There’s Cecil

CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke

Mayor Cecil Clarke

Well, that’s all she wrote, folks.

CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke’s pursuit of the provincial Progressive Conservative Party leadership ended after the first ballot on Saturday, when rival Tim Houston came within 54 points of winning and Clarke bowed out.

It was an abrupt ending to a campaign that seemed like it would go on forever — in Clarke’s case, one that had begun officially back in February (but that obviously was in the works from the moment Jamie Baillie announced he was resigning in November 2017).

I wasn’t sure how to mark this momentous occasion, but then the CBC’s Information Morning Cape Breton aired a 10-minute, post-convention interview with Clarke on Monday and I had my answer: I’m going to play ‘Okay, stop’ with the interview, which has been posted on the CBC website.

All right, roll tape:


[CBC Information Morning Cape Breton host ]Steve Sutherland:

So, what was going through your mind yesterday?

[CBRM Mayor] Cecil Clarke:

Oh, look, uh…council agenda, different stakeholder meetings, getting ready for the budget coming up for next year, we have our district consultations to come so, just back-to-the-desk stuff.

Okay, stop.

Seriously? Clarke spent at least eight months pursuing the leadership of the provincial Progressive Conservative Party and the day after his leadership hopes were dashed, we’re to believe he had nothing on his mind but CBRM budget meetings?

The problem here is that by leaving the mayor’s desk to run for the PC leadership, Clarke made it abundantly clear the CBRM was not his first priority. Walking that back is not going to be easy (which I suppose is why he started trying to do so right off the bat).

Cecil Clarke on Friday before the festivities began at the PC Leadership Convention. (Source: Facebook)

Cecil Clarke on Friday before the festivities began at the PC Leadership Convention. (Source: Facebook)


Roll tape:

Sutherland: Yeah, thoughts on the campaign?

Clarke: Oh, you know, people send notes and they’ve been so kind so, you know, I’m heading home head held high and no regrets whatsoever. I think we’ve brought Nova Scotia forward in terms of issues of the day that have been affecting not only the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, but all Nova Scotia municipalities, and it’s been a great learning opportunity for me, personally, and it’s something that will carry forward in that strength in my work as mayor. It’s renewed my commitment and belief in the things we can get done. But it also means you’ve got to add a voice to those things that need the advocacy and I’ll be out there doing that. Next month is the annual meeting for the Nova Scotia Federation of Municipalities, which I was very pleased to be president of, and we’ve got to make sure that the issues that are affecting our municipalities are dealt with in a constructive way, and if that means being a stronger voice to do it, I now have a better background to do just that.

Okay, stop.

Clarke seems to be casting his pursuit of the PC leadership as some sort of work-sponsored, eight-month, skills development course, conveniently ignoring the fact that if things had gone his way, he wouldn’t just have new skills, he’d have a new job. Trying to spin a failed eight-month leadership campaign as a win/win for himself and the municipality he was ready to abandon is a bit rich.

Also, he was, indeed, president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Municipalities in 2016-17, during which time you’d think he would have learned more than he’d ever wanted to know about the issues facing Nova Scotian municipalities, but maybe it’s just more compelling coming from Tories who might vote for you.


Roll tape:

Sutherland: What do you see as your role in the Progressive Conservative Party now, going forward?

Clarke: As it always was. A member of the party, I’ve always been I grew up in the Progressive Conservative Party and the Conservative Party of Canada.

Okay, stop.

Given that Clarke was born in 1968 and the “Conservative Party of Canada” was formed in 2003 when the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada united with the Canadian Alliance, it’s clear Clarke did not “grow up” in the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC).

You might find this a nit-picky reason for stopping the tape, but indulge me: there is a distinction to be drawn between the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada, which Clarke actually did grow up in, and for which he ran (unsuccessfully) in Sydney-Victoria in 1997, and the Conservative Party of Canada for which he ran (unsuccessfully) in the same riding in 2011.

