Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things


This 2015 photo of empty chairs marking the opening of the Rockford, Illinois branch of ServiCom (which has also closed its doors) seems weirdly appropriate today.

This 2015 photo of empty chairs marking the opening of the Rockford, Illinois branch of ServiCom (which has also closed its doors) seems weirdly appropriate today.

There is absolutely no humor to be found in the announcement that 600 Cape Bretoners have lost their jobs  three weeks before Christmas with the closure of the ServiCom call center.

Even Mayor Cecil Clarke’s mixing of metaphors (he’s hoping the potential sale of the local ServiCom branch will be a “ray of light” that “bears fruit”) depresses more than amuses me this morning.

That’s partly because the mayor now trying to wrangle provincial and federal assistance for the laid-off workers and help resuscitate the ServiCom sale that fell through yesterday is the same mayor who has spent years talking up the possibility of a mega-container port and logistics park that would create “as many as 5,000 jobs” in the CBRM.

In light of the reality facing the 600 people who woke up this morning with no source of income, Clarke’s port talk seems downright cruel.

If there were actually something in it, if our “port developers” were anywhere near the success Clarke was cheerfully predicting a year ago, now would be the time to announce it.

But I won’t be expecting a press conference anytime soon.


Shipping news

As it happens, earlier this week I asked John Phalen, CBRM manager of economic development and major projects, for an update on the container port project and he told me — via CBRM spokesperson Jillian Moore — that:

Any updates about the container terminal would need to be provided by the Port developer, as it is in their hands.

This is complete nonsense, of course, if only because the developer — Albert Barbusci of Sydney Harbour Investment Partners (SHIP) — as part of a deal to extend his “exclusivity” agreement to promote the port in 2016, promised to update council regularly on his progress. The CBRM should be able to tell me the current status of the project.

But this charade that the CBRM’s role in the port project has ended serves CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke too well to end it now. What’s most amazing about it is how fast Clarke’s work on the port was wrapped up. As late as 3 November 2017, for instance (just after Jamie Baillie had stepped down as leader of the provincial PCs), the mayor was still very much focused on the port, as the Cape Breton Post reported:

Cape Breton Regional Municipality Mayor Cecil Clarke’s name emerged as a potential Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative Party leadership candidate this week, not long after Jamie Baillie announced we [sic] would vacate the post.

When asked on Friday, however, the current mayor of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality quickly discounted that notion, but without actually coming out and saying the word “no.”

“What I’m interested in is finishing what we started and that is the port of Sydney and realizing the economic opportunities that I’ve committed to, what council has committed to,” Clarke said during a media scrum at Centre 200 for the 2019 Scotties Tournament of Hearts.

“That’s the leadership role I’m focused on and I’m dedicated to and seeing through.”

But by December, lo! and behold, the “Draft Cecil” site had launched and Clarke was telling CTV:

“I’ve been asked to explore taking on the leadership of the PC Party of Nova Scotia. That’s something I’m willing to consider.”

But…but…what about the port?

“I believe in the coming weeks, as was indicated with the trip to China, that people will see the outcomes and the benefit of our hard work,” says Clarke. “But I’ll leave it to our partners to come and bring that news themselves in the new year.”

And that was it. Although “our partners” didn’t arrive with news in the New Year, Clarke was no longer responsible for “realizing the economic opportunities” he’d committed to. He was free to launch his leadership campaign.

That said, he did find the time to travel somewhere and meet with someone about the port in June 2018, on the CBRM’s dime, months after he’d announced his work on the file was done:

Source: CBRM

Source: CBRM

And his expense sheets continue to include a special section for “port development travel.” So if nothing else, the port project has remained what it has always been: a good excuse for the mayor to travel.

On the citizens’ tab.


Prince Rupert East

Rick Grant, who keeps a close eye on all things port and rail related in this province (and who sometimes contributes to this publication) had a scoop in the Financial Post this week that may provide another clue as to why Mayor Clarke has gone silent on the Sydney container port project.

Grant reported for the Financial Post that CN has made a bid for Halterm, the “largest shipping terminal in Eastern Canada.”

CN chief executive officer Jean-Jacques Ruest told Grant on Wednesday the goal with the purchase — which is being made with an unnamed partner — is to create a “Prince Rupert of the East.”

But here’s the most important part for all us Port-heads here in Cape Breton:

Ruest said there are two other ports the railway is looking at as well, one in Nova Scotia and one on the St. Lawrence River. Although he was not specific about which facilities, the most likely candidates are Melford in Nova Scotia, which would be a greenfield development, and Quebec City.

Unless CN’s partner is Albert Barbusci or the China Communications Construction Company, I think we may have just witnessed the curtain dropping on any potential container terminal in Sydney.


Healthcare package

The Post’s Nancy King read and summarized all this material she FOIPOPed on the healthcare plan for Cape Breton so you wouldn’t have to, but if you want to, here it is:



Tweet Jesus

“In the age of social media, people want instantaneous information and we have to have the function to do it,” CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke told the Cape Breton Post this week, defending his hiring of a communications person to replace Christina Lamey who jumped ship earlier this year to join the Port of Sydney.

I agree, in the age of social media, people do want “instantaneous information,” which is why the municipality has Twitter (@CBRMGov) and Facebook feeds, both of which (I assume) are overseen by Jillian Moore, the CBRM’s communications and information officer. The recreation department also has its own Twitter (@CBRMActiveLivin) and Facebook feeds. These seem to me like obvious sources of the information people want “instantaneously,” like word of street closures, or transit delays or free family skates. (That said, the CBRM Twitter account sent out 24 tweets in November which were just re-tweets from the Rogers Hometown Hockey account which, speaking for myself, is not the kind of information I need “instantaneously” from anybody.)

