Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

Sino-Nova Scotian relations

I honestly don’t know what to make of Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil’s apparently chummy relations with China at a time when Canada and the People’s Republic are barely speaking (and Port of Sydney promoter Albert Barbusci has been cruelly abandoned by his Chinese backers, a fact that rarely — read: never — gets mentioned in broader discussions of Sino-Canadian relations because it’s not really a thing.)

McNeil met the Chinese ambassador to Canada, Lu Shaye, in Halifax on Wednesday, during which meeting, according to Postmedia, our premier did not raise the consular cases of two Canadians detained in China “despite Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland’s office asking him to use the rare face time with Chinese officials to do just that.”

“Global Affairs Canada and the minister’s office have spoken with and briefed elected Canadian officials visiting China, including the office of Premier McNeil, to underscore how important these cases are and the importance of raising them with the Chinese,” Freeland’s press secretary Adam Austen said.

Instead, coming off several years of successful efforts to improve the province’s business ties and increase seafood exports to China, the two discussed “regional issues,” McNeil’s spokesman David Jackson said, and the detentions “did not come up.” Shaye told journalists during a photo opportunity that McNeil is a “great friend,” and Nova Scotia is at the forefront of co-operation between China and Canadian provinces.

The declaration that McNeil is “a great friend” to China comes literally days after Lu announced bilateral relations between China and Canada had hit “rock bottom.” So this is kind of like being the only Hatfield the McCoys can stand.

But one can’t help but wonder just how we managed to achieve this status — although I’m thinking barring reporters from asking questions during the Chinese ambassador’s brief photo op, as McNeil did, probably helps — and how far we’re prepared to go to maintain it.

That said, the official photos out of  Wednesday’s meeting don’t suggest it was a Trump/Kim Jong Un-style lovefest:

Second from the left, China’s Ambassador to Canada Lu Shaye and far right Premier Stephen McNeil at a working session at One Government Place in Halifax. (JPG, 2.5 MB)

If this is what the premier’s communications people thought was the best shot, can you imagine what the others must have looked like? McNeil is staring at the Chinese ambassador like he’s thinking, “Not gonna bring up those Canadians detained in China. Not gonna do it.”

The ambassador is staring at someone or something not visible in the photo. Derek Mombourquette is staring at the television camera. The ambassador’s right-hand man is staring at his notes. Keith Colwell is looking at what looks like an agenda. Leo Glavine is looking at a reporter filming with his cell phone.

And the other official picture is even better:

China’s Ambassador to Canada Lu Shaye with Premier Stephen McNeil in Halifax.

Do these look like the facial expressions of “great friends?”

More to the point, do we want to be great friends with a regime that, besides detaining two Canadians is detaining an estimated 1 million members of the ethnic Uighur minority indefinitely for, as NPR put it, “‘Extremist thoughts’ they didn’t know they had?'” Do we actually make a distinction between authoritarian regimes with poor human rights records and authoritarian regimes with poor human rights records who like seafood?


Plastics, Ben, plastics

News that Malaysia is joining the Philippines and China in rejecting Canada’s plastic garbage should be the death knell for the plastic shopping bag.

Finding other options for the plastics wrapping frozen vegetables and fresh vegetables and processed meat and mixed nuts and, okay, let’s face it, pretty much every kind of foodstuff we purchase is going to be difficult — how difficult? Read this article by the CBC’s Elias Abboud about trying to live a zero-waste life in Montreal — but bringing re-usable bags to the grocery store is easy.

And if it takes banning plastic bags to force people to start bringing their own bags, then so be it. (Sobey it?)

Prominent Canadian brands can be seen after a container full of plastic is opened in Malaysia. (Eric Szeto/CBC)

Those shipping containers crammed full of our waste are deeply embarrassing — especially considering the people who disposed of all this plastic did so believing they were doing something good for the environment, putting it in their recycling bins instead of sending it to the local landfill.

It’s time to step away from the plastic shopping bags. Don’t look back. Just find a system that helps you remember to bring your usable bags each time you go shopping. Keep them in the car, write “bags” as the first item on your grocery list, carry a couple in your purse or backpack, hang them by your coat or your purse, tell your child not to let you leave the house without them — children make excellent enforcers, in my experience — find a way to make it work.

And I bet you won’t even miss the plastic.


Blue Puttees

As I mentioned in Wednesday’s edition, I am currently on a working holiday — I traveled to Québec City by way of New Brunswick’s Acadian Coast and the Gaspé Peninsula. Along the way, I spotted a friend from home: Marine Atlantic’s Blue Puttees in dry dock at the Verrault Navigation shipyard in Les Méchins, PQ:

Blue Puttees, Les Méchins PQ, May 2019. (Spectator photo)

Curious, I asked Marine Atlantic’s corporate communications officer Darrell Mercer what was up. He told me in an email:

The Blue Puttees is in dry dock undergoing planned preventative maintenance activities. Every year, each of our vessels is taken out of the schedule during off-peak periods to have routine maintenance undertaken. The Highlanders recently returned from its planned work period and replaced the Blue Puttees in the schedule. We have three vessels currently operating as per our regularly scheduled activities for this time of year.

My next thought was — isn’t there a marine repair outfit in North Sydney? Could CME not handle the work? And the answer, of course, is that CME could not handle the work:

This work is issued through a Request for Proposals and requires a large, specially designed shipyard to undertake these activities. There would be a limited number of yards in eastern North America that would have the dry docking facilities and capacity required to undertake this work.

In fact, Verrault Navigation has a rather dramatic video of the shipyard working on the Blue Puttees in 2016:

This marks the second time on this trip — the first being developments related to the Port of Québec — that I’ve been struck by the difference between reality and what passes for it in the CBRM.


Horse’s eye view

And now for something totally different.

I enjoy the reporting in the New Yorker magazine, which is why I subscribe. I find the politics a little too staid for my tastes, I don’t read the fiction (I’m not sure why, I believe it’s very good, I’m just not interested) and I think what passes for “humor” in the Shouts & Murmurs column must have James Thurber rolling in his grave.

Illustration by Luci Gutiérrez (Source: New Yorker)

But I’ve recently discovered this last gripe isn’t entirely justified.

A friend instructed me to make an exception and read the Shouts & Murmurs contribution by John Kenney (no relation to Jason, I’m assuming) from the May 20th edition, which purports to describe the Kentucky Derby from the point of view of the horses and which actually made me laugh out loud more than once.

I like it when I can end Fast & Curious on a high note.

Exit Laughing.