Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things


Moncton-based Radio-Canada reporter Elissa Serret has done some great work tracking down and speaking to three of the miners fired from the Donkin Mine last fall. (Here’s the link to the original French television item, which features some rather over-dramatic effects and has French-speaking actors playing the miners, who did not wish to be identified due to the confidentiality agreements they’d signed with Kameron Collieries, the Cline Group subsidiary that owns Donkin.)

Donkin mine. (Photo via Morien Resources Inc image gallery

Donkin mine. (Photo via Morien Resources Inc image gallery

The miners are raising alarms about unsafe conditions in the mine, whose owner — the above-mentioned, US-based Cline Group — has a less-than-stellar reputation for safety and a deep-seated dislike of unions (see this excellent 2016 Global TV documentary on the subject).

Said one former miner:

It’s a very dangerous place. I was scared. I was scared every day that I was going to get killed.

Their stories include accounts of ocean water seeping into the tunnels, rockfalls, collapsing ceilings and miners being told to cut steel underground — producing sparks that could ignite methane — without necessary permits.

Two of the miners fired in November told Rad-Can they felt they’d been let go for raising safety issues and all three said they were told attempts to unionize would fail.

Nova Scotia Labour Minister Labi Kousoulis, for his part, said the government believes the mine to be safe and advised miners with safety concerns to contact the province’s anonymous safety line.

The Nova Scotia Federation of Labour (NSFL) issued a press release on Thursday saying the federation has raised its concerns on the safety at the Donkin Mine to the Department of Labour “since it opened.” Said NSFL President Danny Kavanaugh:

It’s my understanding that the Donkin mine has been inspected at the rate of about twice a month since coal extraction began and the province has hired a on mine inspector to ensure safety. There have been violations.

As soon as we started getting calls both before and after the lay-offs at Donkin, we immediately asked for a meeting with department officials. Those meetings were positive and resulted in inspections.

Kavanaugh also encouraged anyone with safety concerns to call the province’s anonymous workplace safety line at 1-800-952-2687.


CCCC and Sweden

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Chinese construction company walks into a struggling Northern port town and offers to build a billion-dollar container terminal capable of handling the largest of the new generation of Ultra-Large Container Vessels (ULCVs). Proponents of the project push the local municipal council to approve it in record time, giving councilors 10 days to respond to their proposal. A leading critic calls the deal “shady,” and says the negotiations are all taking place behind closed doors with only “a handful of politicians familiar with the scale of the investment or the details.”

If you think I’m talking about Sydney, think again.

North Harbor, Lyeskil, Sweden (Photo by W.carter, own work, CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons)

North Harbor, Lyeskil, Sweden (Photo by W.carter, own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

It seems the China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) has been two-timing us with the town of Lysekil, Sweden (population 14,000) which is located near the Port of Brofjorden, which is where a consortium led by the Hong Kong-based company Sunbase and including CCCC proposed to build “the most modern and environmentally friendly” port in Europe.

Plans for the “Secret Chinese billion investment” were presented to the Lysekil municipal council in mid-November 2017, according to Swedish Radio, the country’s national broadcaster, but did not become public knowledge until later that month, when they were revealed to include, in addition to the actual port facilities, “investment in rail upgrades, a motorway, a bridge and a new railway…to the new harbor.” Proponents also promised investments in “hospitals, schools and elderly care.” Swedish Radio said council was given 10 days to respond to the proposal and decided to authorize a preliminary study, despite growing public opposition.

Magnus Sederholm, a medical doctor who had recently concluded a three-year term as a visiting professor in Beijing, was one of the most vocal critics of the initiative. He was the one who called the deal “shady” and questioned the secrecy surrounding the negotiations with Lysekil council. But he also, according to Swedish reporter Jojje Olsson, questioned the project’s potential environmental impacts and its implications for Swedish national security, warning of “Chinese President Xi Jinping’s plans to control the seas commercially as well as militarily.”

Olsson says Sederholm’s warnings were dismissed as “alarmist” by Jan-Olof Johansson, the head of the Lysekil council, who pointed out that Sunbase, the main proponent of the project, was a “private” company. But Olsson argues that Sunbase owner and chair Gunter Gao Jingde has close ties to the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese military.

The Lysekil debate is playing out as the European Union, of which Sweden has been a member since 1995, considers stricter controls on Chinese foreign direct investment. As Reuters reported in September last year:

The European Commission is raising the investment bar for China. Brussels has come up with a pan-European scheme to vet sensitive purchases by other countries. Unlike the government committee that scrutinizes acquisitions in the United States, its rulings will be non-binding. Even so, the People’s Republic will find it harder to buy European infrastructure and technology.

Sweden numbers among those EU countries (totaling roughly half of the union) with no formal mechanism to monitor investment in sensitive industries. In fact, Sweden’s highly decentralized form of government means municipalities like Lysekil may enter into agreements involving significant FDI without any oversight from the central government. According to Olsson, Sweden’s foreign minister says the government is considering a law that would give the government greater power to oversee FDI for security reasons. (She said the law could come into effect as early as 2018, which Olsson suspects may be the reason for “the rush surrounding the Lysekil deal.”)

