Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

“No leasing land to China even for one day”

10 June 2018 demonstration in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) Vietnam. (Source: VOA YouTube

10 June 2018 demonstration in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) Vietnam. (Source: VOA YouTube)

I heard this story on Democracy Now as I was drifting off to sleep the other night and woke up the next morning thinking I’d dreamt it, but I looked it up and it was real. Here’s the Voice of America (VOA) version:

Vietnam suspended debate this week over a legislative bill that could bring a flood of investment from old foe China. The move followed several days of massive protests sparked by concerns the bill would invite what demonstrators believe would be a dangerous level of Chinese investment.

The bill would allow foreigners, mostly Chinese investors, to lease land for up to 99 years in three special economic zones. [emphasis mine]The National Assembly had been discussing the bill since November.

Protesters worried that 99-year leases would “pave the way” for Chinese influence, said Trung Nguyen, international relations dean at Ho Chi Minh University of Social Sciences and Humanities. “They think that the government can be bought by Chinese, and that’s the problem,” he said.

The BBC reported protests at various locations across the country, including the capital Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (the former Saigon). Some demonstrators, it said, carried banners with anti-China messages “including one reading: ‘No leasing land to China even for one day.'” Police said 102 people were detained after some protests turned violent, with demonstrators throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails.

What strikes me about the story is that it suggests 99-year leases — which our port promoters and mayor insist are necessary to the success of any local port development — are not necessarily as common as they’d have us believe. (Here, for instance, is CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke telling the Cape Breton Post the shipping industry “requires” a 99-year lease.) Certainly, the protesters in Vietnam don’t see it that way, as Hawaii Public Radio reported:

Hanoi saw the zones as mini-Singapores that would spur economic growth, but protesters saw a sell-out. Those outside investors would be mostly Chinese, they said, and those 99 year leases amounted to a transfer of Vietnamese territory.


Clarke vs Clarke

Left: Cecil Clarke "politician" (Source: Facebook). Right: "Mayor Cecil Clarke" (Source: CBRM website)

Left: Cecil Clarke “politician” (Source: Facebook). Right: “Mayor Cecil Clarke” (Source: CBRM website)

Cecil Clarke’s dual roles as mayor of the CBRM and contender for the leadership of the Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative Party clashed this week (as was no doubt inevitable) over the issue of equalization.

As mayor of the CBRM (which is described as “cash-strapped” so frequently we should probably figure out how to say it in Latin and add it to the municipal crest), Clarke presided over an extended discussion of equalization  during the June 5 general committee meeting.

Council considered an Issue Paper prepared by municipal CFO Jennifer Campbell on the mandatory payments the CBRM must make to the province annually, which now exceed the amount it receives back in the form of equalization. Council also reviewed letters District 11 Councilor Kendra Coombes has proposed “mayor and council” send to MLAs, MPs and the councils of other Cape Breton municipalities on the subject of equalization. Councilor after councilor spoke out about the need for an increase in equalization payments to the CBRM.

The mayor’s contribution was to claim that although the PC government of Rodney MacDonald — in which he had served — had frozen equalization payments, it had done so to avoid having to make much deeper cuts and, just prior to the 2009 election, had proposed freezing mandatory municipal payments as well, which would have improved things for municipalities. At least, I think that’s what he said. Here’s what he actually said:

I would say that…in terms of some of the history around the file, there were some points in terms of the advocacy, I mean, the frozen level was that the current government, after some effort because it was going down and costs were going up, so at least it captured a slowdown and a pacing of what otherwise would have been much more compounded…and there was an MOU that was put in place that was uplifting those costs and if you looked at, had that trend — and I’ve and I, I wasn’t [turns to CAO Marie Walsh] Marie might be the number-cruncher on this of the day. So, we crunched the numbers to try and pace and then we thought there’d be a partnership agreement, we thought the the fiscal review and recommendation 17 that clearly outlined where our position would be in terms of need, the recognition by the province. But of the costs that were spread [looking to CAO Marie Walsh] if the MOU had been fulfilled…what would have been the impact? Cause there would have been two aspects in terms of the equalization.

Fortunately, the “number-cruncher of the day” was able to make things a bit clearer:

I think, I believe if I remember correctly the MOU stated that education [payments] would be frozen to cost of living and corrections and housing I think went to zero at the time.

What the mayor didn’t indicate was any support for the council’s current effort to demand higher equalization payments.

That, it turns out, was because PC Leadership Candidate Cecil Clarke wants to “cancel” equalization, as he explained on Facebook this week:

I clicked the “See More” link for details of this plan “taxpayers deserve” and found this:

That means more help for bridges, roads, water management facilities, public safety, energy sources, green spaces and more.

I confess, I didn’t feel particularly enlightened (how does one “help” a bridge?) nor was I alone. Clarke’s plan to “cancel” equalization puzzled a number of sitting CBRM councilors who took to the mayor’s campaign feed to question him about it:

Interestingly, “Team Cecil,” which responds to comments on Clarke’s behalf, had nothing to say to the councilors but did respond to a request for more detail on the plan from a civilian poster, saying:

Let’s put the pros and cons of the plan aside for now and think about what’s happening here: mayor and council are supposedly working together to win a better shake for the cash-strapped CBRM (Cash Erat Accinctus Renes*) but the mayor — with his PC leadership hat on — has also been working by himself on an entirely different plan he hasn’t told council anything about.

How can that situation not be problematic?

*That apparently means “cash-girded” which is as close to “cash-strapped” as my online English-to-Latin translator could get for me.  And no, it’s not very close.


Food coma

It’s an image I’m having trouble getting out of my head. On the front page of the Cape Breton Post. Two grown-ass men “devouring six-pound donairs in less than 15 minutes.”

I asked myself: Is there ever a reason to eat six pounds of meat in a single sitting?

I answered myself:

Yes, if you are actually half-man/half jackal.

Yes, if you are actually a small Greek village.

No, sweet Mother of God, no.

The young men in question — who are both, the Post assures us, very “health conscious,” although I think that was a typo and the paper actually just meant “conscious” — apparently did it for “a year’s supply of food from Alexandra’s [the Sydney restaurant sponsoring the contest] T-shirts and $500, that they each donated to Sydney’s Loaves and Fishes Society.”

Oh, and they also did it for “a place on the restaurant’s hall of fame.”

I have been making a real effort to accentuate the positive of late and by that measure, I guess I should focus on the $1,000 donation to the local food bank and forget about the horrific route we had to take to get there, but I keep wondering how that conversation at Loaves and Fishes went: “Hey, we just ate enough meat to feed a family of four for a month in 15 minutes! Here’s $1,000.”

If this must continue, could it at least continue somewhere other than the front page of the daily paper? This is the second time the Post has featured a donair-inhaler there. Could we officially declare this “old news?” Or here’s a thought — why not make the restaurant buy an ad to announce its champion meat eaters? It is advertising, after all.


Davis Day no shows

William Davis Square, New Waterford, NS.

William Davis Square, New Waterford, NS.

The notoriously anti-union, US-based Cline Group, whose Kameron Collieries subsidiary operates the Donkin coal mine, failed to send a representative to this year’s Davis Day ceremonies, named in honor of William Davis, a striking coal miner shot by British Empire Steel and Coal Company police in 1925.

Okay, it doesn’t look great, I’ll admit, but it’s not the end of the world. It’s not like they’re racking up dozens of mine safety violations.

What’s that? Oh, that’s right.  I forgot.

Tim Bousquet is right, this would be a good time to revisit Susan Dodd’s series on mine safety in Nova Scotia.


Procurement wishlist

I read reports from the Right to Know Coalition of Nova Scotia the way I used to read the Sears Christmas Wish Book (only I don’t have to fight my siblings tooth and nail for first access).

Where I used to get dreamy-eyed over Barbie campers and Easy-Bake Ovens, I now drool over substantially expanded amounts of published procurement information (Who were the losers? What did they bid? Who owns the winning company?) and sole-source contract databases.

Both items are recommended for Nova Scotia in the coalition’s new report on government contracting, which is only eight-pages long and well worth a read. (There’s even some good news: the existing Nova Scotia procurement web portal is pretty functional and has the capacity to hold lots more data points — so what are we waiting for?)

As Coalition President Michael Karanicolas says in the accompanying press release:

Nova Scotians have a democratic right to know how the government is spending their money. However, there is also evidence that open contracting can save governments money, by making procurement more efficient and competitive. We hope that Nova Scotia’s government will consider the recommendations in this Report carefully, and introduce the necessary improvements.

I hope so too.

And there’s reason to hope: I got the Barbie camper, after all.


Where’s Cecil? update

Clarke spent Thursday, June 14th knocking on doors in Cumberland South for Tory Rushton, the PC candidate (could he run for another party?) in the upcoming provincial by-election in that riding.

(I really hope the male-to-female ratio in Cumberland South is better than the one in this photo, which reminds me of everything I’ve ever read about the unintended consequences of China’s one-child policy.)

I just want to point out that this means the mayor has basically been on the road all week — St. Peter’s and East Tracadie on Sunday, Halifax on Monday, Eastern Passage on Tuesday, Cumberland South on Thursday (and possibly at the Dartmouth East AGM later that night).

In fact, he was on the road as this CBC story about his pulling double-duty appeared on June 14, under the headline: “Critics of Mayor Cecil Clarke closely watch his PC leadership bid.”

I have a quibble with that headline, which suggests the people who have a problem with the mayor spending eight months — eight months — campaigning for another job are just sourpusses who would complain if he spent that time building a new CBRM central library with his own hands.

Let’s try a different headline and see what happens: “Proponents of transparent, accountable government closely watch Mayor Cecil Clarke’s PC leadership bid.”

Makes a difference, doesn’t it? You don’t need to have a hate on for the mayor (although I realize some do) to wonder if it’s really possible to be mayor and run all over the province campaigning for the leadership of the PC Party at the same time.





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