Nova Scotia Progressive Conservatives themselves, arguably, have drawn that distinction by retaining the word “Progressive” in their name. And when you look at federal election results in Nova Scotia over Clarke’s lifetime, you can see why: the Progress Conservatives enjoyed greater political success in Nova Scotia than the CPC ever did.

In fact, in 1968, the year Clarke was born, the Tories swept Atlantic Canada under Robert Stanfield, winning 10 of 11 seats in Nova Scotia even as Pierre Trudeau’s Liberals won a majority government. The Tories retained those 10 NS seats in the ’72 elections under Stanfield and won eight seats under his leadership in ’74. The only other national leader to do anywhere near as well was Brian Mulroney, whose PCs carried nine out of 11 NS seats in 1984.

By comparison, the CPC under Stephen Harper peaked at  four out of 11 NS seats in 2011.

Okay, history lesson over.


Roll tape:

Great to be here with former Port Hawkesbury mayor Billy Joe MacLean - a proud member of our team. Thanks for joining us today! #NSPCLDR

“Great to be here with former Port Hawkesbury mayor Billy Joe MacLean – a proud member of our team. Thanks for joining us today! #NSPCLDR” (Source: Facebook)

Clarke: It is something I’ve always been true to, I’ve always said to people, ‘I’m there for all parties, but I have a membership in only one.’ And I’ve been always never hid [sic] from that and I believe that makes things stronger and I’ve worked with anyone of any political stripe but I believe having your, your political beliefs and convictions, strength in where you’re at, it allows you to have a front-door policy of where you’re coming from and straight up on dealing with issues and I will commit to support my party as I always have. I’ve had great support from local MLAs, but I’ve also worked with any MLA in the interests of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality and I’ll continue to do so.

Okay, stop.

There are two provinces in Canada in which municipal candidates run under the banners of political parties — Nova Scotia is not one of them.

Certainly, there are arguments both pro and con civic parties, although it’s worth noting that civic parties in BC and Québec have no official ties to provincial or federal parties. (And in making the “pro” arguments I’ve linked to, Ottawa Citizen commentator Randall Denley specifically states that what his city needs “is not the kind of ideological parties we have at the federal and provincial levels, but two or three home-grown, citizen-run organizations that address our civic issues.”)`

Maybe we should revisit the rules surrounding the participation of political parties in our municipal elections. Maybe we should adopt the system used in BC or the one in Québec. Maybe it would be an improvement.

But for now, we have the system we have, and under the system we have, as Municipal Affairs spokesperson Krista Higdon told me in an email:

The Municipal Elections Act does not permit the participation of political parties in municipal elections in Nova Scotia. Municipal candidates run on an individual platform.

Except, apparently, CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke who insists he is our Conservative mayor (whether our Progressive Conservative or CPC mayor, I’m not sure) and has gone so far as to hire partisan, Tory “political staff” to assist him.


Roll tape:

Sutherland: I’m wondering, though, if given talk of unity during the campaign, talk of moving forward under a new leader, you see a more active role in the party than you had been playing before?

Clarke: Oh I walk the talk. I talked about unity in my campaign, and I made that decision that the party unity was more important than any electoral points on a system of weighted ballots and you can do all these numbers and popular vote versus points, the point of the moment was, the party was bigger than myself, I knew that, that’s my belief in the party, the PC Party of Nova Scotia. And I made a choice in the interests of my party and I will happily represent my party wherever I can.

Okay, stop.

Clarke, for obvious reasons, wants to portray his decision to drop out after the first ballot as selfless service to party, but Houston was a mere 54 points from winning outright in the first round, and the path to victory for Clarke would have been steep. He needed another 1,165.29 points, meaning, he would have had to take almost every single point captured by rivals John Lohr, Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin and Julie Chaisson.

