Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

‘Many or several’

A Tuesday night CTV news report about the cruise industry in Cape Breton (opening line: “It seems their ship has come in, once again, for the cruise industry in Cape Breton”), sent me scrambling for my secondary sources.

First, because it seemed to contain confirmation that the second berth will not be operational for the 2019 season, a fact I hadn’t actually heard anyone admit before. Reporter Ryan MacDonald notes that the dredging now underway is “Phase One” of the project, and although he doesn’t say when it is expected to be completed, he states:

And while there’s plenty of excitement for this year’s cruise season, there is room for even more growth when a second, long-awaited cruise ship berth, is finally built.

Which sounds to me like it’s not going to be finished for this year, which is interesting, given that in July of 2018, Port of Sydney CEO Marlene Usher warned CBRM Council that failure to complete the berth for 2019 would cost the Port in terms of both revenue and reputation.


Banner season

Port of Sydney Cruise Marketing Manager (and erstwhile mayoral spokesperson) Christina Lamey told MacDonald the new berth:

…could mean many or several, you know, five or six-thousand passenger days in the city.

“Many or several” is a good answer to give when your doctor asks you how many drinks you have in a week but as a response to a question about the expected benefit of a $21 million infrastructure project, it leaves something to be desired. I think I would have pushed for a little more precision. (Were I feeling particularly pedantic, I would also have pointed out that Sydney is no longer a city.)

I was also quite sure that we already had 5,000+ passenger days in the Port of Sydney even without the second berth and when I went through the stats on the Port of Sydney website, I discovered I was right (which I am many or several times a week).

According to the schedule for our “banner” upcoming 2019 cruise season, we will see over 5,000 passengers (presuming all the vessels listed arrive full to capacity) on four days (which I think counts as “several”):

September 19Celebrity Summit2158997
Caribbean Princess31421200
September 30Caribbean Princess31421200
Norwegian Gem23941010
October 4Riveria1258800
October 12Riveria1258800

And while it’s true we don’t have any 6,000-passenger days scheduled, the difference between 5,562 and 6,000 is 438 — are we spending $21 million to accommodate an additional 438 people?

Remember, these multi-cruise ship days mean one (or two) vessels are anchoring in the harbor and ferrying people to shore — a practice we’ve been assured cruise lines do not like doing (although they do it in lots of other places, like the very popular cruise destination of Bar Harbor, Maine). A practice we’ve been assured would drive the cruise ships away from Sydney.

And yet, they’re still coming.



Of the 117 cruise ships expected in the Port of Sydney in 2019, 15 — including the first one, which arrives today — will dock in Louisbourg.

This is, of course, portrayed as a great boon for the Fortress. But I have already done the math on this and it’s depressing.

If you look at the website of the Hurtigruten Cruise Line (owner of the mellifluously named FRAM, this year’s first cruise ship) you’ll see “The Fortress of Louisbourg & Lighthouse” excursion includes a visit to the national historic site, a guided tour, a chance to see the first lighthouse in Canada and to “explore a place untouched by time” (which is pretty rich in reference to a fortress that was once blown up).

History: Fortress of Louisbourg

It’s considered an “easy” excursion that lasts “approximately 2 hours” and can accommodate a maximum of 84 passengers.

The cost? “From $183.”

How much of that goes to the Fortress Louisbourg? Well, back in 2016, when I asked that question, Parks Canada told me that for cruise lines:

Large volume discounts can be applied to entry fees, of either 5%, 10% or 15%, depending on volume of visitors from that company the year before

Cruise passengers between 2009 and 2016 paid between $14.95 and $6.30 to enter the Fortress.

Let’s say the FRAM docks today and 84 passengers take the trip to the Fortress Louisbourg. If they pay $183 each, the cruise line will take in $15,372.

And if they pay the top entry fee at Louisbourg — $14.95 — Parks Canada will earn $1,255.80, or 8.2% of the total.

If they pay the most steeply discounted fee — $6.30 — Parks Canada will earn $529.20 or 3.4% of the total. That is, 3.4% of what the visitors believe a visit to the Fortress and environs is worth.

I told you it was depressing.

But wait, it gets even MORE depressing!



One of the other offshore excursions offered by Hurtigruten is the opportunity to hike something the cruise line thinks is called the “Coxhealth Mountain Trail” (that would be the Coxheath Hills Trail to us locals):

Remember, this is a vessel that is docking in Louisbourg, so the excursion — which is considered “Hard” — takes approximately 4 hours and 30 minutes and costs (are you sitting down?) $199.

