Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

Ferry Tale

Bay Ferries Ltd, which currently operates the high-speed CAT ferry service between Yarmouth, NS and Portland, Maine, could start sailing to Bar Harbor, Maine instead as early as next June, reports the SaltWire network’s Andrea Gunn.

Yarmouth ferry (Source: Bay Ferries Ltd

Yarmouth ferry (Source: Bay Ferries Ltd)

Gunn notes that the move is being planned despite Bay Ferries and the Nova Scotia government having recently spent $1.5 million to help the Portland ferry terminal meet new US Customs and Border Protection security requirements. (Apparently, we’ve helped buy some new equipment that will remain in Portland, no matter where the CAT is sailing, so I would advise any Nova Scotians traveling to Maine to go to the Portland ferry terminal and insist on using that equipment, just for spite.)

And here’s some fun, compare what Bay Ferries CEO Mark MacDonald is telling Nova Scotians (as reported by Gunn)…

Although the Yarmouth to Bar Harbor ferry service was operated by Bay Ferries without subsidy for nine seasons, from 1997 to 2005, MacDonald said a government subsidy will continue to be required for the foreseeable future.

“Final projections are not available at this stage as there are too many variables, including passenger volumes and fuel costs,” he said.

…to what he’s telling Mainers, as reported by AJ Higgins in the Bangor Daily News:

Bay Ferries CEO Mark MacDonald said his company is no longer dependent on subsidies for its Bar Harbor transit.

“We went as an operation for a period of about 10 years from 1997 through the year 2006, so 10 operating seasons inclusive of where we operated exclusively to Bar Harbor out of Yarmouth, and in that time frame we operated with no government subsidy of any kind,” MacDonald said.

(Honest question: Does Mark MacDonald not understand how the interwebs work?)

Bar Harbor Town Manager Cornell Knight told the Bangor Daily News that Bay Ferries is offering to help pay for renovations to the old Marine Atlantic terminal, where the CAT used to dock and which the Town of Bar Harbor recently decided to buy from the Maine Department of Transportation for US$3.5M. Says Knight:

“They would invest $3 million to get the property into shape in order to accomplish that for next June — I think that’s their tentative target date — and they would pay us a lease for the time,” Knight said.

Knight says Bay Ferries will present a specific proposal to the Bar Harbor Town Council during its next meeting, on July 17.  You can watch those meetings online, so plan on making some popcorn and tuning in…


The DNR Shuffle

I was going to try to come to grips with this week’s provincial cabinet shuffle but fortunately, Joan Baxter got there before me, writing in Friday’s Halifax Examiner Morning File about the shakeup at the Department of Natural Resources. I will let Baxter explain:

Nova Scotia’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is no more. Yesterday, Premier Stephen McNeil’s Liberal government renamed it the Department of Lands and Forestry (not, however, Lands and Forests, something lamented by the insightful Facebook page devoted to Nova Scotia’s “Woods and Water”).

Timberlea-Prospect MLA Iain Rankin, formerly Minister of Environment, is now minister of the new Lands and Forestry department. The MLA for Hants East, Margaret Miller, who had been heading DNR, is once again Minister of Environment, as she was in 2016-17.

The cabinet shuffle and departmental shape-shifting also sees DNR’s geoscience and mines branch, which of late has been acting more like a cheerleader for industry than a regulator, move to the Department of Energy (henceforth Energy and Mines), with Derek Mombourquette, MLA for Sydney-Whitney Pier, the new minister.

Baxter finds the changes concerning:

The current government is busy trying to attract still more extractive industries to Nova Scotia [see the Fool’s Gold series in The Examiner / Cape Breton Spectator], so it could mean we will be going all-out to open still more gold mines. Five open-pit mines are already planned for the Eastern Shore, and the government is promoting gold exploration in the watershed in northern Nova Scotia that supplies Tatamagouche with its drinking water.

What is sure is that with government employees whose main interest is sub-surface resources now gathered under one roof and working to promote mining and petroleum exploration, Nova Scotians will need to pay close attention to power-brokers working on behalf of those industries.

Nevertheless, she does her best to find something positive in Thursday’s announcement:

But since hope springs eternal in the dog days of summer, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that it could be a good thing that the government geologists who are intent on promoting mining in the province — digging, drilling, and blasting away all that sustains us on the surface (soil, vegetation, forests) to get at natural resources underground — have been moved out of the department that should be dedicated to conservation of resources and wildlife.

What is needed now is for the departments of Environment and of Lands and Forestry to be given both the clout and resources to keep the newly strengthened and energized Department of Energy and Mines — and potentially harmful extractive industries — in check.

Although she doesn’t seem to have entirely convinced herself:

Don’t hold your breath.

You should read the whole piece, there’s much more in it than I can excerpt here.

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The Morning File can be accessed free of charge, but you could have access to the entire Examiner along with the Cape Breton Spectator with a joint subscription for the price of a really large cup of coffee (with like, three shots of espresso and Jack Daniel’s instead of cream) —  just $15 a month!

[We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming…]


Arctic promises

Call me a hopeless skeptic, but I never accept, unquestioningly, a businessperson’s assertion there are “too many regulations” governing their particular industry.

It’s not that industries cannot be subject to over-regulation — they can be and sometimes are — it’s that a businessperson with everything to gain from ripping up those regulations is perhaps not best positioned to critique them.

Which brings me to One Ocean Expeditions (OOE) owner Andrew Prossin’s declaration to the Cape Breton Post this week that there are “far too many regulations” governing his own particular industry, that of “expedition” cruises.

Prossin has been dangling the possibility of basing his Arctic and Antarctic tours out of Sydney since Port Days last year. He’s so excited about it, he announced it in May (at Port Days) and then again in July, at a special press conference on the government wharf in Sydney.

