Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

Derek Mombourquette and Mark Eyking, south-end Sydney, 1 October 2018 (Source: Facebook)

Derek Mombourquette and Mark Eyking, south-end Sydney, 1 October 2018 (Source: Facebook)

But seriously, where’s Cecil?

Did it strike anyone else odd that the mayor wasn’t at that flood prevention press conference on Monday?

Sydney-Whitney Pier MLA (and Energy Minister) Derek Mombourquette and Sydney-Victoria MP Mark Eyking both thought $2.5 million in additional federal disaster funding was worth coming to town and standing side-by-side on the flood plain to announce, but Mayor Clarke — who had told the CBC back in June the CBRM would be working with the province to secure such funding — was nowhere to be seen.

Clarke didn’t even mention the funding on his social media feeds, although, in his defense, he hasn’t mentioned anything on his @MayorCBRM feed since August 10.

In fact, the CBC account of the press conference mentioned only one municipal politician as being in attendance — District 4 Councilor Steve Gillespie — which also seems odd.

I’d put this in my “Things that make you go ‘Hmmm'” file but that one is full-to-bursting so I guess I’ll just toss it in under, “Clarke, Cecil: Where is he?”


Reith Lectures

Margaret MacMillan (Source: YouTube

Margaret MacMillan (Source: YouTube)

I have to thank Spectator contributor Sean Howard for turning me on to this year’s BBC Reith Lectures, which were delivered by the historian Margaret MacMillan (I wrote “Canadian historian” but thought better of it, given Sean’s dislike of unnecessary nationalism and MacMillan’s longtime residence in the UK. Also, “Canadian historian” implies she focuses on Canadian history, which she does not.)

The Reith Lectures, I have just learned, were inaugurated in 1948 by the BBC to “mark the historic contribution made to public service broadcasting by Sir John (later Lord) Reith, the corporation’s first Director-General.”

The very first Reith lecture was delivered by Bertrand Russell who spoke on “Authority and the Individual” and, ladies, you will be pleased to hear it took only THIRTEEN YEARS before a woman was invited to deliver the lectures. (She was Dame Margery Perham and in 1961 she discussed the end of colonial rule in Africa, a subject that might have been better left to somebody from Africa, but you have to take your advances where you find them, I guess.)

I love Margaret MacMillan’s work, so was delighted to find this series of five lectures in which she explores the concept of war: is it an essential part of being human? How do we feel about those who fight? What is the role of the civilian? How do we attempt to justify and constrain conflict? And how do we represent it in art? I listened to the first two, then exercised unheard of self-restraint in saving the others for my trip to Halifax this weekend. (If all is going well, Professor MacMillan and I are on the road as you read this.)

There’s an archive going back to 1948 and all the lectures are available as podcasts (which is why I am able to take them with me.)

I will file this one under, “Thank you, Sean Howard,” (another quite full folder).



I’ve told you before that my sister hosts Quebec AM, the CBC morning show serving anglophones outside Montreal, and that I like to start the day by listening to the press review she does with Mike Finnerty, the host of the Montreal morning show.

I missed it these past couple of months because I could not listen online due to my summertime data constraints. (I use my phone as a WIFI hotspot and become a dreadful data miser, begrudging every fraction of a byte I’m forced to use. When I get back to my regular broadband connection in the fall, I’m like a kid in a candy shop, downloading stuff I don’t even need just because I can. I currently have eight copies of the CBRM Solid Waste Curbside Collection Schedule and four copies of the transit schedule for the Sydney-Glace Bay bus on my phone. Good times, good times.)

This has been a very long-winded and roundabout way of introducing the subject of this item, which is a tweet my sister shared the morning after the Quebec election:

The casually dressed people being followed by the press are newly minted Québec Solidaire (QS) MNAs Catherine Dorion and Sol Zanetti. The party is leftist, progressive and (sadly, from my perspective) separatist and it won 10 seats in Monday’s election.

The QS platform included free education, more public transit and free dental care which, according to some interesting data crunching done by the CBC, made it popular with the young and precariously employed.

Of course, the success of the QS was just one of the surprises the Québec electorate sprang on us Monday night — and not even the biggest one, compared to the rise of the right-of-center Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ), the heavy losses of the Liberals and the implosion of the Parti Québécois — but there’s something about this picture that speaks to me. I think it’s just seeing pols who look like the people they represent. I’ve always found suits to be highly over-rated. Vive la tuque!


Looks like we need to PPP

As I’m writing, the Nova Scotia government is announcing it will partner with a private company and spend $2 billion to replace three aging buildings in the Queen Elizabeth II hospital complex in Halifax.

NDP leader Gary Burrill and Nova Scotia Federation of Labour President Danny Cavanagh lost no time in raining on the premier’s private-public partnership parade. Burrill issued a statement that said:

Here in Nova Scotia, the Liberal government just had to spend $228 million to buy 39 schools that had been built as P3s. That money went to a handful of private companies instead of creating valuable public infrastructure.

Cavanagh followed up with a statement that said:

What I am not pleased with is that the McNeil Government intends to pay for this using the public private partnership (P3) model. This is the same scheme that cost Nova Scotia taxpayers upwards of a billion dollars for 39 P3 schools and the same funding model behind the Oxford School which had to close before school even started this year as it was deemed unsafe.

That P3 public school program was the subject of numerous, unflattering Auditor General’s reports over the years (and one in-depth Spectator article). The AG was particularly critical of the lack of government oversight of the P3 contracts which, as Ryan Holeywell wrote a 2013 Governing article, can be tricky:

With a P3, the design, financing, construction, operations and maintenance of a project can be rolled into one transaction. The deals are therefore incredibly complex.

I had a quick look for further information on P3 hospitals, specifically, and the first two links I turned up were almost comical in their polarity. The first was a 2011 report by the Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships called Breaking New Ground: P3 Hospitals in Canada which found that:

  • Canadian provincial infrastructure agencies and hospitals are impressed with the successes of their hospital P3s because they have secured significant benefits, including significant value for money; on-time, on-budget delivery; innovation; and long-term cost certainty.

The second was an article on the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) site entitled: “Five times provincial governments failed with P3 hospitals: A warning for taxpayers in Newfoundland and Labrador.” (Newfoundland and Labrador didn’t heed the warning; the Ball government announced in 2017 it would use the P3 model to build three new healthcare facilities.)

I’m just going to pick one of CUPE’s case studies:

William Osler Hospital – Ontario

The William Osler Health Centre in Brampton, Ontario is another example of a P3 gone wrong. In 2008, the Ontario Auditor General found that the building of the P3 facility in cost $194 million more (in 2003 dollars) than it would have as a public hospital. Local fundraising in Brampton had to increase to more than $230 million from an original $100 million in order to try to cover the difference. In the words of Globe and Mail columnist Andre Picard “taxpayers got screwed”.

I wasn’t sure what subject I would focus on for next week’s issue, but I’ve just decided: P3 hospitals.

Thank you, government of Nova Scotia!




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