Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

Spin Class

I like following the CBC’s Jean Laroche on Twitter precisely for moments like these, where he captures something about the way our political system works that you don’t get to see unless you happen to hang out in the halls of the Nova Scotia House of Assembly:

To be clear: it’s not that Geoff MacLellan has four communications people monitoring the message he’s delivering. No, he only has two people doing that — one an employee of the provincial government and the other an employee of the Liberal caucus.

The other two communications people are with the NDP and Tory caucuses and are obviously not there to help MacLellan.

But from a reporter’s perspective, Laroche is right — instead of having four reporters trying to get answers to questions on behalf of the public and one communications person aiding the minister, we have the through-the-looking-glass version with one reporter and four communications people, each busily putting her own spin on things.

In fact, that 4:1 ratio of PR people to journalists is almost precisely the overall national ratio, as reported by Ira Basen in J-Source in 2014.

(Basen was using 2011 Census figures. I tried to update with 2016 numbers, but where he was able to compare journalists to people who identified as being in “public relations and communications,” I could only compare journalists to people who identified as being in “advertising, marketing and public relations.” Those numbers are terrifying — 12,050 journalists versus 95,365 professional advertisers, marketers and PR people. A ratio of 8:1!)

There is clearly something wrong with this picture.


Right to Know

Me, during Right to Know Week in Nova Scotia.

Me, during Right to Know Week in Nova Scotia.

When it comes to our provincial government and communications, I am amazed at the sheer volume of bumpf produced each day. I’m waiting for the morning it runs out and I find myself reading press releases about the premier’s grocery list or Randy Delorey’s Netflix picks.

Here, for example, is the summary of press releases that were sent out yesterday:

DAILY SUMMARY–Releases for September 27, 2018:


7:22–Cabinet Meeting, Thursday, Sept. 27

8:02–First Update to Budget 2018-19

8:56–Standing Committee on Human Resources

8:59–Official Opening of Multi-use Trail Bridge near Digby

9:02–Woodland Owner of the Year Public Field Day

9:23–Annual Report Released

9:26–Publication du rapport annuel

10:41–Budget Update Shows Surplus Growth

10:56–Auditor General’s October 2018 Report to House on Financial Audit Work

11:33–House Hours, Thursday, Sept. 27

11:45–Members Appointed to Provincial Advisory Council on Education

11:48–Nomination des membres du Comité consultatif provincial de l’éducation

12:00–FOIPOP Annual Report Released

12:02–House Hours, Thursday, Sept. 27

12:53–Province Reviewing School Bus Policy

12:55–La Province examine sa politique sur le transport scolaire

13:15–Amendments to Securities Act Creates Consistency Among Provinces

15:45–Provincial Population Hits Record High

I could fill the Spectator to overflowing each week if I just printed all the “news” handily provided me by the provincial government.

I can’t even begin to imagine how much time and human effort must go into writing (and rewriting and tweaking) these government press releases day after day after day.

This, I think, is what the government celebrates during Right to Know Week – your right to know what it wants to tell you.

It certainly can’t be celebrating its own record on access to information because that record is hardly worth celebrating. (In fact, after reading this critique by Tim Bousquet, I think the only appropriate way to mark Right to Know week in Nova Scotia is by donning full, black, 19th century widow’s weeds and taking to your chaise longue for seven days.)

I have no idea how this situation is going to improve, as all political parties want better access to information while they’re in opposition and no party wants it once in power. Maybe we need “pop-up” political parties that form just long enough to accomplish a specific goal then fold their tents and steal away.

I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for reform, though; I’m going to do something more constructive. I’m going chaise longue shopping.


Ground game

Speaking of communications people…

Christina Lamey, CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke’s former “political” spokesperson, now interim head of cruise marketing and development at the Port of Sydney, was on the CBC this morning celebrating the Port’s “almost” record cruise day.

Four ships were scheduled to call, which would have been a record, but one canceled.

Cue the band!