L-R Royal Canadian Geographic Society CEO John Geiger, CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke, One Ocean Expeditions (OOE) founder Andrew Prossin at Port of Sydney marine terminal, 31 July 2017 (Photo courtesy OOE)

At that time, Prossin told the Post OOE needed “a little bit of change in some of the regulations to make it easier to do business in a place like Sydney.” Mostly, though, what he seemed to want was the reopening of federal offices in Sydney to make it easier for him to comply with those regulations:

“I’ll be honest, the deck is a bit stacked, the rules sort of give us an incentive to do more in places like Halifax because offices have been moved to Halifax and different departments in the government, Transport Canada, Canada Customs, et cetera, et cetera.

“We’d like to see a bit more redevelopment or reopening of some of these offices in Sydney so that we can more freely operate in a place like this and get all of our regulatory requirements done here.”

The regulatory changes that are needed are mostly at the federal level, he said.

A year later (and with construction on the second cruise ship berth that is also key to his relocating to Sydney yet to begin), Prossin seems to have become more worked up about the regulations, telling the Post:

“There are far too many regulations holding us back, holding this industry back…

…Sydney could be the perfect Arctic port, but in Canada we need 56 different permits to operate, while in Norway, for example, we only need three permits.”

Again, I don’t know that we should just accept one businessman’s take on the comparative Arctic expedition regimes of two countries (and I find it hard to believe Norway is any less protective of its Arctic waters than we are). Prossin seems to be arguing for self-regulation in the expedition industry, which doesn’t sound like a good idea to me, despite the assurances he offered the Post:

Prossin said while fewer permits and less bureaucracy would be beneficial to the expedition cruise industry, he vowed it would not mean any less attention paid to ship maintenance or health and safety issues.

In return for backing his calls for a loosening of regulations, what would Cape Breton get? Well, again, we have only Prossin’s own estimates to go by. He told the Post he spent “more than six million American dollars in Nova Scotia” last year so, “imagine if I could bring all my ships here and do it more freely and spent $30-40 million.”

By “here” it’s not clear whether he means Sydney in particular or Nova Scotia in general, and either way, “imagine” may be the operative word: the entire existing cruise industry is estimated to have been worth $40 million to Cape Breton in 2017 (and that number, I would argue, is exaggerated). Could having OOE operating out of Sydney really double that?

And would supplying his ships with “food, booze and enough fuel to go to the Arctic and back” really create, as Prossin told the Post, “hundreds” of local jobs?

Certainly, I don’t see OOE employing many locals directly: the ship that docked in Sydney this week as part of a Fiddles and Sticks golf cruise carried a crew of 40 Russians and a 25-member OOE staff described as “international.” (Prossin is not even employing a local fiddler!)

The skeptic in me (which I sometimes think is just me) thinks we should do our due diligence on the money and jobs before we start lobbying the feds to loosen up Arctic expedition regulations.


Meeting (not greeting)

Cecil Clarke will be squeezing a little mayor-ing into a month that, so far, has been pretty much dedicated to campaigning for the provincial PC party leadership.

The CBRM regional council will hold its regular monthly meeting at an irregular time — 9:30 AM — on an irregular day — the second Tuesday of the month or July 10.

CBRM Civic Centre

The regular meeting will follow a 9:00 AM in camera meeting “per Section 22(2)(d)&(e) of the Municipal Government Act” — labor relations and contract negotiations.

The agenda for the regular meeting includes this intriguing item: Port of Sydney Development Corporation – Strategic Plan and Risk Assessment. The strategic plan is supposed to be attached to the agenda but hasn’t been posted yet.

Remember, if you can’t attend the meeting, you can always watch the livestream at your desk. Tell your boss it’s your civic duty.


Where’s Cecil?

Don’t think I’m not still keeping an eye on our wandering mayor.

As you will recall, CBRM Mayor Cecil declared his candidacy for the PC leadership on February 3. Tories will choose their new leader at the very end of October. So Clarke — who is paid $109,754 a year as our municipality’s only “full-time” elected official — intends to spend roughly eight months doing double duty as a mayor/PC leadership candidate.

Here’s what candidate Clarke has been up to since our last episode:

Breakfast special

This morning (Friday) found Clarke, as promised, breakfasting in Clyde River and apparently he’s now “off to Yarmouth,” which means he is pretty much as far away from the CBRM as he can get, geographically speaking, without actually leaving the province.


Clarke’s BBQ

Clarke has scheduled a campaign barbecue “at a summer cottage” in Tracadie for July 8.

The invitation to enjoy “delicious BBQ and friendly conversation” makes me wonder if the backup plan, should he fail to win the PC leadership, is to open a chain of Nova Scotian BBQ restaurants?

Clarke’s: Bold, conservative BBQ.


If it worked for Doug Ford…

Clarke has come out as anti-carbon tax, threatening to take the federal government to court to stop it:

I am not going to wade into the carbon tax issue right now — I haven’t researched it enough to say anything of value and, unlike the mayor, I don’t think reading a Financial Post op-ed based on projections from a University of Calgary professor constitutes “research.”

Especially when you read the fine print at the bottom of the piece (which Clarke apparently didn’t):

This article has been updated. The $50-per-tonne carbon-price model used by Winter that is referenced in this article was prepared prior to the details of the tax proposals from the Trudeau Liberal government being revealed. The original version of this op-ed was worded in a way that could leave the impression that Winter’s calculations were based on the specific carbon-tax proposals that were subsequently put forward by the Liberal government.


Here’s the updated calendar, I’ve added the Tracadie BBQ, the trip to Yarmouth and the  “Pride Meet & Greet” scheduled for Halifax on July 19.