Yes, dear readers, Hurtigruten is charging people $200 to hike a free trail. I have asked the non-profit Coxheath Hills Wilderness Recreation Association if they benefit monetarily from these excursions (there is a mention of a “guide” in the excursion description) but I’m guessing that if they do, it will be nothing compared to the benefit reaped by the cruise line — the website says a maximum of 40 passengers can take the excursion meaning the cruise line could gross as much as $7,960 per outing.

Also worth noting: the excursion involves a walk in the woods, which means it does not involve shopping or dining or otherwise spending money on the island. From the cruise line’s perspective, it’s damn near perfect.



If you really want to disappear into the woods, you can take Hurtigruten’s Chéticamp-Hiking the Highlands excursion.

This takes five hours, rates a “Medium” on the exertion scale and will set you back $333.

As a maximum of 50 passengers may take this excursion, the cruise line could gross up to $16,650.

The Cape Breton Highlands National Park, where the moose-spotting is to be done, receives between $6.46 and $6.80 per visitor, depending, again, on the discount applied for return business.

That means the most it can earn from a 50-person group is $340 — or 2.0% of the cruise line’s gross.

There is also a tour of Chéticamp which includes a meal at Le Gabriel and a visit to Flora’s gift store (actually Flora’s Gift Shop) where you can buy things if you have any money left over after paying $283 to the cruise line for the excursion. And finally, there is a Chéticamp-Cape Breton Highlands and Lunch excursion which will also set you back $283, takes seven hours and includes lunch at the Keltic Lodge.



MacDonald also interviewed one businessperson — the owner of Governor’s Pub in Sydney — who said they do 70% of their business in five months and three of those months are in peak cruise season. He also said the cruise passengers who come in always have bags so they’re clearly shopping.

Now, I love anecdotal evidence as much as the next person (I have my own about cruise ship passengers — like, they stand outside Tim Horton’s using the free wifi without buying anything) but I know this is not how you measure the economic impact of the cruise industry.

I also know simply accepting industry numbers — 95% of all passengers disembark then spend, on average, $66.92 each — isn’t a reasonable way to measure it either

I wrote about an Acadia University economics professor, Burç Kayahan, who did a study of the actual economic impact of the cruise industry in Newfoundland and found it was much lower than the cruise industry would have you believe. (Kayahan’s study hadn’t included Sydney, but when I spoke with him he told me he thought some of their findings might be applicable.)

I still think a proper economic impact study would be a brilliant project for some enterprising CBU business students to undertake.



It has taken me over three hours to write this (I’d say a “Medium” on the exertion scale) because research and fact-checking take time. It would have been so much easier just to say, “Yay Cruise!” and be done with it.

But you have people to do that.

I think I must continue to be the old crank on the cruise ship. (You know, the one grumbling about the selection at the lunch buffet.)


Prison abolition

Ruth Wilson Gilmore (Photo by Dana Scruggs for The New York Times)

Ruth Wilson Gilmore (Photo by Dana Scruggs for The New York Times)

Although we learned last week that life at the Cape Breton Correctional Facility is a dream — at least, as far as staff is concerned — there are people in this world, believe it or not, who think prisons should simply not exist.

Like, not at all.

One such person is Ruth Wilson Gilmore — activist, scholar and long-time prison abolitionist — who is profiled in the most recent New York Times Magazine. (Thanks to the sharp-eyed spectator who sent me the link.)

You should really read the article (which is written by Rachel Kushner, author of two books I enjoyed immensely, The Flamethrowers and The Mars Room) but to give you a sense of Gilmore’s thinking on the subject, let me quote one paragraph:

For Gilmore, who has been active in the movement for more than 30 years, [abolition is] both a long-term goal and a practical policy program, calling for government investment in jobs, education, housing, health care — all the elements that are required for a productive and violence-free life. Abolition means not just the closing of prisons but the presence, instead, of vital systems of support that many communities lack. Instead of asking how, in a future without prisons, we will deal with so-called violent people, abolitionists ask how we resolve inequalities and get people the resources they need long before the hypothetical moment when, as Gilmore puts it, they “mess up.”

Gilmore — who is African American — challenges what she calls “myths” about mass incarceration in ways that can be quite startling if you, like me, had accepted certain truths about prisons in America to be self evident:

For Gilmore, and for a growing number of scholars and activists, the idea that prisons are filled with nonviolent offenders is particularly problematic. Less than one in five nationally are in prisons or jail for drug offenses, but this notion proliferated in the wake of the overwhelming popularity of Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow,” which focuses on the devastating effects of the war on drugs, cases that are primarily handled by the (relatively small) federal prison system. It’s easy to feel outrage about draconian laws that punish nonviolent drug offenders, and about racial bias, each of which Alexander catalogs in a riveting and persuasive manner. But a majority of people in state and federal prisons have been convicted of what are defined as violent offenses, which can include everything from possession of a gun to murder. This statistical reality can be uncomfortable for some people, but instead of grappling with it, many focus on the “relatively innocent,” as Gilmore calls them, the addicts or the falsely accused — never mind that they can only ever represent a small percentage of those in prison.

