if upgrades are made to the infrastructure of the railway, owned by Genesee and Wyoming, it’s still not known who will bear the cost.

Will we borrow $100 million from the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China to fix the railway? Will Geoff MacLellan put up Glace Bay as collateral? Will a Montreal land developer end up owning our harbor? Will it become the property of the People’s Republic of China?

For the answers to these and other questions, be sure to tune in to next week’s episode of As the Port Turns


Henry Herald Peter Baker

I found this great photo of Mayor Baker on the City of Regina website but I'm quite sure the accompanying caption is incorrect, "Mayor Henry Baker at the New Year’s Eve Levee at the Regina Inn, 1978."

I found this great photo of Mayor Baker on the City of Regina website but I’m quite sure the accompanying caption is incorrect, “Mayor Henry Baker at the New Year’s Eve Levee at the Regina Inn, 1978.”

I introduced this week’s piece on municipal officials running for higher office with the warning that my research was “unscientific.” “Non-exhaustive” and “incomplete” are terms that might equally well apply. I knew I would miss lots of examples of Canadian mayors or councilors running provincially or federally, but I didn’t expect to miss as spectacular an example as Henry Herald Peter Baker. Luckily, a reader with better knowledge of Saskatchewan than I possess alerted me to his career.

Baker was born on a farm near Lipton, Saskatchewan in 1915. Having trained and worked as a teacher, he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force during WWII and taught aircrew. After the war, he went to Chicago and studied business engineering and personnel administration before returning to Regina, where he served as secretary of the public service commission until December 1958. In January 1959 he was elected mayor.

He won the next five mayoral elections too, and by 1968, had become Regina’s longest-serving mayor. He lost in 1970, but returned to office three years later, remaining mayor until 1979.

But Baker wasn’t just the mayor of Regina — for 10 years, he was also a member of the provincial legislature. According to Wikipedia:

He represented Regina East from 1964 to 1967, Regina South East from 1967 to 1971, Regina Wascana from 1971 to 1975 and Regina Victoria from 1975 to 1982 in the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan as a Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) and then New Democratic Party (NDP) member.

Despite the double duty, he seems to have been a popular mayor: in 1997, the City of Regina named its council chambers and a city scholarship after him and in 2012 (four years after his death, at age 88) Regina Leader-Post readers voted him the second-best mayor in the city’s history (trailing only Pat Fiacco, who actually was mayor at the time).

Baker’s bio on the City of Regina website credits him with the building of the Ring Road, the Conexus Arts Centre (formerly the Centre of the Arts) and the current City Hall as well as “establishing outdoor rinks, the library facility, and King’s Park Speedway.”

I looked up Saskatchewan’s Local Government Elections Act 2015 to see if a career like Baker’s would be possible today and technically, I think it might be: the act bars only judges and municipal auditors and solicitors from running for council. But I get the impression from this summary of Baker’s career that it couldn’t actually happen again. Writing about Baker’s 1970 election loss in the Regina Leader-Post in 2012Will Shabun said that Baker:

…had sat since 1964 as the NDP MLA for Regina Victoria constituency — something [that] would be seen as an unconscionable bit of double-dipping today, but wasn’t legally improper back then.


Pod’s Sake

I’ve been listening to a lot of interesting things lately and thought I’d play virtual DJ this week and spin some podcasts for you.

On the Record, Off Script

First up is the latest episode of the Springtide Collective’s On the Record, Off Script podcast. The collective is a not-for-profit organization supporting “people who want to make public life more meaningful through their own participation in it.”

In its first season, On the Record, Off Script featured exit interviews with former provincial MLAs, many of whom were refreshingly frank about their experiences in political life. Now, in its second season, the podcast has shifted the focus to “people who are engaged in the politics of their communities…and what the rest of us can learn from their experiences.”

This latest episode features Lunenburg councilor-at-large Matt Risser, whose day job is governance consultant and political commentator. He joins host Mark Coffin to discuss Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recent comments about proportional representation. Although he himself was elected in a first-past-the-post system, Risser supports (and in fact has researched) proportional representation and he’s very informative on the subject. If you’re at all interested in electoral reform, I highly recommend you give it a listen.

Examineradio, episode #145

Reporter Rick Grant joins host Tim Bousquet to discuss, “Waiting for the train,” Grant’s investigation into the state of the Cape Breton and Central Nova Scotia Railway (CBNS), an article funded and published jointly by the Examiner and the Spectator (the first fruit of our $15 joint subscription, $5 of which goes into an investigative reporting fund.)

It’s a good discussion that ranges wide — into the operations at mega-ports like the one in Port Elizabeth, New Jersey (which has not one but two functioning rail lines) and Norfolk (which refit the entire rail line to Chicago to accommodate double-stack rail cars) — before zeroing in on the Grand Narrows Bridge and the Ottawa Brook trestle on the CBNS line.

Bousquet also reveals that the Examiner received a “nasty” letter from Genesee & Wyoming, the American company that operates the CBNS, with a stern warning about Grant’s “trespassing.”

Good stuff.

Slow Burn

I try to limit my recommendations to local podcasts or at least podcasts on locally relevant issues but I have to make an exception for Slate’s Slow Burn podcast about Watergate.

Over the course of eight episodes, host Leon Neyfakh tells the story of the break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters and subsequent cover-up from a variety of different angles, including an episode that focuses on Martha Mitchell, the wife of Nixon Attorney General John Mitchell, and an episode that focuses on what might be termed the “Watergate effect” — how revelations about an actual conspiracy turned America into a nation of conspiracy theorists.

Whether you really remember Watergate or you kind of remember Watergate (I fall into this category — I was a kid and what I remember most, for some reason, is the jokes about the missing 18 and 1/2 minutes of tape from Nixon’s Oval Office recordings) or you don’t remember Watergate at all, this series is terrific.







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