But in the end, the Lysekil deal didn’t need oversight because it didn’t happen.

According to Ahlbin Gustafsson of Lysekilposten, Lysekil council asked the consultants involved in the project a number of “basic questions” to which it expected to receive answers by early February. Instead, the municipality recently announced that the Chinese investors have backed out of the deal. A press release on the town website said:

The reason must be the negative attention received by the media in media and social media.

Which I think is the equivalent of blaming the negative talk from the cheap seats and the nattering of the locals at the Lyeskil Cafe (which I’m assuming is the closest thing Lyeskil has to a Tim Hortons).

(Below: The presentation Olsson says project proponents made to members of Lysekil’s municipal council in mid-November 2017)

Kinas hamn i Lysekil, presentation by Jojje Olsson on Scribd


Tar City Premiere

I received a nice note from a pair of local filmmakers asking me to plug the upcoming premiere of their latest feature film at the Highland Arts Theatre (HAT) in Sydney on Saturday night (March 24) at 8 PM.

Fritz Bishop and Kenzie Cameron, together, are Tar City Productions, the independent, Sydney-based production company founded in 2016. Grim, the film they will premiere on Saturday, is “a comedic ‘mockumentary’ which details the attempts of a hapless film crew to document the life of their subject: a notorious local legend and self proclaimed criminal mastermind.”

Through it’s liberal use of coarse language and uncompromising scenes of violence, the film presents a candid portrayal of the unusual aspects in every day life for the unrepresented youth in post-post-industrial Sydney. Grim explores themes of alienation, identity, and arrested development with the raw, darkly comedic aesthetic that audiences have come to expect from Tar City.

(Don’t say you weren’t warned about the coarse language and uncompromising scenes of violence.)

Still from Grim, a full-length feature film by Tar City Productions.

Still from Grim, a full-length feature film by Tar City Productions.

Grim follows the team’s first full-length feature, Bigsby, the story of “a homeless, alcoholic clown struggling to survive as a street performer,” which was “produced in collaboration with iCreate Cape Breton, a local non-profit that provided the crew with all the necessary equipment to produce the film.”

This is the part where I would normally include a personal endorsement of Tar City’s productions but shamefully, although they’ve produced six shorts, two documentaries and a stage play in addition to their two feature-length films, I’m not familiar with their work. That, I promise, will change come Saturday night.

In the meantime, I will “piggyback” on the reporting of others (something I was accused this week of doing far too often by a correspondent who preferred not to be identified or quoted publicly and whom I will therefore refer to, not without some glee, as “Grumpy Drawers”). Here’s what Elizabeth Patterson had to say about Bigsby in the Cape Breton Post and here’s what Post columnist Jill Ellsworth (a friend of Bishop’s) had to say about it.

Tickets for Saturday night’s premiere may be reserved via the HAT website.


Not so deep in a coal mine

And finally, although I would never begrudge the Miners’ Museum in Glace Bay its financial support, news that it had received $1.5 million from Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and Heritage Canada to recreate the mining experience above ground made me scratch my pit helmet. (I figure if hedge fund managers are allowed to describe their work as being “at the coal face” — and believe me, some of them do — then I can wear a pit helmet to the home office.)

The museum, according to the CBC (here I go with the piggybacking again) will recreate a briefing room and a lamp house (a “room or building at the surface of a mine, provided for charging, servicing and issuing all cap, hand and flame safety lamps held at the mine”). But the money will also be used to create a simulator of the rake car used to carry miners underground. Miners Museum executive director Mary Pat Mombourquette told the CBC:

So there’d be 15 seats in the rake car on benches and these seats will go up and down, back and forth, so it will give you the feeling that you’re moving.

Then, 360 degrees around you will be media, film that will make you feel like you’re going down into the mine. So, you’re going to see men digging, you’re going to see coal cars coming up the mine.

The simulator will be like going down into a mine “without actually going down in the mine,” Mombourquette said, adding that it should be especially popular with those who are afraid to go underground and people with mobility issues who can’t take the underground tour.

Miners Museum, Glace Bay. (Photo via museum website

Miners Museum, Glace Bay. (Photo via museum website)

I hope this is a rousing success, I really do, but I can’t help but wonder if it doesn’t make the actual mine — which to my mind was the whole point of the museum — a little redundant? Couldn’t you construct such a simulator anywhere? Like, in a coal-mine themed hotel in Vegas? Don’t we open ourselves up to charges of #fakecoal from Donald Trump? And if the simulator is really good — and I’m betting it will be — mightn’t it be just as scary for those who don’t want to go underground? I’m just asking. That’s my job.

Although frankly, I think it’s just that I remember my first trip to the Miner’s Museum like it was yesterday and it was precisely because I got to put on raincoat and rubber boots and go into an actual coal mine. Under the ocean.

Oh, and also because the miner who guided my Grade 6 class down had no child filter, and so told us amazingly graphic stories of things he’d witnessed in the pit — like the time he looked into a passing coal car and saw a human arm.

I just hate to think of a new generation of visitors missing out on that kind of experience.