Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

Equalization Nation

Estimates put turnout for an equalization protest in front of the Provincial Building in Sydney on Wednesday at upwards of 600.

Protest organizers, members of the advocacy group Nova Scotians for Equalization Fairness, have to be happy with those numbers — their message is finally starting to resonate beyond the Community Room at the Prince Street Sobeys, where they have met regularly for years.

There are those who object to the NSEF’s math — the group says the Cape Breton Regional Municipality is entitled to roughly 26% of the $1.8 billion federal equalization transfer received each year by the province of Nova Scotia — but it’s hard to argue with their contention that the CBRM has been chronically underfunded by the provincial government for decades, to the point where it can barely pave its own roads.

I was struck by the comments of Municipal Affairs Minister (and MLA for Sydney-Whitney Pier) Derek Mombourquette who, in his efforts to show the NSEF was confused about provincial payments to the CBRM revealed some confusion of his own, telling the Cape Breton Post:

For example, all of the services the provincial government provides in the community, whether it be community services, housing, health care, education, are from general revenues that flow through the federal transfer program — this is all from one pot of money.

What he left out of this is that funding for two of those four services — public housing and education — also comes from the municipalities, which means from property taxes. In addition to public housing and education, the Property Valuation Services Corporation and corrections are also funded, in part, by municipal property taxes. That is why last year, while the CBRM received about $15 million in provincial “equalization” payments (which Mombourquette calls “operating grants,” to which CAO Marie Walsh replies: “They can call it an operating grant, but it is equalization”) it returned roughly $17 million to the province in mandatory payments for those services “the provincial government supplies.”

That’s my two cents on the matter — and here’s photographer and Spectator contributor Charlie Morrison’s, some photos from Wednesday’s protest:



Pothole Tourism

Former MP Gerald Keddy and PC leadership hopeful (and sometime CBRM Mayor) Cecil Clarke were apparently out practicing their pole vaulting along a New Ross highway on Thursday, when Clarke fell in a pothole:


I don’t know what’s funnier: the image (could this be Clarke’s Stanfield-with-a-banana or Dukakis-in-a-tank moment?) or the accompanying text — “This is exactly why I say we need Ministers in suits, but we also need to put Ministers back in boots!” — with its implication that Clarke, the living embodiment of Team Suit, was ever a “minister in boots.”

Actually, though, I think the funniest thing about this post is that the mayor of the CBRM had to go to the mainland to find a pothole big enough for his photo op. Has he forgotten that the CBRM’s 2018-2019 capital budget was almost defeated because it allocated so little money to road repair? Did he not hear the remarks of councilors at the time, as noted in the Cape Breton Post:

“There’s not a councillor around this table that can be happy with the sparse amount of infrastructure monies for the local roads,” — District 1 Councilor Clarence Prince

“We got a lot of damaged streets out there this year with the continuous freeze-thaw…’ — District 10 Council Darren Bruckschwaiger.

“To think that we’re getting just one collector road done in the whole CBRM should be an embarrassment to our provincial government and our federal government because we don’t have programs in place where we can acquire the necessary funds to fix our streets,” — Deputy Mayor Eldon MacDonald

“We should be out in front of this building with picket signs and we should be telling these people that beat up on us that every one of us gets it when the roads are falling apart — I represent the Ashby area and it’s four-wheel drive country,” — District 6 Councilor Ray Paruch

If he did forget, isn’t he lucky to have me to remind him?


Happy 272nd Anniversary of Culloden!

Elsewhere in Nova Scotia, Pictou Centre MLA Pat Dunn recently “celebrated” the Battle of Culloden, which he characterized as “the last battle to be fought on British soil.”

The website for the battlefield, which is now a National Trust of Scotland site, describes it somewhat differently:

On 16 April 1746, the final Jacobite Rising came to a brutal head in one of the most harrowing battles in British history.

Jacobite supporters, seeking to restore the Stuart monarchy to the British thrones, gathered to fight the Duke of Cumberland’s government troops. It was the last pitched battle on British soil and, in less than an hour, around 1,500 men were slain – more than 1,000 of them Jacobites.

I guess if you were rooting for the English, Culloden was something to “celebrate,” but for Nova Scotians of Highland Scottish descent — i.e. the ones who organized this ceremony at the Culloden Memorial Cairn in Knoydart, N.S. — Culloden is more to be “commemorated” than celebrated.  (Pictou East MLA Tim Houston, on the far left in this photo, posted it with the message, “It was good to see so many out this morning for the Battle of Culloden commemoration ceremony.”)

