Port? What Port? Clarke Looks Back at 2019

Listening to Mayor Cecil Clarke’s year-end interview on CBC Information Morning made me feel like Dorothy waking up in Kansas at the end of The Wizard of Oz.

Asked for highlights of 2019, Clarke pointed to the official opening of the second cruise ship berth,  which is actually scheduled to happen in 2020.

Judy Garland as Dorothy, Wizard of Oz, 1939.


In fact, he seemed much more interested in upcoming events — the 25th anniversary of the CBRM, the reopening of the Bayplex — than in anything that happened last year and seemed hard pressed to come up with much in the way of accomplishments from 2019. By the time he was citing “behind-the-scenes” capital planning as one of the most exciting happenings in the CBRM last year (which could only be the case if it involved tequila shots and an actual craps table), I was beginning to feel downright disoriented.

Hasn’t Mayor Clarke spent most of his seven years in office leading the “port file” on behalf of the CBRM? Didn’t we enter dodgy land deals and fund his extensive travels and foot the bills for expensive consultants’ reports in pursuit of a $1.5 billion container terminal in Sydney harbor? Weren’t we supposed to be a trans-shipment hub for the world’s largest container vessels by now? Wasn’t a crack team of port promoters granted a five-year exclusive contract to make it so? Where’s our logistics park? Where’s our refurbished rail line with double-stack rail capacity? Where are the hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in economic spin-off? What happened to the Emerald Container Terminal?


Judging by this snore-fest of an interview, the port project was not only a dream, it was a dream we are no longer admitting to having had.

Did I also dream this?

As flabbergasting as it may seem, CBC Information Morning host Steve Sutherland did not ask our mayor a single question about the container terminal project over the course of a roughly 17-minute interview — an interview that focused for an interminable amount of time on the fate of two skating rinks and the need for greater “civility” in council discussions of Santa Claus parades.

If Clarke is actually going to be allowed to walk away from the “port file” as though it never existed, there is only one conclusion to be drawn: there really is no place like home.



But what did the mayor discuss?

For my sins, I transcribed the entire interview, so I can give you some direct quotes. Here’s his more detailed response when asked to name a “couple of developments from the past year” that made him proud:

Well, the visible things that people would see and I think our largest project would be the second berth down at the port, ah, that coming to completion and being celebrated in the early New Year when the spring comes and we can actually, officially do the opening is going to be great. But a lot of work’s happened on the waterfront. We have a new police station being constructed which is the third police infrastructure which completes all of our facilities for North, Central and East Division so that’s a big plus to have that done.

It’s rude, I suppose, to point out that the “grand opening” of the second berth is actually behind schedule as it had to be scaled back and re-tendered when the initial bids came in too high; that we still don’t know how much we’ll have to pay for the land the CBRM expropriated from Jerry Nickerson (that’s up to the Utility and Review Board); or that the cruise industry is notoriously fickle and the construction of a second berth is no guarantee we’ll see the “many or several…five or six-thousand passenger days” promised us by Port of Sydney cruise marketing manager Christina Lamey.

I’m not sure what other “work” on the waterfront he’s referring to, and he didn’t offer any detail.

As for the police station, while it is a truth universally acknowledged that a municipality in possession of three new police stations is a municipality on the rise, I have to think this would have been a good opportunity to ask the mayor about our police chief, who has been on medical leave for months — a fact that, to the best of my knowledge, has yet to be officially acknowledged or addressed by the CBRM.



There followed far too much talk about the Bayplex and the Canada Games Complex without any acknowledgement from the mayor of the obvious: that we don’t need both of them. Then came the “capital planning” and budget process discussion (Clarke loves talking about the budget process for some reason, although in our cash-strapped municipality, council’s chief role seems to be turning down community groups’ requests for funding and threatening to cancel heavy garbage).

The CBRM Civic Centre, where all the exciting, behind-the-scenes capital planning happens.

Clarke did broach the subject of equalization, though, coming at it from two completely different angles, which was (almost) interesting. First, he said the CBRM was in the process of doing a “debt-affordability model” to “balance out our capital priorities.”

I look at it in a positive way, that having our debt affordability model done, planning for our five-year capital and corporate plans, being thoughtful about what we can afford to do but also being mindful of what we need to do. That is where the discussion goes next. I believe in the spring budget, I’m hoping the province, not only for CBRM but other municipalities with pressure, will factor that in. They have as the municipal equalization or service program or municipal agreement funding, whatever they want to call it, we do need more dollars and so do other municipalities.

