Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

More BullSHIP?

In a bit of revisionist history that would probably secretly impress the government of the People’s Republic of China, Sydney Harbour Investment Partners (SHIP) CEO Albert Barbusci has erased all mention of the Chinese from his latest Novaporte container terminal press release.

I figure the next step will be painting everybody except himself, former Prime Minister Jean Chretien and the first guy on the left out of this photo (although I realize, that’s more Stalin than People’s Republic):

Albert Barbusci (fourth from left) and Jean Chrétien (fifth from left) visit China Communications Construction Company. (Source: Novaporte website)

Albert Barbusci (fourth from left) and Jean Chrétien (fifth from left) visit China Communications Construction Company. (Source: Novaporte website)

Speaking to Tom Ayers of the CBC, Barbusci claimed the Chinese had backed out of financing Novaporte and Novazone — Barbusci’s names for a planned Ultra-Large Container Vessel (ULCV) terminal and logistics park in Sydney — because of “Aecon and Huawei issues last year.” (Huawei CEO Meng Wanzhou was arrested at Vancouver airport on 1 December 2018, which is last year — but just barely.)

So forget the trips to China, the Chinese sister city, the Chinese construction company, the Chinese financial backers, the Chinese shippers and the possibility that the Port of Sydney will become part of China’s Belt & Road Initiative (especially forget that, it never made any sense anyway). All that, it turns out, was just Plan A and we’ve moved on to Plan B — AVAIO Capital.

AVAIO Capital began life as the private infrastructure investment arm of the engineering firm AECOM in 2016. In October 2018, it was spun out of AECOM by its managing directors,  Mark McComiskey and Tony Gordon, a process completed only this January. AVAIO lists one project on its website under “prior investments” — a Mexican liquified natural gas terminal that has yet to be built.

And here’s some fun — compare what Robert Kelly, the president of Mexico Pacific Ltd (MPL), the owner and developer of the LNG project, said about what was then AECOM Capital’s investment (no financial terms disclosed):

MPL President Robert Kelly said, “AECOM Capital’s Infrastructure fund’s financial commitment and development investment expertise materially strengthens MPL’s position and will allow us to conclude pre-construction work and ensure the LNG facility achieves target operations by 2022. This is an important milestone that advances our ability to offer the lowest all-in cost LNG to Mexican, South American, Central American and Pacific basin markets from a uniquely advantaged next-generation west coast LNG facility”.

To what Barbusci said about AVAIO’s investment (no financial terms disclosed):

Novaporte CEO Albert Barbusci said, “AVAIO Capital’s financial and development investment expertise materially strengthens the Novaporte Project’s position and will enable us to advance the pre-construction activities required to put the port into construction. This is a significant milestone that enhances our ability to make the development viable for all parties involved.”

I can only assume landing a shipper is what Barbusci terms a “pre-construction” activity because without a shipper, there is no way this project succeeds.

But does anyone seriously imagine that if a shipper were to express interest in a Port of Sydney container terminal there would be any difficulty securing the financing to build it? Well, Barbusci apparently does. He told the Post:

And again, it’s cat and mouse. If you had the customer but didn’t have the money, you still couldn’t build. If you have the money but you don’t have a customer, you’re still stymied.

First of all, he means “chicken and egg” not “cat and mouse.”

Although the use of “cat and mouse” may be a Freudian slip, given the official definition of the term:

: behavior like that of a cat with a mouse: such as
a : the act of toying with or tormenting something before destroying it
b : a contrived action involving constant pursuit, near captures, and repeated escapes

Cat and mouse is what he’s playing with us.

Maybe Barbusci thinks this announcement will constitute a “significant” enough “development” to ensure the province continues subsidizing the railway. (A railway AVAIO, which claims to have done its due diligence in the project, seems to believe is functioning.)

I told myself no one could stretch the definitions of “significant” and “development” enough to cover this, but I underestimated Mayor Cecil Clarke, who told the Post:

I think the province would consider this substantial progress…This is part of putting in place what is needed.



First, the good news: Tim Bousquet reminded me we have a joint investigative fund ($5 from every $15 joint Halifax Examiner/Cape Breton Spectator subscription goes into it) so I can pay the CBRM $390 (or more, I’m to get the final estimate from the Municipal Clerk on Friday) for information every citizen has a right to know.