As for the reference to the popular vote, when I heard it, I wondered if Clarke was trying to imply he’d won the popular vote and had only lost the leadership because of the cockamamie electoral system the PCs chose (that he played Hillary to Houston’s Trump, if you will.) Luckily (for us) the Tories decided to release the riding by riding results from the voting, so we know who won the popular vote — it was Houston, with 51% to Clarke’s 28%.

The CBC’s Jean Laroche tweeted the raw numbers on Tuesday, adding that they clearly explain why Houston won, his “support was wide and deep almost province-wide.” (Click to enlarge.)

Basically, Clarke’s decision to drop out looks like an effort to avoid losing outright (in which he succeeded) and an attempt to curry a little last-minute favor with the winning candidate (about which, more later).


Roll tape:

Clarke: I was happy to put my name on a ballot federally not once but twice. And I’ve also recognized that political loss is not failure. I’m a stronger person today, and Cape Breton’s better for it to have a voice out there as well, that’s at the provincial stage, talking about real issues affecting real, everyday Nova Scotians and we’re part of that within our municipality and I think the CBRM is going to be stronger for it, this political journey I’ve been on. But I’m not going away from anything and I’ll stand up and speak up for whatever issues that are necessary for the municipality and also as a Progressive Conservative.

Okay, stop.

Once again, Clarke is portraying his decision to pursue his personal, political goals — to embark on a “political journey” —  while remaining mayor of the CBRM as some sort of plus for the municipality. But is it?

Over the past eight months, our mayor has been firing insults at the sitting premier, the prime minister and the man who ultimately beat him in the PC leadership contest (and may be the next premier.)

Clarke had the deputy leader of the federal Conservatives (and Pier dear) Lisa Raitt introduce him at the convention as “Justin Trudeau’s worst nightmare.” That might be a plus in a Tory provincial premier, but does a municipality hoping to secure federal funding for, among other things, a badly needed new central library, really want the prime minister’s “worst nightmare” heading the charge?


Roll tape:

Sutherland: During the campaign you had pledged to run in the next provincial election, what’s your thinking on that?

Clarke: Oh listen, I’ve got so many people saying, ‘Stay as mayor! Stay as mayor!’ so, you know, today is a new day.

Okay, stop.

Who are these people and where were they when you first started thinking about ditching the mayor’s job to run for the PC leadership?

"Team Cecil is ready for a fun-filled night ahead. The excitement is felt by all - momentum is on our side!" (Source: Facebook)

“Team Cecil is ready for a fun-filled night ahead. The excitement is felt by all – momentum is on our side!” (Source: Facebook)

Roll tape:

Clarke: I’m going back and I’m doing my job as the mayor of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality. I’m going to do it with new energy and vigor. People are going to see that…as I say. We’ve got a budget to do, we have many needs that have to be represented, the government currently has made promises they have to step up for, we have a new campus to come downtown, we’ve got infrastructure we need, we need a new library, we’ve got streets that are decaying, we’ve got people worried about baseline services, so I’m going forward as mayor of the CBRM but as I say with new energy and drive and people are going to see it immediately and we’re going to move forward with our heads held high.

Okay, stop.

Analyzing those statements (in no particular order): the CBRM had all of those problems in February 2018 when Clarke, rather than offering solutions to them, added another one to the list — absentee mayor.

And is that a royal “we” he’s using?

And what about our international container port? Upon his return from his secret trip to China in December 2017, Clarke told the Post that:

[W]e will be welcoming a working group of both the Sydney Harbour Investment Partnership (the firm with exclusive marketing rights for the Port of Sydney) and their international partners, who will be coming in the early New Year to Sydney as part of the followup to that agreement and what it represents in terms of development of the container terminal.

Even if he meant early in the Chinese New Year (which fell on February 16 in 2018), we’re well past the time set for the big visit and momentous announcement — why aren’t we talking about the port anymore? Where in the world is Albert Barbusci?