Then he admitted there would be no such funding forthcoming, as per the response of “the minister” to the CBRM’s Viability study (“the minister,” like Voldemort, is never actually named in the interview but I assume it must be Municipal Affairs Minister Chuck Porter) and so offered some other “approaches” the CBRM could take to solving its financial problems:

[T]he example I can bring to you today is on transit. We went out and we said, ‘Here’s our operating pressure on transit.’ Rather than getting caught up in all the other melee of the CBRM, let’s talk about an actual, real pressure. We said we needed $1.2 million dollars for our shortfall at that point in time. The province stepped up and it provided that $1.2 [million] some additional dollars for more fleet coming in, so what we’ve looked at going forward is, can we leverage other assets that the, for instance, the Center for Education are using for their fleet facility, we’re now partnering with them to help utilize for cleaning bays and other work. So, there are other avenues where the province is saying, ‘Maybe we can participate without cutting a check but be a partner in service exchange and supporting you in that.’

Basically, instead of asking that equalization payments be increased to deal with the CBRM’s whole “melee” of financial needs, we should continue doing exactly what we’ve been doing anyway: approaching the province for assistance on a piecemeal basis.

Harbour Royale Development Ltd's concept for waterfront development in Sydney (i.e. other things that have yet to materialize in our Port.)

Harbour Royale Development Ltd’s concept for waterfront development in Sydney (i.e. other things that have yet to materialize in our Port.)

Clarke raised the possibility of “electric vehicles for buses” and said that, in response to increased demand for parking as a result of the relocation of the NSCC Marconi Campus to the waterfront, they were “looking at a park and-go facility that could be in the Open Hearth Park area,” by which he surely means “in the Open Hearth Park.”

Then came an inconclusive discussion of the fate of the Baille Ard Trail — which either will or will not be sacrificed in the service of the CBRM’s flood mitigation strategies during which I was struck by Clarke’s reference to the significant investment of public dollars that has gone into the trail, given this was an argument he didn’t find at all persuasive in the case of Archibald’s Wharf.

There followed the above-mentioned discussion of council “civility,” no part of which can I be bothered to reproduce here.

Oh, and the library, here’s all the mayor had to say about the hoped-for new central library:

[I]f we just walked away, for instance, when we were told ‘no’ on the first round of the library application, we’d be fixing up the McConnell. We haven’t walked away – we’ve got to find new ways to come about it and we have to listen to people in the process.

I think this is pretty thin gruel as an accomplishment — building a new central library would have been impressive. Not giving up after placing the proposed library in the hands of a private developer and messing up the initial funding application? Not so much.

Although credit where credit is due: it takes gall for someone who spent most of 2018 trying for all he was worth to “walk away” from the CBRM and into the leadership of the provincial Tories to stake his reputation on “not walking away.”  It was actually at this point in the interview that I thought, “He’s not running again.”

But oh, was I wrong.


Happily married mayor

Clarke, unless he gets a better offer between now and October, seems to be planning another mayoral run and the question, quite seriously, is why?

His own answer seems to be: because my husband wants me to. Reminded by Sutherland that he’d vowed in 2016 that he would not re-offer, Clarke said:

I’m a happily married man now and my decisions are not my own when it comes to what I would have previously made decisions on. I have a husband that, we’ll make a decision…

He goes on to claim that his priority now is “getting the job that I started done,” although he is vague about what that job is (and it certainly doesn’t seem to be the container port).

What strikes me, as I look over my transcript of this interview, is that Clarke doesn’t seem very engaged with this community he claims to love and lives to serve. I’ll cut him some slack and say that child poverty and housing shortages are not generally the sort of subjects covered in “year-end” interviews (although they probably should be).

But Clarke doesn’t even take the opportunity to talk about positive things that happened last year — he talks about the increased ridership on CBRM transit, for instance, without noting that it is largely thanks to the sudden influx of international students at CBU. In fact, he looks back at 2019 in the CBRM without mentioning the increased presence of international students at all, which is quite a feat.

He doesn’t mention the arts scene, no reference to a production he’d enjoyed at the HAT or Savoy, no mention of a Celtic Colours concert or a Making the Waves performance or a summer festival or Lumiere. He doesn’t mention eating at any of our new restaurants or patronizing any new businesses or walking a trail or attending a sports event — not even the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, which Sydney hosted in February 2019, and which surely counted as some sort of highlight of the year. Heck, he didn’t even mention the ICE WALL. Who could look back on 2019 in the CBRM without mentioning the Ice Wall? I personally think we should incorporate it into our official coat of arms.

But Clarke apparently thinks declaring the CBRM has “a lot going for it” without actually naming any of the things it’s got going for it is enough and plans to go into this October’s elections touting the reopened Bayplex and the second berth as the fruits of his eight years in office. In doing so, he is also counting on us forgetting all about that port thing.

Maybe he’s the one who’s dreaming.