Thanks to those of you who offered to chip in to pay the fee — these outrageous price tags on freedom of information requests are poison to small startups like the Spectator and that’s no accident.

I had made an (admittedly desperate) attempt to convince Municipal Clerk Deborah Campbell Ryan to waive the fees but she would have none of it. As she explained to me in an email:


(In passing, I thought municipalities were only permitted to communicate in all Bold, Red, All Caps in the case of an emergency? Could it be the CBRM considers the possible release of information an emergency?)

Of course, FOIPOP REGULATIONS ALSO ALLOW MUNICIPALITIES NOT TO CHARGE A FEE but that never carries as much weight with the people responding to FOIPOP requests in this province, who seem strangely invested in not sharing information with the public:

But here’s an interesting piece of information I gleaned from my preliminary skirmish with the Clerk, who explained that gathering the requested records — remember, I asked for travel and expenses for the mayor and two municipal employees — took longer than expected because:

There were several Third Parties that had to be contacted, and their representations must be reviewed before the records will be ready for release.

I can’t understand why a “Third Party” would have any say over the release of travel and expense records for people traveling and expending on the public dime but presumably $390 will buy me some clarity on this point.


Truro Library

1994 stamp, Provincial Normal School, Truro

I wrote the timeline of the new Truro Library this week without confirmation as to how the final cost of the library — $7.8 million — was shared between Truro and the County of Colchester and whether any provincial of federal funds were leveraged.

I received a response today (and have updated the timeline):

The county paid $2.5 million and Truro paid the rest.

There was no provincial or federal funding involved.


Port Daze

AGAINST ALL FLAGS, Maureen O’Hara, 1952 OR how the Spectator pictures Port Days.

“Port Days” sounds like something that should be fun.

If I had never attended a Port Day, I’d picture flotillas of local boats flying multi-colored pennants, sunshine on rippling waters, hornpipes, free rum, maybe even a spot of swashbuckling.

Port Days, in reality, of course, involve sitting in the murky cavern that is the main meeting hall of the Joan Harriss Cruise Pavilion listening to people hallucinate.

The hallucinations used to be about how gas and oil exploration in the Laurentian basin would be the key to the region’s prosperity.

When that prosperity didn’t materialize, the same people would take the stage and feverishly describe the Port of Sydney’s future as a transshipment hub for the world’s largest container vessels.

Last year, Port Days seemed poised to break with tradition and have serious people discussing serious progress on this container port project: the initial program listed Ports America VP Mike Journeycake and Director of Engineering Kevin Dickman who were to provide an update on “Novaporte,” the name our port promoters have given the project.

At the last minute, however, Journeycake and Dickman canceled and were replaced by one of those port promoters — Albert Barbusci, CEO of Sydney Harbour Investment Partners (SHIP). Then, in a surprise twist no one could have foreseen, Barbusci also canceled, and was replaced by his partner Barry Sheehy. As I reported at the time:

Sadly, Sheehy said he was not familiar enough with the file to fill us in on all the detailed (and “very expensive”) engineering work they are currently undertaking in preparation for the terminal, but he told us that they (presumably he and  Barbusci) had made a series of “successful” trips to Beijing, Shanghai and Tokyo. Some of the outcomes of these trips were “exciting.” Others were “very exciting.”  As he did not tell us what any of these outcomes were, we will simply have to take his word on the excitement factor.

This year, the container port project is SO EXCITING it wasn’t even on the Port Days agenda. (Although as noted above, Barbusci did attend, and made a “big” announcement.)

Instead, attendees heard about a new helicopter business because helicopters are the new Ultra-Large Container Vessels.

They also got an update on progress on the second cruise ship berth.

And they were updated on waterfront development by Jim Wooder of Harbour Royale Development Ltd (HRDL) who was no doubt booked for the gig before we found out how badly HRDL and our former economic development manager had bungled the funding application for the centerpiece of this development, our new central library.

I didn’t witness any of that, because I decided that if Andrew Prossin of One Ocean Expeditions could send his regrets (which he did and which is why attendees were treated to a “Keynote” address on the construction of a strip of concrete), so can I.