Roll tape:

Sutherland: But, that being said, are you considering running provincially?

Clarke: As I say, my job right now is mayor of the CBRM, Steve.

Okay, stop.

Clarke’s job on 2 February 2018 was “mayor of the CBRM” but that didn’t stop him from announcing on 3 February 2018 that he was running for leader of the provincial PCs.

And when it suited him to say he would run in the next provincial elections even if he lost the leadership, he said it, as the CBC’s Jean Laroche reported in September, after noting that Julie Chaisson had vowed to run in the next provincial election:

It was the same promise from the other candidate without a seat in the Nova Scotia legislature, Cape Breton Regional Municipality Mayor Cecil Clarke.

“I’ve run eight times for the Progressive Conservatives and I will continue to do that,” said Clarke.

“I said I would run and I will run.”

How do you walk that back? By saying, “I said I would run and I will not?”


Source: @larochecbc

Source: @larochecbc

Roll tape:

Clarke:  And people are asking me, the message is coming, ‘Stay on as mayor, stay on as mayor.’

Okay, stop.

Again, who has been asking you this? Are they the same people who also supported your run for the PC leadership? Because if so, they are people who clearly do not know what they want.


Roll tape:

Clarke: I thank them for that, ’cause it means it’s making a difference but stepping up at the provincial level has also made a difference, has given me new energy and drive, so let’s see what tomorrow brings.

Sutherland: All right and speaking of which, just to clarify the situation, you had mentioned after you were elected as mayor the last time that this would be your final term as mayor, is that still your thinking?

Clarke: Hey, listen. I’m a happily married man, my number-one priority outside of my role as mayor is I have a honeymoon to plan and that’s the number one…thing I’m focused on and I will say, I have a great husband now, supporting me [unclear], I’ve had a great life’s journey and, he’s quite happy with me being mayor so who knows?

Okay, stop.

Say whaaaaat?

I thought Clarke used all his stockpiled vacation time (to which he, alone among Nova Scotian municipal officials, is apparently entitled) to run for the PC leadership? He’s got days left over for a honeymoon?

And as for running again, Clarke not only categorically ruled out the possibility of a third run at the mayor’s chair (the night he was elected), he has repeatedly touted the fact he is not re-offering as a political plus. Listen to what he told the Post on election night 2016:

I have the biggest mandate I’ve ever had in politics because they don’t have to worry about me worrying about my future.

Better still, watch him during this 10 January 2017 general committee meeting, during which council is considering District 4 Councilor Steve Gillespie’s motion to abolish the $140 a week travel allowance. Clarke, who has already joined the debate from the chair repeatedly (once on a procedural rule of his own invention which he calls a “point of clarity”), suddenly remembers (around the 2:12:00 mark) that he’s not supposed to do this and asks if council will “indulge” him in offering up some comments on compensation without leaving the chair. He is clear — he’s not joining the debate, but he does have “comments” he would “offer up” as “someone who is not re-offering.” He then says:

Some people think the councilors have a big fat pension and the mayor has a pension, well, we don’t have a pension…we have an R[R]SP contribution as part of that. I’m not re-offering. I’m not looking for a pension. I actually have one as a past MLA. But I would say this: whoever’s going to be the next mayor of your municipality, if you’re asking people to offer for public service, I would hope that there’d be a pension in for the next mayor, or at least be eligible for that if they so choose or had the option for an R[R]SP.

If you want to talk about asking people to offer for public office when…do you ever have the opportunity to say, “What are the needs?” Well, I’m not re-offering as mayor, but I’ll tell you, this municipality and this council has been selling itself short…I do believe, going forward, this has got to be part of a larger discussion and I would want to bring that back, because I don’t have any self-interest. So let’s be clear: I have no personal interest to gain because any changes will not be applicable to me.

Let’s be clear: he thinks the mayor of the CBRM should have a pension and now that it seems he’s not ruling out a third term, he does have a self-interest. I will be very curious to see if this issue finds its way back onto the council agenda before 2020.

