Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

Extra! Extra!

I think Tim Bousquet of the Halifax Examiner may just have done the children of South Africa a solid.

Want to know how? You’ll have to read his amazing story: “John Risley’s South African Adventure.”

And yes, the article is behind a paywall, but think about it: Tim spent seven weeks and thousands of his hard-earned dollars chasing this story — which involves our home-grown billionaire’s foray into “litigation financing.”  (And includes a firsthand interview with Risley for which I must give Risley props — he didn’t hire an army of spin doctors to deal with Tim’s questions, he answered them. It almost makes up for trying to make money off an Apartheid-era, sanctions-busting arms deal. Ha! No it doesn’t. But it is worth acknowledging.)

The most you will have to pay for access to this story — and all the other excellent journalism the team at the Examiner produces — is $100 a year. That’s $10 a month. That’s five, medium-sized coffees from another Tim (who doesn’t need your money, because he’s been dead since 1974).

If you upgrade to a joint Spectator/Examiner subscription, you’ll get Tim’s work plus mine for $160 a year (or $15 a month).

Support independent journalism! You won’t regret it.



Speaking of Tim, he did me a solid this week too, although it has nothing to do with John Risley (that I know of).

He sent me photos of the documents filed by the CBRM in connection with its appeal of the NS Utility and Review Board’s decision in the case of the proposed Big Pond RV Park. (He spends a lot of time checking court filings and turns up all kinds of interesting things.)

I’m going to write more about the case next week, but I thought I’d share the documents with you now:



From Cove to Glen

Joe Neil MacNeil (Courtesy of Cape Breton's Magazine)

Joe Neil MacNeil (Courtesy of Cape Breton’s Magazine)

Dateline: Big Pond

The Spectator is pleased to share with readers the following dispatch from M.A. MacPherson:

Jack MacNeil, a retired teacher and former principal of the MacDonald Consolidated School in Big Pond, is releasing a book about the people of Big Pond. The book, From the Cove to the Glen: A Conversation with Joe Neil MacNeil, is a transcription of a series of conversations in which Jack and Joe Neil discussed the families and people of the area. The book is based on previously unpublished material recorded during the years 1984 to 1996.

In his foreword, Jack writes:

From the Cove to the Glen is a heavily edited version of a lengthy conversation I had with the late Joe Neil MacNeil of Middle Cape, Cape Breton, focusing for the most part on pioneer families along the stretch of Route 4 between the Richmond-Cape Breton County line and Ben Eoin Beach, with some reference to the back lands, including Glengarry. We wanted to get on record at least some of Joe Neil’s history of the area, “as he heard it,” which otherwise would probably be lost at his passing.

Joe Neil, born in Reserve Mines, Cape Breton in 1908, was brought up in Middle Cape by foster parents Neil MacNeil and Mary MacMullin MacNeil. Growing up in a Gaelic household he was a fluent Gaelic speaker and became wonderful storyteller and a font of information about the Gaelic language and the people of the area. In 1990, St. Mary’s University awarded Joe Neil an Honorary Doctor of Letters, noting: “Joe Neil MacNeil is recognized internationally as the finest living Nova Scotia storyteller.”

Jack writes:

Throughout his active life he was somewhat of a rambler, wandering here and there, sometimes visiting, sometimes working—he could turn his hand to many of the common trades—but wherever he was and whatever he was doing, he was always up for a cup of tea and a long talk about Gaelic culture and history.

On Joe Neil’s death in 1996, The Herald-Scotland said of him that, “Long before the esteem and celebrity status which came his way in his later years, MacNeil was a practiced master in the art of storytelling.” His obituary said that “he communicated his knowledge in a masterful way and shared it with generosity.

Jack MacNeil’s book honors the depth of knowledge that Joe Neil possessed and brings greater understanding to the interconnectedness and genealogy of the people of Route 4.

The book release is scheduled for the Big Pond Fire Hall on Sunday, 24 February 2019 at 2:00PM.

From the Cove to the Glen: A Conversation with Joe Neil MacNeil will be on sale for $30.00 (Cash Sales Only) Complimentary tea/coffee and a light snack will be served.

Note: I borrowed the photo of Joe Neil MacNeil from Cape Breton’s Magazine, which included one of stories (in Gaelic and English) across Issue 16 and Issue 17 back in 1977.


Okay, Lever. Stop

Mark Lever

Mark Lever

Mark Lever, president and CEO of the SaltWire Network (which owns the Cape Breton Post and almost every other newspaper in Atlantic Canada) helped himself to a page in his papers on Wednesday to announce the arrival of “metered subscription.”

Where others see a  “Letter to Readers” as a one-way communication, I see an excellent opportunity for a game of Okay, stop.


Pride is something we Atlantic Canadians never seem to get comfortable with. Today, I’m breaking rank.

Okay, stop. 