Culloden is arguably why a lot of us are here in Nova Scotia — following the battle, the British set out to wipe out the Highland clan system. (Fun fact: one of the most notorious of the British officers leading this campaign was Edward Cornwallis who “led 320 soldiers through the countryside on an order to ‘plunder, burn and destroy through all the west part of Invernesshire called Lochaber.”) As the Encyclopaedia Britannica explains:

Even before the catastrophe at Culloden, the clan system had begun slowly deteriorating during the reign of James I, who distrusted the Highlanders so much that he ordered the chiefs away from their clans to attend prolonged court visits so that he could keep them from plotting against him. That deterioration accelerated, however, in the years following the Battle of Culloden, as the British government imposed restrictive laws that compromised the power of the clan chiefs and the Gaelic culture that underpinned it, including the banning of clan tartans (plaid textile designs) and bagpipe music. The government also cleared the way for outsiders to acquire much of the land in the Highlands. The new landlords were set on replicating capitalist agriculture models employed in the Lowlands.

The subsequent disruption of traditional life and dispossession of land that occurred over roughly the next century became known as the Highland Clearances.

And many of those cleared from the Highlands came to Nova Scotia, where they were settled on lands taken from First Nations because, I guess, one bad turn deserves another.

So commemorate Culloden by all means, but maybe keep the “celebrating” to a minimum? Like, maybe the plaid pants are enough?


Atlantic Books

The Spring edition of Atlantic Books Today is a good read, full of news about (and reviews of) new books by Atlantic Canadian authors. But my favorite bit of writing is found in the Letters to the Editor section where one Jamie Fitzpatrick of St. John’s, NL, takes the reviewer of Sharon Bala’s The Boat People to task for a “glowing, enthusiastic review” that could “put readers off a great book.”

It starts well enough. The reviewer shows himself to be widely read, informed, and a lover of language and style. Exactly the sort of reader an outstanding novel deserves.

But before long we are told of the “heuristic effort” required to read this “effortlessly Teiresian” book.

The novelist is further credited with creating “tri-colon crescendos interspersed with now melodious, now dissonant slant rhymes,” and praised for the refinement of her “prosopography.”

This is high praise. At least I think it is. For those of us blind to prosopography and effortless Teiresianism it’s impossible to know for sure.

And what’s a tri-colon crescendo. Some sort of grim surgical procedure?

This had me giggling like a school girl, and even though I do love me some big words (“crepuscular” being a favorite), I see Fitzpatrick’s point. I’ll consult a dictionary once in the course of a book review, but three times? Not going to happen.

Fitzpatrick, by the way, thinks Bala’s book is “a terrific story, crafted by a great storyteller.” I understand all of that.


Fentenyl in prison

Source: Nova Scotia Liquor Commission

Source: Nova Scotia Liquor Commission

This is from a press release issued by the NS Department of Justice on May 8:

Fentanyl Seized at Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility

Fentanyl was seized recently during a routine search at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in Halifax.

A package with unknown contents was found while conducting a search upon admission on Feb. 9. The package was turned over to Halifax Regional Police and sent to Health Canada for testing.

The results, received on May 4 confirmed the presence of fentanyl.

This is the first confirmed case of fentanyl at a provincial Correctional Facility in Nova Scotia.

I couldn’t help but contrast this with the provincial government’s painstaking efforts to ensure most Nova Scotians don’t have access to pot once it’s legal in Canada. To its credit, the government has added three Nova Scotia Liquor Commission (NSLC) stores to the original eight slated to carry cannabis, but the entire island of Cape Breton will still be served by a single outlet in Sydney River.

And as the CBC’s Jean Laroche explained, service in those 11 outlets will have a kind of back to the future feel:

Nova Scotians nostalgic for the good ole days when buying liquor meant having their favourite brand hand-delivered by a store clerk behind a counter are going to love the new cannabis store model the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation will be using.

Customers will line up, consult menus and place their orders, which clerks will fill from behind a counter. The orders will then be placed in a sealed brown paper bag.

Bottom line: getting legal pot in Neil’s Harbour could potentially be more difficult than getting fentanyl in the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility.

I honestly don’t know what to do with that information.




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