Source: @larochecbc

Source: @larochecbc

Roll tape:

Sutherland: [Laughing] We’ll leave your honeymoon to you guys but are you reconsidering your decision not to run again as mayor?

Clarke: [Unclear] My husband is very happy with where we are and loves the community we live in and is very happy with me being the mayor of the municipality and has been encouraging for me to stay there as countless others since the weekend so we’ll see.

Okay, stop.

Is it possible that when Clarke says “people” have been saying “Stay as mayor! Stay as mayor!” what he means is that his husband has been saying it?


Roll tape:

Sutherland: All right. You mention that the run for the PC leadership was a learning opportunity and has given you new strength to continue with your work as mayor, so like, for instance, how has it influenced the way you’re going to approach the job as mayor?

Clarke: Well, because what I know now are the issues affecting the municipality, some of the things, the people that are bringing up about equalization, the actual core of the concerns that people are worried about about baseline services the ability for municipal sustainability and our viability, it’s not just a CBRM issue, it’s a Nova Scotia issue everywhere.

And even within the capitol region of Halifax, with communities that are struggling to get by and have real life issues, we see the economic diversity of the province and more importantly, the divisions that are there that require leadership and so you can take the experience of listening to your colleagues across the province to look at the issues that can be addressed in a more pro-active way, build on the strength of the knowledge that you’ve been able to gain and from that learning experience come back at it with more information, more facts, that are beneficial not only to the CBRM but all Nova Scotian municipalities.

Okay, stop.

Clarke (as he pointed out himself earlier in this very interview) is a former president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Municipalities (NSFM, although at the time it was called the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities, UNSM). That organization has long identified “municipal financing” as a key issue facing municipalities across the province, and as Clarke’s term ran from November 2015 to November 2016, it came after the organization’s 2014 resolution to:

…write the province requesting the formation of a working group consisting of members from UNSM, AMANS and the Department of Municipal Affairs who would, in consultation with municipalities, review the challenges with the existing formulas, the major financial needs of the municipalities, and propose solutions to support a clear policy objective of ensuring all Nova Scotians pay a reasonable tax for reasonable municipal services.

Is he saying (again) that he didn’t really hear the complaint until he heard it from his fellow Tories? Because let’s get real: when he says he traveled the province talking to “ordinary, everyday” Nova Scotians (an expression that always sets my teeth on edge because it’s clear the people using it do not consider themselves to be “ordinary, everyday Nova Scotians”) he means “ordinary, everyday, card-carrying Progressive Conservative Nova Scotians.” And despite his claims to “be there for all parties,” I can’t help but remember the comment he made after the election in 2016, when he told the Post:

 I also believe that the voice of the people that voted for me, and the majority voice, is the one I carry.


Roll tape:

Sutherland: Well, what did you learn from the process that might influence the way you prosecute your job now?

Clarke: Well, look, all I know is you never give up. I’ve never given up in political processes.

Okay, stop.

Actually, that’s precisely what Clarke did on Saturday – gave up rather than face out-and-out defeat on a second ballot at the PC leadership convention. It may well be that he did so in the name of party unity and the best interests of his fellow PCs, but the fact remains – he gave up.


Roll tape:

Clarke: I’ve never lost the opportunity to take advantage of an opportunity and become a bigger and better person because of it and so what you know is, is that any experience, any opportunity you can have to serve the broader public good is a great opportunity. I had a great team of people behind me, a loving family supporting me, a lot of life matters have happened in the last year and it’s all been good. So I look at it saying, you know, I’m a better, stronger person, I believe Nova Scotia is a better place because we have people that are prepared to stand up in the face of criticism or negativity, but there’s too much positive out there and the other thing is people are getting tired of negatives where are the positives?

Okay, stop.