Tour buses lined up to take cruise passengers on shore excursions. Source: Commissionaires website

Tour buses lined up on the wharf in Sydney to take cruise passengers on shore excursions. (Source: Commissionaires website)

Lamey took the opportunity to extol the marvel that will be the second cruise ship berth – it will allow us to provide docking space for two massive cruise ships, carrying “upwards of 5,000 passengers” each. Our downtown will be swarming with visitors, apparently, and as for our provincial and national parks, well…I don’t actually know, because Lamey wasn’t asked if the Port has solved the problem of ground transport for all these thousands of projected additional visitors.

There’s already a shortage of buses – not just in Cape Breton but across the Maritimes – during peak cruise season in September/October.

Back in 2016, I spoke to then cruise manager Bernadette MacNeil about the problem and she told me there was a “proposal” being mooted to launch:

…a “not-for-profit” bus company — basically a “bus bank” — that tour operators throughout the Maritimes could tap into once local bus reserves had been exhausted. MacNeil insists the cruise lines would pay for these buses, but given that cruise lines don’t like paying for anything, I’m wary. Moreover, moving buses between Halifax and Sydney and Charlottetown and St. John would not be cheap or particularly convenient. Moreover moreover, the cruise industry is not generating enough local business to prompt any private sector operator to launch such a business — what does that tell you?

Maybe that’s the bright side to the delays that have plagued the second berth tender – the Port will have more time to solve the ground transport problem.


(School) Ties that Bind

During my research for my Whalley Trial series, I had occasion to read the summary of MacKinnon v Acadia University, a constructive dismissal case from 2009.

One line jumped out at me and although it wasn’t really relevant to the discussion of constructive dismissal it stuck with me nonetheless – the way, apparently, the former president of Acadia University (Dr. Kelvin K. Ogilvie) wanted the university to stick with it graduates:

Ms. Cook MacKinnon’s  position and responsibilities had been established by [President Ogilvie] to fulfill a vision he had, fully endorsed by Ms. Cook MacKinnon, that the University should not simply be a short-term academic experience but that Acadia should be part of the student lives “from the cradle to the grave.”

Sleeping Beauty from Dean’s A Book of Fairy Tales illustrated by Janet and Anne Grahame Johnstone.

“Sleeping Beauty” from Dean’s A Book of Fairy Tales illustrated by Janet and Anne Grahame Johnstone.

Is it just me, or is that concept kind of creepy? I picture recruitment officers from Nova Scotian universities gathered around some poor baby’s cradle like the fairies in Sleeping Beauty. And alumni being waked in the university dining hall before being laid to rest under the football field.

There is such a thing as too much school spirit.


Company Houses

Okay, so consider these two facts and tell me whether or not you think they’re related:

1. Kameron Collieries is building a subdivision in Coxheath for its managers. (Credit where credit is due: this was a great scoop by the Post’s Sharon Montgomery-Dupe.)

2. Kameron Collieries has decided not to fight federal sanctions for abusing the foreign temporary workers program. (Kudos to Tom Ayers and the CBC which has been on this story for months.)

Coal company houses, Sydney Mines. (Item 80-842-5022 - Beaton Institute)

NOT the houses Kameron Collieries is building for its managers in Coxheath. (Coal company houses, Sydney Mines. Item 80-842-5022, Beaton Institute)

As Ayers reported:

According to court documents, Kameron Coal was paying some U.S. employees more than double the wages initially offered to Canadians.

The federal investigation found that a labour market survey done by Kameron Coal listed at least two jobs at $32 to $35 an hour, but U.S. workers were being paid $77 an hour.

Several American workers were also paid overtime far in excess of the posted rates, and were given cash signing, housing and retention bonuses, as well as paid pensions and health benefits.

Initially, the feds hit the Donkin Mine owners with a $230,000 administrative penalty and a 10-year ban on using temporary foreign workers but that was reduced last year to a $54,000 fine, a one-year ban and a listing on the government’s violators website.

Montgomery-Dupe couldn’t get Donkin VP Shannon Campbell to open up about the subdivision, but it seems to me pretty clear the company wouldn’t have to build houses for people who already lived here. So are these houses being built for the temporary foreign workers it will be free to hire again in a year’s time? Is providing them houses an acceptable alternative to providing them cash housing bonuses?

Enquiring minds want to know…




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