Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

Poll vaunting

Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell in the BBC adaptation of Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall. (Source BBC Two

Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell in the BBC adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall. (Source: BBC Two)

There’s been a lot of hand-wringing this past week or so over that New Dawn Enterprises-commissioned poll asking, among other things, about possible successors to Cecil Clarke as CBRM mayor.

I saw one impassioned critique that insisted the big problem with the whole thing was that Cecil Clarke’s name was not included among the potential candidates even though a) the poll question was obviously prompted by the possibility that Clarke will win the provincial PC leadership in October and cease being CBRM mayor; and b) even if he loses, he is on record stating he will not seek a third term as mayor (it was pretty much the first thing he said after being elected in 2016).

Personally, I have come to think of New Dawn as a kind of government in exile. (Truth be told, my mental image of life both in the New Dawn Centre for Innovation and the CBRM Civic Centre owes far too much to the BBC adaptation of Wolf Hall, for some reason it’s all velvet hats and palace intrigue).

But think about it:  New Dawn has a leader, Rankin MacSween, who actually ran for mayor twice, so automatically becomes a sort of shadow mayor. It concerns itself with economic development, as does the actual CBRM administration, but where the real mayor has focused entirely on the port, New Dawn has looked to tech, and the creative economy and immigration. It vies for provincial and federal funding. It provides services (like meals on wheels and home care) to CBRM citizens. It has its headquarters in the North End of Sydney. It even employs a CBRM admin exile in the form of ex-economic development manager John Whalley.

I find the whole situation fascinating — and not without its benefits, although there’s always the possibility the best interests of the community (which both organizations are, ostensibly, looking out for) will become the victim rather than the beneficiary of their rivalry.

As for the poll, I thought it was an uncharacteristically dumb thing for New Dawn to do and I have to agree with critics who say it was a questionable use of public money (although in doing so I will not invoke the phrase “social justice warriors” because c’mon, man).

But when those same critics — like the author of this Cape Breton Post editorial — fail to note that running for the provincial PC leadership while drawing down over $100,000 as a “full-time” mayor also constitutes a questionable use of public money, I find myself hopping up and down and wagging my finger at the op-ed page (which does not respond).

Here is the only reference said editorial made to CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke’s eight-month run at the PC leadership:

CBRM has a mayor and in his spare time, presumably, Cecil Clarke is running for the Progressive Conservative leadership.

Say whaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?

“In his spare time?” Would that I had such spare time! Clarke is in Halifax getting ready to meet voters and down “Italian tapas” (preceded, presumably, by “Spanish antipasto”) even as you read this. (Just because his hosts spelled his name wrong — “Clark” — doesn’t make them any less excited to see him.) I know better than most how much “spare time” he has because I’ve been tracking his campaign since February and recording the events in my “Where’s Cecil?” calendar. (And remember, these are just the events I’ve found out about — who knows how much time Clarke has spent making phone calls, sending emails, consulting with advisers, critiquing John Lohr’s sartorial choices, since announcing his candidacy in February?)

But the Post clearly has no problem with this.

And until it does, I don’t think I can take it seriously on the issue of questionable expenditures of public money.


From landlubber to landlord?

Ben Eoin Marina

Ben Eoin Marina

Guys, let’s pitch in and buy the land under the Ben Eoin Marina!

Public Works and Government Services Canada has put the property on the block as part of its ongoing sell-off of all former Enterprise Cape Breton Corporation (ECBC) properties.

ECBC bought the land in 2011 to “protect” its $4 million investment in what is basically a private clubhouse. The entire project was valued at $4.8 million, the “0.8 million” being the land, which was the marina proponents’ only contribution to the deal, and was valued at $800,000.

Public works says it won’t necessarily sell to the highest bidder — or at all — but I figure we should offer a Price-is-Right style $800,001 and see what happens.

And if you think I’m proposing buying those seven hectares of “prime waterfront property” just to stop the proponents of the Ben Eoin Marina from buying them, you are one sharp cookie. Wait, let me make that more nautical: you are one sharp piece of hardtack.

If you’re wondering why that deal still rankles, maybe it’s time to refresh your memory on the details.

For instance, how the land in question — which was the marina group’s contribution to the project — came to be valued at $800,000. As I wrote in November 2016:

The land for the marina (and golf course) was purchased by The Cape Breton Ski Club in 1999 with financial assistance (in the form of two, $300,000 forgivable loans) from ECBC and the Province of Nova Scotia. (The golf course was not actually built until 2007.)

In the 2009 Cape Breton Marina Study (which was actually the 2009 “Bras d’Or Lakes Marina Study” or the “Don’t Tell Ingonish We’re Funding Marinas Again Study”), the Ben Eoin Marina board was said to be valuing the land it would contribute to the marina at $600,000 (although for tax purposes it was assessed at just over $300,000).

Mackey Appraisals Ltd. did the valuation in 2010 and started things off with a few lines about the economic situation in Cape Breton:

Locally, there is much discussion on offshore oil and gas exploration. Sydney has a geographical advantage over other ports in this industry due to its close proximity to the potential oil fields and its three, good quality docking facilities. There is much optimism that the entire industrial area will benefit from the potentially large oil fields located off the Coast of Cape Breton Island.

Add to this the assertion that waterfront properties along Route 4 sell “very quickly” and “often above the asking price;” that Sydney’s downtown core is “is still considered to be the hub of business activity for Cape Breton;” and the not quite baseless but surely useless assertion that the Ben Eoin ski hill has become “a major winter employer in the area” (in much the same way I am the tallest woman in my living room) and you get the flavor of the report.

Of course, winning means honoring the marina’s 50-year lease on the property, and that $1 a year they pay is not going to allow any of us to retire any time soon, but ownership has to have some privileges, right? I mean, we could do landlord stuff, like insist on regular inspections of the property.