First, “I’ve never lost the opportunity to take advantage of an opportunity” needs to be embroidered on something RIGHT NOW.

And second, maybe Nova Scotia actually is a better place today than it was last February because Clarke — bravely ignoring the naysayers who said he shouldn’t collect a mayor’s salary for eight months while pursuing another job — collected a mayor’s salary for eight months while pursuing another job. Which he failed to get. And is now returning to the CBRM. Energized. By defeat.

No, I’m sorry, that doesn’t make any sense.


Roll tape:

Clarke: If I criticize Stephen McNeil and the Liberals, I can do it because I’m prepared to step up and offer an alternative. I’ve always done that, I’ve done it as mayor. We’ve stepped up, we’ve made tough choices as a municipality, the province can do the same to help support the municipality. We have opportunities in our municipality that we’re bringing forward, other levels of government can do the same, we’re reaching out to the private sector to develop our economy, I don’t expect anything less of the provincial or federal government to do the same. It’s great.

Okay, stop.

In other words, although he’s been taking shots at the premier, his cabinet officials, the prime minister and the new leader of his own provincial party, Clarke wants us to know doors will still be open to him — and by extension, to the CBRM.

But the premier and the prime minister owe Clarke nothing, and Houston clearly didn’t promise him anything in return for his show of support on Saturday or Clarke would not be walking back his promise to run for the PCs in the next provincial election while simultaneously floating the possibility of running for a third term as mayor.


Roll tape:

Sutherland: Before we let you go to get on with your day, Mayor, one thing I’m wondering is, after stepping up in a process like this and extremely hective times, I think it was around February you announced your candidacy officially, and spending all your time and energy on these two roles that you are fulfilling, how do you get re-energized after an experience like that? After going all-in and working towards that, and with the results on Saturday, how do you get re-energized to continue to…

Clarke: How am I not? How am I not re-energized? How can you not go and be part of a process, Steve, that you see the best of people, ah, you see the worst at times but you also see the best, because the negative speaks for itself, the positives don’t always get talked about and that’s what I look at are the people that put in countless hours the [unclear] people step up and make a donation so you can have the resources to do what you have to do because they believe in you.

Okay, stop.

Isn’t that a kind of Clarke-centric view of the world? Does supporting Cecil Clarke in his bid to be PC leader really represent “the best” in people? What about volunteering and fundraising to keep everything from minor hockey leagues to museums to hospitals to animal shelters to music festivals up and running in the municipality he leads?

Civic Centre, CBRM

Civic Centre, CBRM

Roll tape:

Clarke: I can’t step away from all those people and walk away from all the commitment they’ve had without extending it and re-investing what I got from that process back into what I do next. Haven’t missed a step in terms of my obligations with regards to mayor of the CBRM. I’m coming back with new energy and vitality as a result of this leadership and I can’t wait to get back to the Council Chamber and get on with the things based upon the knowledge I have from this leadership, that will help guide the CBRM forward.

Okay, stop.

Clarke, in announcing his intention to run for the PC leadership, said his “obligations with regards to mayor of the CBRM” were laid out in Section 17(4) of the MGA:

A mayor or councillor who, without leave of the council, is absent from three consecutive regular meetings of the council, ceases to be qualified to serve as mayor or as a councillor.

This means, as the Spectator has previously calculated, that Clarke could meet his obligations as mayor by chairing four council meetings a year. “Missing a step” while trying to get over a bar that low would almost count as a skill.


Okay, really, I mean it, STOP.

Yes, it’s time to end “Where’s Cecil?”

It’s a bittersweet moment. The Spectator had been rather looking forward to a Doncaster mayoralty, which it imagined would be something like England’s Regency Era, only with lower waistlines and fewer naval battles.

Alas, it was not to be.

Fear not, though. The Spectator will continue keeping tabs on the actual mayor. In fact, it will try not to miss a single one of his steps as he returns to City Hall the Civic Centre.

After his honeymoon.




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