Is Mark Lever actually known for his modesty? Do self-effacing people with no experience in journalism buy 28 newspapers “and web-related properties” and set themselves up as 21st century news barons?  I’m thinking no. But continue, Mark, continue:


More than ever, we know the work we do in our newsrooms matters.

Good news worth sharing in this region continues to be bigger and better than our imaginations could have conceived. We celebrate that.

Okay, stop:

The front page of the issue of the Post in which Lever’s letter appeared carried the horrific story of the Syrian children killed in the house fire in Halifax making it abundantly clear that the job of newspapers is not to “deliver good news.” (Although Lever’s papers strive to do so as much as possible and would probably have had yet another front page spread on a curling tournament had the fire not happened).


Those who are marginalized need an active voice and a place for their stories to be told. We provide that.

Okay, stop:

Honestly, if you were to ask me what media outlet in Nova Scotia does the best job of providing a voice to those who are marginalized, I would have to say Robert Devet’s Nova Scotia Advocate.


Conversations around boardroom, dining and picnic tables remain the lifeblood of strong communities. We fuel those discussions.

And staying connected during a time when authenticity and truth is often an illusion, has never been more important. We remain committed to community.

Okay, stop:

I would argue that conversations around boardroom tables are often antithetical to strong communities, but what I really need to ask is how can authenticity and truth be an illusion?


Around the world, there is growing proof that a strong fourth estate fuelled by quality, unbiased, thoughtful journalism continues to be critical to a strong and healthy democratic society.

Okay, stop:

I read the Cape Breton Post daily and you cannot tell me its reporting of local events is “unbiased.” (Exhibit A: its generally uncritical coverage of the mayor of the CBRM).

The question of bias is one I struggle with daily — but it starts with me acknowledging I have one (or more) and goes from there. I like what British journalist George Monbiot has to say on the subject:

When someone says they have no politics, it means that their politics align with the status quo. None of us are unbiased, none removed from the question of power. We are social creatures, who absorb the outlook and opinions of those with whom we associate, and uncon[s]ciously echo them. Objectivity is impossible.

The illusion of neutrality is one of the reasons for the rotten state of journalism, as those who might have been expected to hold power to account drift thoughtlessly into its arms.


In their 2018 digital news report (released in January 2019) Reuters reported a 9 per cent increase in trust in news in Canada between 2017 and 2018. And the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer reports a more than 22 point increase in news engagement in 2018.

These are but a few of many measures showing that the movement to re-energize journalism is officially afoot.

After years of being uncertain about what our future holds, today it’s clear local news, deep insights and diverse perspectives have an important role to play.

Which is why in late February our premium, local journalism – both in print and online – will be available only through subscription. All other non-premium articles will continue to be available to all, free to enjoy at any time.

The work we do does not happen without professionalism and a commitment to excellence. Every day, I’m privileged to work alongside some of the region’s best storytellers, media professionals, service providers and innovators.

Okay, stop:

What the hell, Mark Lever? Journalism in 2019 has been re-energized by “storytellers” and “media professionals?”

Journalism, if it’s been “re-energized” (and beyond the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, I’m not sure that it has) has been re-energized by reporters doing their jobs and reporting and you can’t even bring yourself to use the words. Maybe that’s because, ever since you became CEO of the Chronicle Herald in 2012, you’ve been “focusing on journalism” by getting rid of reporters.

The federal government’s decision to help organizations like yours may keep your empire afloat awhile longer but I think the age of newspaper chains is drawing to a close — and I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. I think a community like mine, for example, would be better served by a standalone daily staffed by people who were motivated by love of the job, rather than a chain paper whose reason for being is to create profits for its wealthy owners.


But none of what we do works without a team effort. We need to collaborate across newsrooms, departments and as a network.

We also need our audience to be steadfast members of our team; to step up and say: “Yes, I believe in a vibrant media environment and I’m committed to supporting the work you’re doing.”

Okay, stop:

This is the conundrum Jesse Brown, the media critic, talks about on his Canadaland podcast all the time — the way legacy media outlets, faced with what I am the first to acknowledge is a real existential problem, the disappearance of advertising revenues, first shrink their newsrooms and introduce dubious “advertorial” and “native advertising” content and generally debase the quality of their product and then ask people to pay for it.

In Lever’s case, he’s apparently also cut ties with The Canadian Press  (as has Irving-owned Brunswick News in New Brunswick). CP, citing declining revenues, last week laid off six reporters across the country — including four in the Atlantic bureau. Anyone who reads SaltWire papers will know that most of the best provincial and federal coverage in those papers comes from CP. I have no idea how Lever intends to make up for that. Oh, wait, sorry Mark, what’s that you’re saying?


In the coming months and years, we’ll invest even more deeply in our journalism, re-inventing, re-invigorating and re-thinking the kind of content you want and need in order to be engaged and informed citizens. Expect more in-depth exploration of topics (like our network-wide Deep Dives series), more solutions-focused content (like the new Now Atlantic online offering) and more local voices and perspectives.