(I’m curious to know if this is true of the Canadian system but I haven’t had time to do the research as I’ve been busy looking up details of cruise excursions.}

Basically, Gilmore says we have to care about the people who are violent as well as those locked up for non-violent offenses and ask whether locking violent people in prisons (subjecting them, in her terms, to “organized violence”) makes any sense. To her, it doesn’t — nor does it make sense to Udi Ofer, the campaign director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), who told Kushner:

“Incarceration does not work.”

And added that he wants to “defund the prison system and reinvest in communities.”

This is really thought-provoking stuff — as in, I read it almost a week ago and I’m still thinking about it.



I am also really enjoying the new Michael Lewis podcast, Against the Rules. (Even though he, too, does his own ads — apparently he listens to Audible books every morning and loves his Quip electric toothbrush. Sigh.)

In an episode entitled The Hand of Leonardo, he considers (among other things) the rationale behind paying CEOs such crazy high salaries — in the US today, that means roughly 400 times the average employee salary.

(Closer to home, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives determined in 2017 that the average Canadian worker earned $50,759 per year while the average of the richest 100 CEOs was $9,998,238.)

Lewis picks apart the theory that CEOs — unlike anyone else in a company — need outrageous amounts of money to motivate them to work hard and make good decisions. Lewis tells a guest (who helps corporations design executive pay packages) that he just can’t understand why $1 million a year isn’t enough to get the best performance out of a CEO, why:

…those extra nine million dollars of carrot for making good decisions and being smart and trying hard are necessary to get a guy, who’s already ambitious and a Type A person…Nobody is offering [that to] anybody else in the company, they’re just assuming that everybody’s going to try their hardest and make good decisions. The idea that this particular class of human being needs this giant reward in order to be smart is actually quite damning about that class of human being.

I’d never thought of it that way, but I think he has a point.

Of course, we don’t have many ten million dollar men (or women) in Cape Breton but we do have examples of excessive CEO salaries. For example, the CEO of one local entity (which starts with “P” and rhymes with “short”) earns a salary that accounts for 29% of total salaries paid in the organization. Fully one-third of all monies paid in salary are going to one person.

And are we getting hard work and smart decision making in return? Well, the entity ended 2017-18 with a $50,000 deficit so you tell me.



I have a print of The Death of General Wolfe, the 1770 painting by Anglo-American artist Benjamin West depicting British General James Wolfe expiring on the Plains of Abraham in 1759.

I don’t have it because I feel sympathy for the dying Wolfe, I have it because a friend gave it to me as a joke. She knew that, as a Cape Bretoner of Highland Scottish descent, I would appreciate a picture of Wolfe shuffling off this mortal coil — he’s the one who said of the Highland soldiers he’d helped defeat at Culloden in 1746:

I should imagine that two or three independent Highland companies might be of use; they are hardy, intrepid, accustomed to a rough country, and no great mischief if they fall. How better can you employ a secret enemy than by making his end conducive to the common good?

The Death of General Wolfe, 1770, Benjamin West (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

The Death of General Wolfe, 1770, Benjamin West (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

I’m betting you recognize the phrase “No great mischief.

(An aside: I’ve doctored the painting to add a relative of ours, Donald Og, one of those “hardy” Highlanders who fought for the British in the Battle of Quebec. I had no idea what Donald Og looked like, so I made him look like my great-grandfather, which means he’s wearing a fedora and consulting a pocket watch. I think it’s an improvement, although I’m not sure Benjamin West would agree.)

This is my long-winded introduction to a story about a housing development that is being built on the battlefield at Culloden (I seem to have housing developments on the brain these days).

Cairnfields is a luxury, 16-house development underway in Viewhill, Inverness. How luxurious? The available homes are all five bedroom and range in price from £439,995 to £524,995 or in Canadian dollars $765,917 to $913,880. (I really wanted the slogan to be: “Come for the battle — stay for the exceptionally spacious five–bedroom homes with large double integral garages,” but it’s not.)

The development is in the Culloden Muir Conservation Area; it seems only about a third of the battlefield is under the care of the National Trust for Scotland, the rest is held by private landowners, one of whom recently sold his property to the above-mentioned developer.

I guess the Canadian equivalent of this would be allowing a luxury housing development on the Plains of Abraham.

There’s a “radical plan” afoot to purchase the remaining privately held land “on behalf of the nation.” And in a very 2019 touch, the organizers are hoping the popularity of the television show Outlander (a time travel show about the Jacobite Rebellion that I find hard to watch because — and this is not even a joke — I know how it ends) will help drum up support for their cause.