Criminal poverty

Marilynne Robinson (Source: Irish Times)

Marilynne Robinson (Source: Irish Times)

The latest issue of Harper’s Magazine contains an essay by the American novelist Marilyn Robinson (Gilead, Home, Lila, Housekeeping, favorites all) called “Is Poverty Necessary?” (I’m linking to it but I suspect it may require a subscription to read).

I love Robinson’s way of looking at and writing about the world, so I was interested to read her thoughts on poverty, which she grounds in her extensive reading of classical economics:

It was fascinating to see how endlessly a little clutch of certitudes could elaborate itself without ever evolving. The crucial assertion at the center of it all is called “the iron law of wages,” which says that the price of labor must and will tend always toward subsistence, quite literally toward the level consistent with the worker’s survival. Then there is “the labor theory of value,” which proposes that labor is the source of all economic value. One might expect this to imply that the value of labor should be reflected in wages. But this would defy that iron law. So the theory is interpreted to mean that labor is the great cost in the making of anything, which would diminish capital, the ultimate employer. If wages rose above subsistence, this would plunge the whole system into ruin. Thus workers must be kept poor for their own sake. Or, a less benign view: workers would subvert the social wealth, impoverishing the nation, if they by any means had more than they absolutely need. William Beveridge, called the Father of the Welfare State, wrote economics of just this kind, and so did Beatrice Webb. I have no reason to think it ever died out. Indeed, American practice moves continuously in this direction, toward the radical polarization this economics was meant to promote and rationalize.

Even Karl Marx, Robinson suggests, although he deplored this “political economy” seemed to “accept its laws as inevitabilities.”

Much of the article focuses on the work of a 19th century American economist, Henry George, whom Robinson describes as “fairly free of those assumptions that govern both Marxian and classical economics.”

George argues that the wage of a worker should be a share in the value his or her labor creates. He argues that people create value, actively and passively, and that this excess value should be a resource of the community. In nothing is the difference in perspective more stark than in the fact that he considers poverty a crime, the criminal being a misconceived social and economic order. He sees the loss of health and purpose and morale involved in poverty as a profound injury, individual and collective.

Robinson explores notions like the American fear of the word “collective,” the  effects of increased automation in the workforce and the difference between “idleness and leisure,” saying thoughtful things at every turn.

Added Robinson bonus: Here she is in a panel discussion with another of my favorites, the Irish author Colm Toibin, on the CBC’s Writers & Company in 2017.


The Intelligence

I have just discovered the Economist‘s daily podcast, The Intelligence — the British magazine’s answer to The Daily podcast from the New York Times — and I am really enjoying it.

(Full disclosure: I also happen to know someone involved in its production, I say that not by way of boast. Oh, who am I kidding, I’m totally boasting — I know someone who works at the Economist!)

Now, before you point out that the Economist is a kind of a strange fit for me, let me hasten to share the secret to reading it and other high-end business publications: ignore the editorial voice.

I don’t tend to agree with the Economist or the Wall Street Journal ideologically, but I appreciate the quality of their reporting — and the quality of their reporting is due to the need of their target audience (businesspeople) for accurate information. Businesspeople might want to spin news about their own companies but they want the truth about everybody else’s. I know, it’s kind of hilarious, but it works out well for the rest of us.

Where The Daily (and the CBC’s frontburner, which I’ve also plugged here) cover one story per episode, The Intelligence does three, and it’s usually an interesting mix. Today’s, for example, includes Brexit, Syrian refugees in Turkey and the Eurovision Song Contest.



Sorry, but I can’t resist a brief item about Eurovision, which is being hosted this year by Israel because Israel is a member of the European Broadcasting Union and any member can compete. (And each year’s competition is hosted by the winner from the year before.)

You really should listen to that episode of The Intelligence I mentioned above to get a sense of just how political this musical contest is each year.

I just want to note that the same contest that launched ABBA and Celine Dion also produced this year’s contestants from Iceland — Hatari — “anti-capitalist bondage art performers” whose goal is “to get one step nearer in destroying capitalism.”

And my all-time favorite Eurovision winners– Finland’s Lordi, a heavy metal band whose winning entry was “Hard Rock Hallelujah

Lordi (Source: Spotify)


Oh, Europe. I miss you.