If Mayor Clarke is suggesting his own social media feeds are sources of such information, then he clearly hasn’t looked at them lately. Obviously (I hope) he doesn’t expect a municipal staffer to assist him with his @CecilClarkePC Twitter feed (which has gone silent since the leadership convention at end-October anyway).

As for his @MayorCBRM Twitter account, I counted 20 tweets on it between February 3, when he announced his candidacy for the leadership of the provincial Progressive Conservative Party and today (Thursday, December 6), the most recent of which (an invitation to the CBRM’s free compost giveaway) is dated October 24 and is a retweet of a message from the @CBRMGov account.

He has no Mayor Cecil Clarke Facebook feed — just one for Cecil Clarke civilian and one for Cecil Clarke politician.

Maybe he’s hired a communications person to set up a “Mayor Cecil Clarke” Facebook account.

Or maybe he’s imagining himself emulating the Canadian mayor who makes the most effective use of social media — Calgary’s Naheed Nenshi — in which case, the first thing for him to realize is that he needs to handle his own social media or at least his own Twitter feed. That’s the secret to Nenshi’s success — he sends his own damn tweets. His Twitter account explicitly states:

“Personal account, not funded nor endorsed by the City of Calgary.”

Nenshi tweeted more than 20 times in November alone. In terms of lifetime achievement, Nenshi, who has been on Twitter since 2009, has tweeted 56,900 times. Clarke, who has been on Twitter since 2012, has tweeted 1,704 times. (Per year, that works out to 6,322 for Nenshi vs. 284 for Clarke.) And that is Nenshi sending out his own tweets vs. Clarke who was apparently assisted (until May 2018, when she quit) by a communications person.

Do you know what you need to “function” successfully on Twitter? I mean, other than a Twitter account and an Internet connection? Thumbs. You need thumbs. And they don’t even have to be particularly muscular thumbs:

Of course, it doesn’t hurt if you also have a sense of humor and actually enjoy communicating with the citizens you represent:

I’m glad to see I’m not the only one questioning Clarke’s hires — former Sydney alderman and CBRM Councilor Arnie Mombourquette (who, as you’ll know if you’ve been reading my Talkin’ Bout Remuneration series on CBRM Council pay and perks through the ages, has a pretty solid reputation on the subject) wrote to the Cape Breton Post this week saying:

“What amazes (me) is the lack of opposition by present council members to these personal appointments and the inherent cost to our cash-starved municipality over the past six years,” wrote Mombourquette.

“During my time in municipal councils no mayor ever had an executive assistant or a communications adviser — since 2013 these two newly created positions have cost CBRM taxpayers slightly over $1 million.”

Clarke’s initial hires — of Lamey and Mark Bettens, his executive assistant — were done completely outside the municipal hiring process, he simply tapped two people with connections to the Provincial Tory party and installed them in his office.

This time, according to CBRM spokesperson Jillian Moore, the successful candidate was “picked from the pool of applicants that had applied for the CBRM Communications and Information Officer posting” and will fill the mayor’s office job, “on a month to month basis” as it is “not a term position.”

MacDonald will also receive less money than Lamey.

But the bottom line remains unchanged: the Mayor of the CBRM doesn’t need a separate spokesperson.


A belt for the road?

This has been one of the bleakest Fast & Curious editions of all-time so I have to end with something completely different.  And when you want something completely different, John Oliver of HBO’s Last Week Tonight is usually your man.

Earlier this year, he did a report on China that featured this propaganda video about the country’s massive “Belt and Road” infrastructure plan. You know, the one Port of Sydney CEO told the Cape Breton Post in 2015 Sydney could be a part of:

Uncertainty around the Chinese economy and the move this week to devalue its currency, the yuan, has caused some global turmoil. Usher said they saw no impact from that uncertainty during their trip, noting China currently has a “one belt, one road” strategy to bring its goods through the Suez Canal to Europe and North America.

“They are actually looking for East Coast hubs, so the timing actually couldn’t be more perfect, even though they maybe have some market issues,” she said.

I know I promised something completely different, but all roads (and belts) seem to lead to the port and I have to note that Usher, as the port project’s second-biggest — and highest paid — cheerleader deserves every bit as much blame as Mayor Clarke for dangling the possibility of jobs in front of desperate Cape Bretoners. In December 2016 she reported the results of a nonsensical report from a company called InterVISTAS which was asked: If Sydney lands a mega-container terminal, what will be the economic impact? As I reported at the time:

The report is not actually finished yet, nor has it been made public, but Usher breathlessly shared some of its, for lack of a better word, insights: if we get a mega-container terminal in Sydney, it will generate thousands of construction jobs, and thousands of terminal and logistics park jobs, and thousands of spin-off jobs, and millions in economic development and millions in taxes. Not only that, but it will reverse outmigration, see the establishment of “camps” of construction workers and result in a housing boom in Westmount.

(At Ports Day the following May, Michael Tretheway, chief economics and strategy officer with InterVISTAS, would remind those in attendance his firm wasn’t hired “to say whether the plans are realistic or not.”)

All of which brings me to my Chinese propaganda video which I find is even funnier if you picture Usher or Sydney Harbour Investment Partners’ Barry Sheehy singing along: