Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

Chief Paul responds…

The press release Albert Barbusci issued last week announcing his plan to establish a waste plastic-to-fuels plant in his “logistics park” in Edwardsville included the following quote from Membertou Chief Terry Paul:

Membertou Chief Terry Paul (Source: Membertou website

Membertou Chief Terry Paul (Source: Membertou website)

As active partners in SHIP, the reduced carbon footprint of our facilities is key to the sustainability of the project moving forward. Ensuring we’re doing all we can to protect our resources and our communities is a Mi’kmaq value we hold closely. We’re pleased to continue on this project with environmental efficiency at its forefront.

While writing my story on the scheme this week, I asked Paul about his support for Barbusci’s plan — in particular, I asked if he had any concerns about the untested technology involved and Barbusci’s declaration that the plant can proceed even if the container port he’s supposed to be developing doesn’t materialize and waste has to be brought in by truck. On Wednesday, after publication, I received Chief Paul’s response from Kelsea MacNeil, communications director with Membertou Corporate:

As with all things we do in Membertou, we’ve made a commitment to ensure that we can be working as sustainably as possible; our development in Novazone included. In the Mi’kmaq culture, we hold our values of land and water protection closely, and through this development, we’ve been assured that the waste product produced, will be 100% recycled. While we acknowledge that any kind of development has elements of waste associated with it, we believe this is just the start of being mindful about our environment moving ahead. From the outset, we are committed to using a greener lens than has been considered in past developments.

Presumably, Paul has received his “assurances” from Barbusci, who has no expertise in the controversial plastics-to-fuels space and who seems to have assured QCI that it will have access to a deep-water container port and rail.

If I were Chief Paul, I don’t think I’d feel particularly reassured.


Hello helipad!

During its irregular monthly meeting Wednesday (at 9:30 AM), CBRM council unanimously approved funding for a helipad as part of the second cruise ship berth. The funding ($100,000) had been earmarked for an extension to the Sydney boardwalk which we don’t need anymore because the Marconi Campus of the NSCC is absolutely no doubt about it going to be built on the waterfront.

There doesn’t seem to have been any discussion of other possible public uses for the money, but let’s face it: if you leave $100,000 lying around the Civic Centre, it won’t be long before someone thinks of a private business that could benefit from it, and in this case, it was our own mayor who recommended that council re-assign the money to a helipad, explaining:

And as a cruise terminal, it would provide us for Canada, Eastern Canada but, I know, likely all of Eastern North America, to be the only cruise pavilion with a heliport attached to it for excursion and opportunity that competitively position us…”

Rodney Colbourne of the Ben Eoin Development Group wrote to say he thinks the CBRM would be very wise to spend public money on a helipad:

The Ben Eoin Development Group through our strategic development plans at the Lakes at Ben Eoin Golf Club & Resort have been working with Breton Air on a number of initiatives that are mutually beneficial. Specifically speaking, an operational site on Sydney’s waterfront will allow us to tap into the clientele of the extremely successful and growing cruise strategy. Partnering with Breton Air, we will be able to get interested visitors to our property quicker and for a greater length of time, not to mention adding to the guest experience and promotion of Cape Breton by traveling via air over some of the most picturesque islands in the country.

Of course, Colbourne’s group wants its own helipad and this will establish an excellent precedent of the public paying for helipads, so there’s that. (Also, don’t you think: “Travel via air over some of the most picturesque islands in the country” is a Destination Cape Breton ad campaign waiting to happen?)

Cabot Links general manager Andrew Alkenbrack also approves of the helipad plan — but then again, his boss thought the public should build him a $28 million airport.

Dennis Campbell of Ambassatours thinks passengers on the “higher end” cruises will “be delighted to pay accordingly to get off the ship, right onto a helicopter” and be “whisked away” — perhaps even as far as Sable Island. (Except, probably, those who’ve opted to take a high end cruise because they’re afraid of flying.)

Port of Sydney CEO Marlene Usher thinks having a helicopter at the wharf will help the Port deal with its bus shortage. Yes, she thinks that — she wrote it in a letter and you can read it yourself, I’ve attached copies of all the supporting letters.


And finally, Parker Horton, CEO of Breton Air, the helicopter operator that stands to be the biggest beneficiary of the plan, told council:

This capability will increase accessibility and options for visitors to our port. The clients who are utilizing the service of Breton Air are forecasted to be in the traditional big spender market. These individuals will now be given the opportunity to conduct a quick scenic tour or a helicopter trip with a small excursion added on. These clients will be gone for 1-2 hours of their port stay instead of the majority of their stay — now in the position to peruse and spend their money in the downtown core.

First, if the business case is so solid, why aren’t all these businesspeople chipping in to build a helipad? Could it be there is no cruise pavilion on the east coast of North America with a helipad because there is no cruise-related business case to support one?

Memorial University Professor Ross A. Klein (aka cruisejunkie), who has made a study of the cruise industry, told me back in October 2016 that cruise lines make a 50% to 90% commission on their official on-shore excursions, which is why most of what they do in Cape Breton involves taking passengers to provincial or federal parks where they get discounted entry rates.

Breton Air’s helicopter excursions are expensive — a 20-minute tour of the CBRM costs $129.00 per person (if you travel in a group of five); a trip to the Glenora Distillery (which also sent a letter in support of the helipad) for a whiskey tasting costs $599.00 per person; and a trip to Ingonish (just to view it from the air) costs $360 per person.

