Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

French lessons

Chantal Rouleau

Chantal Rouleau

This week, I’ve run across three Quebec news stories that are oddly relevant to events here in the CBRM.

That’s not as completely random as it sounds: I keep tabs on events in Quebec by starting each day listening to the first half hour of Quebec AMthe Quebec City morning show on CBC. It’s the equivalent to our Information Morning. It’s also (full disclosure) hosted by my sister, who spends the first 30 minutes doing a press review with the host of the Montreal morning show. It’s a great way to find out what’s on the front pages of all the Quebec papers, what was discussed on this week’s Tout le monde en parle (a popular Sunday night talk show) and how the Habs did last night.

This week, I heard about Chantal Rouleau, the mayor of the Montreal borough of Rivière-des-Prairies–Pointe-aux-Trembles, who has just announced her intention to run for the provincial legislature as a representative of the Coalition avenir Québec (CAQ).

Rouleau told the press she’d consulted with the ethics commissioner at the City of Montreal and will remain in her post as mayor until the beginning of the campaign for the provincial elections scheduled for 1 October 2018. During the campaign she will donate her mayoral salary to charity. If she wins, she will accept no severance pay when she leaves her mayor’s post (I can’t believe there would be severance pay for a mayor departing one-year into her mandate, but whatever). If she doesn’t win, she will carry on as mayor.

“I can be an excellent candidate and an excellent mayor,” she said.

Intéressant, n’est-ce pas?

François Boulay, mayor of Ristigouche-Sud-Est. (Radio-Canada)

François Boulay, mayor of Ristigouche-Sud-Est.

The other story that jumped out at me was that of the municipality of Ristigouche-Sud-Est, a Quebec town with a population of 157 that just won a legal victory over the oil and gas company Gastem.

As the CBC explained:

Gastem obtained a drilling permit from the province in 2011 to search for oil and gas on Quebec’s Baie-des-Chaleurs, where Ristigouche-Sud-Est is located.

After residents started voicing their concerns about the impact the drilling could have on the municipality’s drinking water, the town passed a bylaw in February 2013, setting clear rules.

A two-kilometre distance had to be respected between drill sites and residents’ wells. The bylaw also banned the introduction of any chemical substances into the soil.

Gastem sued the town for damages in 2013, demanding $1.5 million which it later lowered to $984,000. The company contended the town had adopted the by-law hastily, under pressure from “environmentalists” or “forceful residents,” but on Thursday, Quebec Superior Court Nicole Tremblay ruled Gastem should have tried to get the by-law annulled before taking the town to court.

Moreover, she found the town did not pass the by-law recklessly:

“The town councillors did not act on a whim,” she wrote.

Tremblay said a municipality has the right to protect its territory based on the precautionary principle.

Since there was no provincial law in place at the time defining the rules around water protection, Tremblay said the town was in its rights to apply its own bylaw.

Martine Ouellet

Martine Ouellet

I know you can’t make direct comparisons between Nova Scotia and Quebec when it comes to legal matters or municipal affairs, but I think the overarching message here — that municipalities are within their rights to protect their environment, even if that is officially a provincial jurisdiction — is very interesting in light of a certain local situation I can think of.

And one final relevant Quebec news item: the leader of the Bloc Quebecois, Martine Ouellet, not only does not have a seat in parliament — she is still a sitting MNA in Quebec. She entered the National Assembly as a member of the Parti Québécois but has sat as an Independent since winning the leadership of the Bloc by acclamation last year. How’s that working out for her? Well, she was in the press review because seven of her 10 Bloc MPs have mutinied and opted to sit as Independents in parliament themselves. They blame her “unbending” nature, but I’m thinking her having a day job couldn’t have helped.


Born to Mine

“It’s in my blood,” proclaimed a front page headline in Wednesday’s Cape Breton Post, “Donkin marks one-year anniversary of coal production.”

The idea that being descended from coal miners is as good as being an experienced miner yourself is a convenient myth for Kameron Coal, the Cline Group subsidiary that owns the Donkin mine. Last fall, Kameron “restructured” its Cape Breton operations, letting 49 miners go, and Donkin mine vice-president Shannon Campbell told the Post they have since hired 20 people —  only 15 of whom had been among those previously employed at the mine.

So why not hire back 20 previously employed miners? Well, if the United Mine Workers of America’s (UMWA) theory is correct, it’s because Kameron’s original layoffs were intended to purge the organization of older, experienced miners — the kind who might want to form a union.

As former UMWA rep Bobby Burchell told the CBC at the time:

They will bring as few qualified miners in as they can to train the younger guys and then let those guys go and keep the younger guys and inoculate them into their way of mining so that they’ll dance to their music.

Jody Dukart, Burchell’s replacement as the UMWA’s auditor/teller for Canada, told the Spectator back in November:

The mentality in any coal mine is, there are older, experienced coal miners and then there are the younger generation, inexperienced miners. The experienced miners always have a voice and always watch the younger generation’s back when it comes to hazards. I feel the management team took the voice away from the inexperienced guys leaving them to defend for themselves, which I hope [doesn’t] have a bad outcome.

But, according to the Post, the UMWA needn’t be so fussed: just because a guy has never been in a mine before doesn’t mean he’s inexperienced. A bachelor of arts in community studies and experience as a bricklayer is just as good as mining experience if your father and grandfather and great-grandfather were miners. This genetic approach to hiring is fantastic news in terms of solving our doctor shortage and personally, I intend to drop off my application for the Cape Breton Regional Police Services today on the grounds that my grandfather was a policeman so law enforcement is clearly in my blood. (The other new miner the Post quotes — a 25-year-old previously employed at the Halifax shipyards — apparently did not test positive for the subterranean mining gene or I’m sure it would have been noted.)

The third miner quoted was an actual, experienced miner who (Are you listening, UMWA?) works largely in “compliance and health and safety.”

The big message the Post was delivering with this latest Valentine to the Donkin mine — and I know it was the big message because it was stated twice by two different interviewees — was that the miners “have each other’s backs.” (Did you hear that, UMWA? They HAVE each other’s BACKS.)

But if you were working in a coal mine and something went wrong, who would you want to have your back — a 25-year-old shipyard worker, a 25-year bricklayer, or an experienced miner?

And if you are one of those 34 workers let go in November and not rehired, who, exactly, has your back?

And finally, this whole discussion is reminding me of my interview earlier this week with Silver Donald Cameron. Although we’re right to worry about the safety of non-unionized coal miners, the bigger worry in 2018, with all we know about fossil fuels and climate change, is the opening of a coal mine.


Dying boards

Cindy Littlefair

Cindy Littlefair

The latest episode of On the Record, Off Script is available from the Springtide Collective, a not-for-profit organization supporting “people who want to lead change through politics with their integrity intact.”

Entitled “How to serve the public on a dying school board,” it focuses on the implications of the government’s plan, included in legislation tabled Thursday, to dissolve Nova Scotia’s English-language school boards.

Host Mark Coffin speaks to Cindy Littlefair, a member of the Halifax Regional School Board, about her experience as a board member, her concerns about the upcoming dissolution and her thoughts as to what she (and other board members) should be doing in the waning days of the current system. The discussion is so interesting, I’ll forgive her for misquoting Dylan Thomas, wondering if she should go “quietly” rather than “gentle” into that good night. The fact is, I have to forgive her, because I once misquoted the same poem, only worse: I had him exhorting people to “rant” rather than “rage” against the dying of the light, as though, faced with death, you should find a spray-painted alley and pull a Rick Mercer.

So embarrassing.




The Cape Breton Spectator is entirely reader supported. Please consider subscribing today!