Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things


I have three things I want to link together here and I have to do it quickly before I forget one (or more) of them:

1. During his “fireside” chat at the Cape Breton Regional Chamber of Commerce this week, Premier Stephen McNeil declared that he had no interest in discussing “equalization.” In dismissing the subject, he said protesters (some of whom he’d passed on his way into the gathering) demanding more financial support for the municipality from the provincial government are referencing an “old formula” under which $30 million is set aside for municipal grants, 50% of which go to the CBRM.

Because the premier was being questioned by the CEO of the Chamber of Commerce (Kathleen Yurchesyn) and not a reporter, he was not pressed on the fact that these grants have been frozen at the $30 million level for years and the $15 million the CBRM receives is now entirely outstripped by the $19 million it must return to the province in the form of mandatory payments for housing, corrections, education and the provincial property valuation corporation.

Cape Breton Regional Chamber of Commerce CEO Kathleen Yurcheson and Premier Stephen McNeil

Cape Breton Regional Chamber of Commerce CEO Kathleen Yurcheson and Premier Stephen McNeil having a “fireside chat” without a fire.

McNeil was allowed to move on to discussing all the money he’s “given” MLAs Derek Mombourquette and Geoff MacLellan, making it sound like he’s their dad and the $700 million the province is putting into hospitals and the NSCC relocation is their allowance. (Except this analogy doesn’t really work because dads don’t usually tell kids how to spend their allowance.)

Unworkable analogy aside, there is something paternalistic about McNeil’s approach to governance — he’s not interested in talking about “equalization,” which would involve increasing assistance to the municipality (maybe simply by relieving it of those mandatory payments) and allowing it to determine its own spending priorities. He wants a say in how the money is spent, hence the project-by-project approach to assistance.

2. During the same chat, McNeil said his government was “not proud” of the province’s child poverty rates. (For the record, he was not actually asked, “Are you proud of this province’s child poverty rates?”) He said the upcoming provincial budget would address the issue but didn’t offer details (in contrast to his small business and corporate tax cuts which he was happy to discuss during his appearance at the Halifax Chamber of Commerce.)

3. In a column in the Cape Breton Post this week, CBU poli sci professor Tom Urbaniak drew a direct line between the state of the CBRM’s infrastructure and the health and welfare of its children. After noting the community spirit he’d witnessed while judging a snowman contest in Glace Bay, he said:

Imagine being a young person in New Aberdeen/Number 2 (or a great many other neighbourhoods). The excellent school is still open, with the SchoolsPlus program, but there is no community centre. There is no library or drop-in within walking distance. There is no bicycle path through the community. There is no place to skate or swim. There is no municipal recreation officer based in the area.

Sidewalks are uneven or non-existent, and roads are crumbling. There is still almost no action on the unsafe crosswalks in the CBRM.

This urban neighbourhood, like others in the CBRM, is what’s called a “food desert.” Although there’s still a welcoming convenience store, you have to drive somewhere else to get most groceries.

All the issues identified are traceable to the cash-strapped status of the CBRM. It’s what the people demanding equalization are complaining about and whether or not you agree with their solution, you can’t deny the problem they’ve identified.

Urbaniak argues we must turn our “vague complaints” into a list of municipal spending priorities:

…right down to each new community centre, rink, flashing crosswalk, modern park and wave pool, each sidewalk, filled pothole and multi-use trail, each neighbourhood animator and housing revitalization program.

He suggests our “New Deal” could be spelled out in a municipal charter. (Remember our municipal charter? The one that began with public input on subjects ranging from equalization and property assessments to immigration and food security and ended up as an amendment to the Municipal Government Act allowing the municipality to lease port lands for 99 years?)

Urbaniak has done the work in connecting two of these points for me — the welfare of Nova Scotia’s children (of all Nova Scotians, really) is linked to the financial capacity of the municipalities charged with providing so many basic, public services. I just have to draw a line to the premier’s comments this week, which I would do this way: you can’t really claim to care about the first of these things while at the same time refusing to discuss the second.



Here are two other random pieces of information I picked up during the premier’s Chamber of Commerce visit and have been carrying around ever since like a dirty plate and a crumpled napkin at a stand-up buffet. Having nothing better to do with them, I will simply deposit them here, behind this vase of flowers:

  1. He has never written a resume — he went from being the owner of a small appliance repair business to being a politician.
  2. His heroes are Robert Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


Let there be light

Reading Stephen Archibald’s Noticed in Halifax blog this week, I came across a reference to Jordan Bennett, a Mi’kmaq visual artist from Stephenville Crossing, Newfoundland (Ktaqamkuk) whose practice:

…utilizes painting, sculpture, video, installation and sound to explore land, language, the act of visiting, familial histories and challenging colonial perceptions of indigenous histories and presence with a focus on exploring Mi’kmaq and Beothuk visual culture of Ktaqamkuk.

Bennett painted Mila’muksijik Kawiik (Coloured Quills) on the side of the Crowell’s building in downtown Sydney as part of Lumière 2016:

Jordan Bennett (Source: Lumiere Cape Breton Facebook Page

Jordan Bennett (Source: Lumiere Cape Breton Facebook Page)

Archibald, who was reviewing the new Halifax Convention Centre after attending an open house, suggested Bennett could be brought in to liven things up a bit. As evidence, he used this 2019 example of Bennett’s work from the National Gallery in Ottawa:

Mi'kmaq artist Jordan Bennett's installation Tepkik, National Gallery of Canada (Photo by Jordan Bennett)

Mi’kmaq artist Jordan Bennett’s installation Tepkik, National Gallery of Canada (Photo by Jordan Bennett)

Isn’t that beautiful? All I could think was that, if we ever do manage to defeat the odds and build a new CBRM central library, we should bring Bennett back to work his magic.


Breaking the ice

Sometimes, when deadlines loom and research drags and writing proves so difficult you start to think you’d rather be shoveling snow, a good thing to do is relax and watch a large ship dock in a wintry Canadian port: