Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

On the waterfront

$150M development for Sydney waterfront moves one step closer,” the CBC assured us on Wednesday, after local developer Martin Chernin was granted exclusive rights by the CBRM Council to develop said waterfront into something resembling the Shangri-La-Dee-Da version of it generated in 2014 by the magical computers at the Ekistics design and planning company:

Source: Ekistics Sydney Harbourfront Conceptual Vision & Design 2014

Source: Ekistics Sydney Harbourfront Conceptual Vision & Design 2014


I specify “some version” of Ekistics’ vision because while he’s talking about moving the Casino to the waterfront and convincing the Holiday Inn to expand its operations on the waterfront and locating a (publicly-funded) central library on the waterfront, Chernin hasn’t promised to build us a sand beach, clean the harbor to the point where it is swimmable or attract that somewhat ominous fleet of ships depicted in Ekistics’ “conceptual vision.”

The thing about being “one step closer” to something (which, in passing, is also how CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke characterized the CBRM’s position in relation to its container port in November 2017) is that it’s only informative if you know how many steps are involved in total. When I step out my front door in the Northend of Sydney and announce, as I do each morning, that I am “one step closer” to Victoria, BC, it’s technically true — but I have yet to end a day taking high tea at the Empress.

Chernin has been trying to develop something (anything!) on the Sydney waterfront for over a decade now without success, and I was worried Council would allow him unlimited (or as good as unlimited) time to get his ducks in order on this particular development, but his exclusive development rights are for 18 months, to which I say, “Well done, Council.”



Albert Barbusci (front left) signs a piece of paper with a representative of CCCC (front right).

Albert Barbusci (front left) signs a piece of paper with a representative of CCCC (front right).

Indulge me, please, while I play a selection from my broken record collection called, “99 Problems and a 99-year Lease is One.”

It’s a reference, of course, to the 99-year-lease we’ve agreed to give our port developers — Sydney Harbour Investment Partners or SHIP (formerly Harbor Port Development Partners) — for lands on which they intend to build an Ultra-Large Container Vessel (ULCV) terminal.

SHIP CEO Albert Barbusci has argued the 99-year lease is necessary to convince its financial and construction partners to undertake the estimated $1.2 billion project. Barbusci has never named those financial partners, although back in 2015, when he was announcing that the China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) had agreed to build the terminal (pending a feasibility study, the results of which I have never seen), he also said CCCC was contemplating taking an ownership stake in the project, as the Cape Breton Post reported:

Harbor Port Development Partners and CCCC are also engaged in discussions involving potential equity participation by China Communications Construction Company in the port development project. Both firms also agreed to work together on related infrastructure projects that may arise in the course of this billion-dollar-plus multiyear project.

The website for the project still lists CCCC as a “partner” (along with Shanghai Zhenhua Heavy Industries Co. Ltd. or ZPMC, the world’s largest producer of Maritime cranes) and as recently as May 2018, Port of Sydney CEO Marlene Usher was assuring the CBC that “Quad C,” as the local port group likes to call CCCC, was still in the picture.

Usher was being asked if CCCC was still in the picture because the Canadian government had just blocked the Chinese company’s attempt to buy the Canadian construction giant Aecon, citing national security concerns, a fact that bothered Usher not a whit, although she did tell the CBC’s Tom Ayers:

“We were disappointed, just in the sense that Quad C will be disappointed, and we just don’t want that to lessen their appetite to come to Canada,” Usher said.

(Yes, poor Quad C, I feel for it too. But…wouldn’t the “national security concerns” that made CCCC an unsuitable owner for a Canadian construction company also make it an unsuitable owner for a port Usher herself has worked hard to bill as “strategically located?”)

Mayor Clarke is on record saying “the industry” requires a 99-year lease.

But last week, I wrote about protests in Vietnam over a proposed 99-year-lease to the Chinese government and this week, I refer you to a lengthy New York Times article bearing the headline, “How China Got Sri Lanka to Cough Up a Port.” (The short answer to that question, by the way, was contained in an earlier NYT story on the subject: “Struggling to pay its debt to Chinese firms, the nation of Sri Lanka formally handed over the strategic port of Hambantota to China on a 99-year lease last week, in a deal that government critics have said threatens the country’s sovereignty.”)

The 99-year lease seems less a shipping industry standard than an invention of the Chinese government.


Cape Breton Have Your Say

Vintage telephoneI hate phone-in shows.

When I lived abroad, I was deeply grateful for almost everything about the BBC World Service except for World Have Your Say, an international Sunday night phone-in show that, no matter what the ostensible topic, always seemed to end with some gentleman from Uganda calling in to condemn homosexuality. I used to play a game to see how few notes of the opening theme I had to hear before I could get to the radio and turn it off.

Likewise, as much as I enjoy my CBC Radio One, I don’t like Cross Country Check-Up and I don’t like the Maritime version either (in fact, I like it so little I can’t remember what it’s called.)

The idea that the shows are like “the kitchen” or “the coffee shop,” where everyone in the country can get together and swap ideas about important subjects is precisely my problem with them — if I wanted to hear lots of uninformed discussion of important subjects, I could go to an actual kitchen or coffee shop. I listen to the radio for informed discussion. (I have the same problem with the endless panels on CBC television — one journalist and three partisan hacks discussing everything under the sun and because nobody commands in-depth knowledge of everything under the sun, the panelists instead discuss everything in terms of how it will affect the opinion polls.)

And yet, as I’m writing this, I’m listening to the CBC Information Morning Cape Breton phone-in hour on the planned healthcare changes and I have to admit, I’ve learned some things. Some of it has been thanks to good questions but most of it has been from listening to the panelists talking amongst themselves.

(Oh man, they’ve just announced they’re going to continue the phone in until  9:00AM. Can I take another half hour? UPDATED at 9:00AM: I did.)


It’s my party

Since I’m talking about things I hate, can I add partisan politics? I am SO OVER them. And so much of the debate around the CBRM healthcare changes is rooted in them. Exhibit A:

Mind you, Clarke’s is a special case. He’s not just the mayor of the communities affected by the changes, he’s a candidate for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party and this response to the healthcare changes was posted on his campaign Facebook feed. The bottom line is that we can’t expect any constructive input from our mayor because it’s not in his own, personal, political interest to find any good in or work to secure the success of a change introduced by a Liberal government.

Same goes for the NDP — both Cape Breton Centre MLA Tammy Martin and District 11 Councilor Kendra Coombes have been quick to “ride the public outrage wave,” as columnist Russell Wangersky put it in Friday’s Cape Breton Post, but their main point is that when Martin asked the government if the hospitals were going to be closed the government said, “No.”

I’m torn about this — they’re right, of course, governments shouldn’t lie (although they all do, as Izzie Stone so famously told us). But having duly filed this in the “Transparency: Lack Of” file I keep on the Liberal government, I have to say, I think the NDP’s focus should be on making sure these changes work for the people of the CBRM, not hand-wringing over how they were announced. SOMEONE needs to keep an eye on this government to make sure it delivers what it has promised.

And now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll just crawl back under my desk again…



One of the things I hope to do over the next two months, as the Spectator goes bi-weekly and I take a bit of a break, is read. I have issues of the New Yorker and Harper’s Magazine glowering at me reproachfully from every flat service in my house. I have a year’s worth of book recommendations from friends and relatives and reviewers. I have a library card and I’m not afraid to use it.

Luckily, I will also have the good example of my parents and siblings who read like somebody’s paying them to in the summer. (It’s just occurred to me that perhaps somebody is; I must make a note to find out who and get on that gravy train.)

We usually have one book that becomes “the” book of the summer — the one that ends up dog-eared and smelling like sun tan lotion because everyone has read it by the time the season is over. I don’t know what this season’s book will be, but I can’t wait to find out…





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