For a cruise line to offer these as official excursions, I’m guessing Breton Air, Glenora Distillery and Cabot Links would be expected to offer steeply discounted rates — discounted enough so that the final price would be within the realm of the possible for cruise ship passengers (even the “higher end” ones) and still give the cruise line a fat commission.

How could that make financial sense for any of these businesses?

The Port of Sydney’s own statistics put average, per-cruise passenger spending in Sydney at $66.92 (and Klein thinks that figure is overblown). Moreover, if a cruise passenger did spend $129 for a 20-minute helicopter tour, how much money would they have left over to spend in “the downtown core?”

I learned a word this week that describes the way politicians manage to see value in schemes like this  — “handwavium.” Strictly speaking, it applies to science fiction writers who “wave their hands” at “reality and hard science for the sake of the plot” but I think it could apply equally well to elected officials who “wave their hands” at financial realities for the sake of infrastructure they think is cool (and the chance to meet the demands of the business community, which in this case seems to be employing some handwavium of its own to make this plan look reasonable.)

And what’s in it for us? Well, according to Horton:

The heli-pad itself is located on an iconic piece of property and will draw in visitors to simply see the helicopter in operation…

Yes, those of us who can’t afford a tour can press our faces up against the fence and gape at the flying machine.

A Dhia, cuidich mi.


It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a SUPER NURSE!

Quebec Health Minister Danielle McCann introduced legislation in the provincial legislature Wednesday to increase the powers of the province’s specialized nurse practitioners, also known as “super nurses.”

According to the Montreal Gazette:

McCann announced last May they would soon be able to run diagnostics, determine treatments and prescribe medications without a doctor’s oversight. But to come into force, the major changes require the adoption of a law followed by new regulations…

Nurse practitioners will be able to treat everyday health problems like infections and injuries as well as chronic issues like arthritis, migraines and osteoporosis. They can also be consulted for pediatric treatment or mental health issues. If they come across more complex cases, such as possible cancer, they can tell patients to consult a doctor.

At present, super-nurses can only offer “hypothetical diagnoses” on six chronic diseases. The hypothesis must be confirmed within 30 days by a doctor.

Super-nurses are health professionals who must hold a masters in nursing science, plus a complementary diploma in medical science, followed by an internship of 950 hours.

Reporting the same story, LaPresse noted that the new legislation (Bill 43) allows the super nurses to provide roughly 80% of front-line healthcare services — in short, they will be able to treat “the vast majority” of patients coming into a clinic or an emergency department.

At the moment, Quebec doctors receive $30,000 annually for overseeing nurses’ work.  This payment will be discontinued if the new law passes.

There are currently 600 super nurses in the province. The previous Quebec government had pledged to create 2,000 super nurses by 2023-24, a goal the current administration has pledged to meet.

Something for Nova Scotia to think about? Certainly something to monitor.


Hip-Hop History

I have Jesse Brown at Canadaland to thank for this one — I had not heard anything about the Canadian series Hip-Hop Evolution on Netflix until I heard Brown’s interview with the team behind the show last Monday.

The series (now in its third season) traces the history of hip-hop from its roots in 1970s New York to the present day and is hosted by the Canadian rapper Shad. If you are as ignorant of hip-hop as I am (which you probably aren’t, I am remarkably ignorant), you probably know Shad as the poor guy who replaced Jian Ghomeshi as host of CBC radio’s Q (renamed “q”) for a hot minute in 2014-15. The guy who generated headlines like “Why is Shad so bad?” in the Globe & Mail. (That piece, by Simon Houpt, was critical of Shad’s interview technique, saying the host relied too heavily on prepared questions and failed to follow-up on the answers.)

I didn’t really have an opinion of Shad as host because I didn’t like q even when it was Q — I don’t enjoy that treadmill celebrity journalism, where everyone has a book or a movie or an album to sell and can be heard giving the same answers to the same questions on a dozen shows during the promotion period.

But if Shad’s interviewing skills were weak five years ago, they’ve come a long way . Hip Hop Evolution is entertaining and informative and Shad’s ability to connect with his subjects — people even I can identify as hip-hop royalty — is the key to its success.

The show won a Peabody Award for excellence in broadcasting in its first season, with the judges saying of it:

It may seem unusual that a superior documentary on one of the most American of art forms—hip-hop culture and rap music—would be produced by a Canadian director and hosted by an MC raised in Ontario. But director Darby Wheeler’s Hip-Hop Evolution proves the universality of rap by digging deep into the roots of the music as the early soundtrack to bustling house parties and an urgent street culture in New York City. Host Shad is an earnest, knowledgeable guide, helping viewers navigate the genre’s history from the 1970s to the 1990s—including in-depth interviews with rap icons like DJ Kool Herc, Russell Simmons, Kurtis Blow, Public Enemy’s Chuck D., and many more. The four-part series serves as a detailed chronicle of how music born from the poorest neighborhoods in urban America rose to become a worldwide phenomenon, giving new vitality and visibility to long-ignored voices from people of color along the way. For its success in bridging cultures and fleshing out the history of an important pop culture institution with a documentarian’s detail, Hip-Hop Evolution wins a Peabody Award.

I am really glad to have discovered the series, which Canadaland termed “an incredible piece of journalism that nobody is talking about.”

Now we’re talking.