(Maybe we could even do Czech-landlord-circa-1996 stuff, like making long distance calls on their land line, doing our wash in their washing machine and moving in and wearing their clothes. All of which happened to people I knew in the Czech Republic in 1996, a time when landlords were still coming to grips with the rights and privileges of the paying tenant.)

If this all proves to be a pipe dream — if, say, the proponents of the Ben Eoin Marina end up buying the land under it — then I’d at least like to get answers to a few outstanding questions surrounding the deal, like why in 2011 it made sense for the federal government, in the form of ECBC, to buy the land to “protect its investment,” but seven years later that’s no longer an issue? Seven years in, that $4 million investment is apparently as safe as a house.

Then there’s the even bigger question: why did that investment ever happen at all?

And the biggest question of all: what happened to the Royal Cape Breton Yacht Club? (Sorry, I couldn’t resist. To me, summers are synonymous with mysteries and that’s a mystery I would love to get to the bottom of.)


Forging ahead

Although I’ve been working since the late ’90s in what is still sometimes called “new media” (the way the Mayflower was the “new mall” for its first 20 years of operation), there are still some quaint old journalism customs I try to honor, like, ‘Spell names correctly,’ and ‘Don’t make things up.’

One such custom I particularly cling to is, ‘Don’t write an update story unless you have new information to offer.’ It’s one the Post cast by the wayside on Wednesday, in a story bearing the headline, “Forging ahead on the Sydney waterfront.” (For the record, the same story appeared on Thursday in the print edition of the Chronicle Herald under a headline that implied not even the faintest hint of progress: “Development proposed for Sydney waterfront.“)

There is only one piece of information in this article about businessman Martin Chernin of Harbour Royale Development Ltd’s plans for the Sydney waterfront (from the marine terminal to the Civic Centre) that I didn’t already know, and that’s the name of the company that owns the Holiday Inn in Sydney — the Westmount Hotel Group.

I didn’t know it because that’s not the name of the company that owns the Holiday Inn in Sydney. That company is the WestMONT HOSPITALITY Group (WHG) and its name is not some sort of closely guarded secret — it’s written clearly on the company web site, so it’s hard to figure why a supposed “partner” like Chernin’s Harbour Royale Development and the local daily would both get it wrong, but they got it wrong.

The story offers no indication of the extent of WHG’s involvement in Chernin’s scheme — there’s no quote from anyone at WHG indicating it is considering a 96-room expansion in Sydney — but perhaps that’s because the Post reporter couldn’t find contact information for the Westmount Hotel Group’s communications department BECAUSE THERE IS NO WESTMOUNT HOTEL GROUP.

And WHG is not the only dubious “partner” in this enterprise — Casino Nova Scotia, which would move its Sydney operation from Centre 200 to the waterfront if Harbour Royale’s scheme came to fruition, does not sound like a particularly enthusiastic participant at this stage:

“We haven’t been really actively working with them to develop or partner or have them propose something and have us assess it,” [Casino Nova Scotia Sydney’s operations manager Sean] Coyle said in an interview with the Post last week.

Neeta Kumar-Britten of the library committee, on the other hand, is very keen on the waterfront development project. In a way, I understand this — the committee has been working for so long, without success, to secure funding for a new library, this probably looks like its best option.

But Chernin’s development “includes” a new central library the same way your visit to the Cape Breton Highlands National Park “includes” lunch — i.e. if you bring one. The library will basically be a public building (as it should be) in the middle of a private development. Chernin and co. are not offering to help build it — just to advise the committee on its ongoing attempts to secure government funding for it. (So very kind of them, given the value a new library would add to their own project. Not to mention that one of Harbour Royale’s actual partners — Trifos Design Consultants — will probably end up designing any new library because Trifos ends up designing pretty much everything in Sydney.)

The Post story also states that Harbour Royale is now working with  Stantec and CBCL on the project, which I guess constitutes “news,” except that Stantec and CBCL consult and study and engineer pretty much everything on the island.

But the Post has been spilling buckets of ink over Chernin’s imaginary waterfront developments for years, so why stop now? If you write about it long and hard enough, perhaps you can make it so.


Chase the Ace

Like I’m going there.

If only mainstream media gave half the attention to child poverty it does to familial lottery prize conflicts.




Independent Media Roundup

My summer publishing schedule has left me time to read things written by people other than myself and I am loving it.

Here are a few items for your morning-coffee-on-the-deck reading:

Jennifer Henderson‘s update on the Ocean Supercluster for the Halifax Examiner. I have to admit, I don’t really understand how an Ocean Supercluster works but as it turns out, neither do the people running it! (Paywalled but you can access it if you have a joint Cape Breton Spectator/Halifax Examiner subscription!)

Maggie Rahr‘s “A Prison Pregnancy,” in The Deep, the online, Atlantic Canadian, long-form journalism site. Not an easy read but a valuable one. (You can access a certain number of articles free of charge each month, but a one-year subscription costs only $30 and supports some really great journalism.)

Erica Butler on the dreaded “red-hand-on-green-light” phenomenon experienced by many HRM pedestrians at traffic lights. (It’s behind a paywall in the Halifax Examiner but…you know the spiel.) I must confess, I had no idea how traffic lights worked for pedestrians or motorists and I’m curious now to find out if the CBRM’s lights operate in a similar manner.

Alex Kronstein on the similarities between gay-conversion therapy and applied behavior analysis (ABA), a technique Kronstein explains is used to help autistic children “pass” as “non-autistic.” I find Kronstein’s writing really interesting and this particular article seems to be creating some buzz. The piece appears in The Nova Scotia Advocate, which is accessible free of charge, but financial support is appreciated and helps publisher Robert Devet pay his contributors.







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