Looking Back at 2018 with Mayor Cecil Clarke

What better way to begin 2019 than by looking back at 2018 with CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke? Clarke appeared on CBC radio’s Information Morning Cape Breton on January 3 to reflect on the year just passed and the Spectator listened with interest. In particular, it listened to the discussion of the Port of Sydney, which host Steve Sutherland pressed Clarke on for a good portion of the interview.

Their conversation has inspired the first (but undoubtedly not the last) round of Okay, stop for 2019.

Roll tape:

Steve Sutherland: Well, 2018 was an eventful year for our next guest – a leadership campaign and, out of that, a re-examination of his current role.

Okay, stop.

That is a rather sad summation of a year in the life of a municipal politician:  “You spent eight months trying to get another job and when that failed, you started thinking again about the job you’d been elected to do.”

 

Roll tape:

Sutherland: At this time last year the assumption was that he was not going to be running again as mayor, but as of this past fall, he had second thoughts about that.

Okay, stop.

We had “assumed” Mayor Clarke would not seek a third term because Mayor Clarke  told us he would not seek a third term. Here’s the Post report from election night 2016:

Clarke also announced after the victory he wouldn’t reoffer in four years, making this term his last as mayor.

“I want to finish what I started,” he said to reporters.

“My voice is open, it will be loud, it will be clear, and it will be decisive, but I will not be destructive. I’ll be constructive as I’ve tried to be.

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

 

Roll tape:

Cecil Clarke (Source: http://www.cecilclarke.ca/)

Cecil Clarke (Source: http://www.cecilclarke.ca/)

Sutherland: In our series of year-end interviews today, it’s the Mayor of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, Cecil Clarke. Welcome back.

Cecil Clarke: It’s great to be with you, Steve.

Sutherland: And Happy New Year.

Clarke: Happy New Year to you, too.

Sutherland: So, when you look back on this year, where did you see movement?

Clarke: Well, I think we have to look at some of our priorities around further developing the port, the second berth finally under construction. That’s a great assurance of new opportunities to come as we look at a year end, it’s the year forward that we’re anticipating, and so with people working and getting that second berth, there’s other projects that come from that, to have One Ocean Expeditions come and to home port here, spending millions of dollars and more investments to come…building on our capacity and then of course the year, on a personal thing, I got married and it was a great life moment and building forward and as I look towards the next year, we’ll be looking towards a honeymoon and all those great life celebrations that happen as well.

Okay, stop.

Construction of the second berth was delayed because the municipality had to re-tender the project to get bids within its $20 million budget. And while the winning bid came in under $20 million, the final price tag for the berth will depend on how much the CBRM has to pay businessman Jerry Nickerson for the land it expropriated from him. That price will be determined by the Nova Scotia Utilities and Review Board and could put the project over budget. Although the project is being funded by all three levels of government, any cost-overruns will be the responsibility of the municipality.

As for the “new opportunities” represented by the second berth, they will depend upon the notoriously fickle cruise lines, which may or may not continue to come here. And to make Sydney its home port, One Ocean Expeditions needs to be able to take on fuel and dispose of international garbage, neither of which can be done in Sydney right now.

Clarke seems to know this because his tone brightens audibly as he shifts the conversation away from economic development and towards his personal life, which apparently we’re supposed to care about as much as he does.

 

Roll tape:

Sutherland:  You still haven’t done that honeymoon yet? I thought that was…

Clarke: I was busy as mayor! There’s a lot of things to be done so, happy doing that but looking forward to the spring.

Okay, stop.

Sutherland can be forgiven for assuming Clarke’s honeymoon was over because Clarke told him back in October, just after the leadership convention:

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?

All I can say is, that had better be some honeymoon.

 

Roll tape:

Sutherland: Okay, you mentioned the port and many people would like to know, what news of the port?

Clarke: So where we are is we continue the marketing efforts through Novaporte, Novazone. Through Albert Barbusci and his team of people, they continue to work at the global level.

Okay, stop.

Who, exactly, makes up Barbusci’s “team of people?” He doesn’t even have a communications person — the only name listed on the “contact” page of the Novaporte site is “Albert Barbusci,” although at least he’s swapped out his gmail address for a “@novaporte.ca” address.

 

Roll tape:

Clarke: At the same time, within Nova Scotia, we have people looking at what is the most strategic position. They see the Port of Halifax trying to build some more capacity, looking at how to take some of the constraints away with Melford. All I know is that, as we go forward, Nova Scotia is very much on the international scene as a place to do business and to have container operations and other port-related activities and I remain confident but you can see with the adjustments in the global market, with the geopolitics that are going on now, especially between US and China and Canada, those things affect everything to do with shipping industries. So, we feel great about our position for the business case for Sydney, but we’re subject to world and market conditions as well.

Sutherland: That sounds like a little bit of, lowering expectations there.

Okay, stop.

Albert Barbusci (via Novaporte website)

Albert Barbusci

To understand the degree to which Clarke is lowering expectations, you need to remember just how high he’d raised expectations going into 2018.

In December of 2016, it was announced with great fanfare that Ports America had signed on to operate Novaporte (even though the terminal was to be built and financed by the Chinese, go figure) and Clarke used the announcement to railroad CBRM Council into approving an extension of Barbusci’s “exclusivity” agreement with the municipality. The mayor argued that the project had momentum and the extension was necessary to allow Barbusci to seal the deal.

Almost a year later, in October 2017, Barbusci told the Post:

I can confirm very confidently that we’re in what I would call the last mile and it needs to happen this year.

Clarke then made his third trip to China in the name of port development and when he arrived back in the CBRM in December 2017, he railroaded the Council into approving an Option and Development Agreement with SHIP, again on the grounds that the project had so much momentum it might just complete itself. As Clarke told the Post in December 2017:

“[The Option and Development Agreement] was very timely to bring forward because we need to move,” said Clarke. “Decision makers need to make their decisions and they’re prepared to do that right now. I look forward to, maybe, an early Christmas present, or a great way to ring off the new year.”

Clarke promised a Chinese “working group” would visit Sydney early in 2018 but by February, Barbusci, was walking that back:

In the interim, a Chinese “working group” that CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke said would be in Sydney early in the New Year is now tentatively scheduled to visit Cape Breton in March, according to Barbusci.

Only, the working group didn’t show up in the fall either. In fact, it didn’t show up in 2018 at all. And now, a full year later, we’re to believe Barbusci is still out there working at the global level to promote the Port of Sydney even though he’s also busy in Florida, opening a  rope-climbing adventure park — his second.

 

Roll tape:

Clarke: Oh no, I just think we have to be realistic that we don’t control what’s happening in the world, ah, with global relations and so I can’t put the interests of the business case that I’m enthusiastic about for the Port of Sydney ahead of thinking that I’m going to be interrupting the business of what a president of the United States and China and Canada-China trade relations would be. I mean, those are at a very high level. They present to us uncertainty, not pulling back, it’s just, where’s the confidence that we’re going to have of not trade concessions and embar… you know tariffs in place. These impediments to trade affect us trying to promote being a place as a conduit for trade and goods to come in and out of.

Okay, stop.

I am glad Mayor Clarke has decided to be “realistic” about the CBRM’s ability to control world events, but I wish reality had bitten him earlier. I wish it had bitten him when he first heard Barbusci claim — as he does on the Novaporte website — that the development of the Port of Sydney will:

…begin to transform transportation patterns in eastern North America.

Because while Clarke is willing to admit the mayor of a struggling municipality on the East Coast of Canada cannot bend the US and China to his will, he has been unquestioning in his support of a project that, as Neil Davidson, senior analyst for ports and terminals with the research firm Drewry, told me last year, can only succeed if a major shipping line changes the way the East Coast of North America is served by liner networks.

 

Roll tape:

Sutherland: So have you seen concrete examples of that, interfering with steps toward…

Clarke: I think the industry takes a paced approached as to what is going to be the stability for trade. If the marketplace is going to constrict and be constrained, that’s going to affect the decisions people are looking at for next-generation port investments and I think we see that, we hear it in the news every day. When people are talking at the level that we have globally about uncertainty over trade relations, it does affect those developments that are out there. Right now, for us, we hope that there will be a normalization, that people will get on talking about the benefits of trade and what are the best places to do it with the new generation of ships that are coming at the ultra-large scale and the appropriateness and the actual attractiveness of the Port of Sydney.

Sutherland: Ummhmmm.

Okay, stop.

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil and Jean Chretien are shown on Wednesday, March 22, 2018. McNeil tweeted the photo, saying ‘we enjoyed sharing stories about our political and personal journeys.’ (Stephen McNeil/Twitter)

The most recent content on the Novaporte website is a 20 March 2018 Cape Breton Post article headlined, “Former PM says proposed Sydney container terminal has ’90 per cent’ chance of success.”

The former PM is Jean Chrétien, an “international adviser” to SHIP (specializing in China) and the optimistic prediction about the Port of Sydney was made during a conference in Membertou.

But by 20 March 2018, Donald Trump had already imposed tariffs on solar panels and washing machine parts (a move, according to Bloomberg, prompted in part by concern over “Chinese dominance of the global supply chain”) and had announced sweeping tariffs on steel and aluminum. China (among other countries) was already talking about retaliatory measures.

Two days after Chrétien made his rosy prediction for the future of the Port of Sydney, Trump slapped trade sanctions on China — “including restrictions on investment and tariffs on $60 billion worth of products.”

Not to mention that candidate Donald Trump had promised in 2016 to end what he called China’s trade “abuses.”

Presumably Barbusci’s international adviser, who specializes in China, would have been monitoring these events. Odd that he didn’t seem to believe they posed a threat to Sydney’s port plans.

 

Roll tape:

Sutherland: What do you think now of the decision to enter into such a key role with the China Communications Company? Four C?

Clarke: Quad C

Sutherland: Quad C, right, that’s what it is, in light of that relationship?

Okay, stop.

Google Quad C and you will find references to a Charlottesville, Virginia-based financial company; a physical-therapy clinic in Many, Louisiana; the CNSE-SUNYIT Computer Chip Commercialization Center (Quad-C) in Utica, New York; and a group of student residences at the University of Arkansas.

What you will not find is any reference to the China Communications Construction Company.

That’s because I am pretty sure nobody on this planet except Albert Barbusci calls CCCC “Quad C.” In fact, I think calling CCCC “Quad C” would be like meeting Karl Rove and calling him “Turd Blossom” because that’s how you’ve always heard George W. Bush refer to him.

 

Roll tape:

Clarke: Well, I think that you have to always be open to business. I don’t think people have stopped going to Walmart and buying goods made in China over the Christmas holidays, or their dollar store or things that are part of everyday life and the devices we get. When someone’s buying their Apple phone, chances are we know where it’s been manufactured and uh, so we have to go on in a normal, everyday manner, but at the highest level, when there are matters that affect the politics of nations, the day-to-day business and trade relations long term can be affected by that and that uncertainty spills over into the transportation sector.

Okay, stop.

So, let me make sure I understand this correctly: the CBRM partnering with a state-owned Chinese company that was barred for eight years from doing business on some World Bank projects, that played a leading role in building artificial islands in the South China Sea that have raised tensions with the United States, that built a port in Sri Lanka that left the country so deeply in debt it had to lease said port to China for 99 years, and that had its bid to buy a Canadian construction company turned down by the federal government over “security concerns, is the same as me buying a made-in-China USB wall plug at Walmart?

Seriously?

 

Roll tape:

Sutherland: So, what would you say to people who are trying to see in that box, that black box of Novaporte and… that agency that’s representing the interests of the CBRM and were expecting some developments this fall?

Clarke: Well, what I know is, there’s a lot of good, working activity underway, progress is being made.

Sutherland: Can you tell me any details?

Clarke: Well, Melford or Halifax aren’t telling people their details.

Okay, stop:

First of all, the Port of Halifax is a Port Authority, not an arm of the City of Halifax, and Melford is a private sector development — as in, the Mayor of Port Hawkesbury has not been attending “port development” meetings in Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, St. John’s and China for the past four years. The idea that the mayor of the CBRM has no obligation to share any details of what he knows about port development with the citizens on whose behalf he is supposedly acting is absurd.

And secondly, one rather significant “detail” about the Port of Halifax was shared this past year – CN’s bid on Halterm. I like to contrast this news — that Canada’s largest rail operator wants to buy the largest shipping terminal in Eastern Canada — with this 18 March 2018 statement by Albert Barbusci:

“We are gearing up for the fall, there are a couple of pieces that need to be locked in but they are being discussed — we’re in serious negotiations with various shippers and we need to finalize the rail piece, the rail needs to be upgraded, but the report just came out and we’re working with that study, there is a commitment and we expect the province to step up,” said the Montréal-based businessman, following the meeting that was held at a downtown Sydney hotel.

My guess is that CN will finalize the “container terminal” piece before Barbusci finalizes the “rail piece.”

 

Roll tape:

Clarke: This is part of the business case for our community. What we’ve done is vested the interest of marketing the port in capable hands.

Okay, stop.

What, exactly, about Albert Barbusci suggests he is capable of marketing (or, when we’re feeling particularly confident in his abilities, “developing”) our port?

Since selling his Montreal advertising agency to Dentsu in the ’90s, Barbusci has been involved in a number of business ventures — none of which involved port development or marketing and few of which (this new rope-climbing thing may be an exception) have been successful.

 

Roll tape:

And they’re out there working very hard and I know have continued to travel the globe with the case for the Port of Sydney and are making progress. That I am confident in and assured of. What the appropriate next steps are of announcing those things, we leave to the developer.

Okay, stop:

Shorter Clarke: There is nothing happening on this file.

 

 

 

 

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