Okay, stop:

Deep dives? Oh for the love of Mike — your “dive” into the doctor shortage in Nova Scotia was about as deep as Guy Lafleur’s footbath (sorry, his “revivative circulation booster“). You employed techniques we all mastered in grade school — write big and have really wide margins — to stretch a column’s worth of material over two pages.

You have reporters in all four Atlantic provinces. You could have turned them loose to do an actual “deep dive” into the subject, but deep dives take time and money (see Tim Bousquet’s John Risley story) and you clearly aren’t willing to expend either.

(As for “Now Atlantic” I don’t want to know anything about it because, in my head, I’ve decided it’s a local remake of the Bette Davis classic, Now, Voyager, only it’s a frumpy, unibrowed Nova Scotia that is transformed into a suave, sophisticated, chain-smoking have province and I’m afraid the reality couldn’t possibly live up to that).


We look forward to spending even more quality time with you into the future. Thank you for your ongoing commitment.

Okay, stop:

The irony of all this is that I actually do subscribe to the Post. 


Global payment

Recently, while doing some online banking (i.e. paying my phone bill) I noted that my Mastercard Global Payment Card with the Sydney Credit Union would, as of mid-May, be no more use to me than the fake cards I keep getting in the mail from Capital One.

The global payment card, for those of you unfamiliar with it, is sort of a super-debit card — it’s not a credit card but you can use it to do credit card things, like order books from Amazon or book hotel rooms or rent cars. I don’t actually use mine that often but it’s a very good thing to have in your wallet. As some of the various blurbs I’ve read about it state:

The GLOBAL PAYMENT Mastercard Card offers you the convenience, flexibility and worldwide global acceptance of a traditional Mastercard credit card. GLOBAL PAYMENT Mastercards can be used anywhere Mastercard is accepted including shopping online and withdrawing cash at an ATM.

A unique card available only to owners of participating credit unions. The GLOBAL PAYMENT MasterCard card fits into your world! When you use your GLOBAL PAYMENT MasterCard card, the purchase amount is withdrawn from your chequing account at your Credit Union.

It actually did fit into my world and so I was curious as to why the credit union would be doing away with it — and more than a little annoyed that I’ll have to cancel all my pre-authorized payments and figure out another way to pay for subscriptions, etc. (I mean, another way besides getting a credit card, which I didn’t want to do before and now REALLY don’t want to do because my credit union seems to be trying to usher me towards one.)

I did a little poking around and unearthed a press release from May 2018 about Canadian credit unions choosing a new service provider for credit cards:

National Credit Card Program and Collabria are excited to announce the official execution of a Master Services Agreement for credit card services and the official launch of an important new partnership, creating an enhanced credit card offering and an improved credit union member experience. Collabria was selected by the CEO Payments Strategy Committee as the preferred credit card provider for Canadian credit unions. Over 210 Canadian credit unions will be offering this new credit card program and the Universal PayCard (Global Payment Card Replacement) to their members through 2018.

Aha! I thought. There will be a replacement for my global payment card — the Universal PayCard! And apparently I’ll be able to use it throughout the universe. Cool.

Only, when I contacted the Sydney Credit Union to ask about the Universal PayCard, they put me in touch with Nancy Lutes, communications and stakeholder engagement specialist with Atlantic Central and League Mortgage and Savings, who told sent me a comment from Paul Paruch, VP Business Solutions at Atlantic Central, who told me that:

Although there were plans to develop a similar card to the GPC called the Universal Pay Card (UPC) in the future, it was ultimately determined that such a card was not a sustainable fit within the overall product line-up. 

When I asked why it was “not a sustainable fit” within the overall product line-up, he said:

The technical complexity of building the UPC card coupled with eroding credit union support nationally made the product unsustainable.

Collabria, the company now handling credit card services for Canadian Credit Unions, was founded in 2015, which (and I’m just guessing here) probably explains why they’d have to “build” the UPC card from scratch.

But Collabria is also allowing Canadian credit unions to offer both Visa and Mastercard products and I noted that Visa has something called a “Visa Debit Card” which seems to work the same way the global payment card did, so I asked if there was any chance the credit union would provide this and was told:

Credit unions consistently look for opportunities to evolve their product offerings. There are plans to make this product available to the national credit union system.  However, credit unions will individually make the decision to offer it.

Finally, I asked if credit unions stand to make more money from credit cards than global payment cards and was told:

No. As member-owned co-operative financial institutions, every decision a credit union makes is in the best interest of their members.  Evolving our product line-up was necessary to keep pace with changes in the payments industry so we can continue to offer competitive products and services to our members.

I have no idea what the subset of people who both read the Spectator and possess Mastercard Global Payment Cards is. I actually decided to do this story because I found three people in my own family who are affected by the credit unions’ decision to ax it, but for all I know, we’re only three people in the municipality who care (which would certainly explain why the card was being discontinued).

At any rate, that’s what I know about the demise of the Mastercard Global Payment Card.

Make of it what you will.