CBRM Council: Tow the Line


During the Proclamations & Resolutions portion of Tuesday’s virtual CBRM council meeting, District 8 Councilor Amanda McDougall presented a resolution outlining South Head residents’ environmental concerns about the Donkin coal mine, which is described as having ceased operations “permanently.” McDougall’s resolution asked council to make these concerns known to the Island’s provincial and federal representatives. (The Post‘s Sharon Montgomery has more on those concerns.)

Aerial view Donkin Coal Mine

Aerial view, Donkin Mine. (Source: Morien Resources)

District 10 Councilor Darren Bruckschwaiger recused himself from the discussion on the grounds that he had a conflict of interest as his son had worked at Donkin (which he described as on “idle” rather than permanently closed).

Most other councilors took pains to make it known they appreciated the “good jobs” Kameron Collieries (Donkin’s owner) had provided during the three years it had operated and to avoid saying anything negative about the mine or its owners. (District 12 Councilor Jim MacLeod took the opportunity to raise the issue of coal on ships at the coal pier that is apparently not being sprayed with water, resulting in cold dust being blown all over his district.)

In the end, they all voted to pass the resolution.


Tow the line

Later during the meeting, council was given a glimpse into the wild, wild West that (apparently) is the towing industry in this municipality.

Staff Sgt. J Farrell of the Cape Breton Regional Police Services (CBRPS) presented a proposed Towing By-Law for first reading and an Issue Paper on the subject which explained that, since 2005, the CBRPS has taken care of “the towing tender, invoices and storage fees for collisions.”

1980s-style tow truck, Edmonton, AB

1980s-style tow truck, Edmonton (Photo by ABMyke2020 at English Wikipedia / Public domain)

Over the years, Farrell writes, the CBRPS has been overcharged for towing and storage and “not informed of vehicles that have been in storage and had been stolen and resold.”

Farrell explains that the towing industry has changed “drastically” over the past two decades:

At one time it was the local service station providing services for the police. Now towing is an industry of its own. At one time, tow operators could operate free from government compliance such as environmental regulations, OHS, vehicle compliance rules and Department of Labour requirements. This is no longer the case.

It’s hard to tell from the text, but my impression from hearing Farrell read this is that he thinks the situation has improved, he is not waxing nostalgic for the good old days of wildcat towing companies.

At that time, there were no policy and procedures in place. The companies were placed on a rotation on a call by call basis. This had resulted in one tow operator with one business establishment receiving multiple spots on the rotation making it infeasible for the others to participate. So the Tender was formed in an attempt to combat this issue.

Another issue, he says, is that towing companies are submitting bills for towing and storage services to insurance companies and the court “because in many cases it is next to impossible to strike a valid contract agreement with a vehicle owner at an accident scene for various reasons.”

Farrell says that a vehicle can be towed from a collision scene under the tender price of $45, but “due to the lack of regulations,” the tow from the towing compound to the body shop for repair can cost “upward of $1,500.” (I am in the wrong business.) Farrell says this “basically affects whether the vehicle will be repaired or not.”

Insurance companies, he says, can turn such circumstances to their advantage by “forgetting” to pick up a vehicle at at impound yard because they “don’t want to pay for the accumulated storage, or the vehicle is beyond repair and worthless.”

In March 2019, “the CAO, CBRM Legal, CFO, Deputy Chief of Police and Purchasing” met to discuss the CBRM “getting out of the Towing tender and administration.” Farrell notes that the threshold for tendering in the CBRM is now $10,000 so the need to tender towing services “has since been removed.” But with the tender gone, there were “no policies and procedures” or “penalties” in place for contravening any rules or regulations and there are no current violations under the NS Motor Vehicle Act “pertaining to Towing vehicles.”

Therefore, a committee was created to draft a municipal Towing By-law to:

…regulate towing and storage fees for the general public and to create a Central CBRPS storage compound at CBRPS headquarters to reduce the cost of sto[ra]ge fees for Police for vehicles requiring further investigation.

Farrell identified “an immediate need to create policies and procedures for established towing operators to work with the police to avoid accident chasing and price gouging.”

He also linked the high towing rates to the municipality’s having “some of the highest insurance rates in the Province” and recommended that:

A By Law should be passed requiring licencing for Towing company owners, their vehicles and operators as well as requirements for Owner and Operators including all duties. In addition, there should be prohibitions on certain behaviors or actions that are not permitted and penalties for contravening the by [sic] bylaw with a set fine schedule. Finally, a set amount should be established for towing and storage fees this is consistent wit the Roadside Association of Nova Scotia, who took an average of all towing services within the Province.

Farrell attached a copy of the proposed by-law which, at 26 pages (including fee schedules) seems guaranteed to bring even the most feral of towing companies to heel.

District 2 Councilor Steve Gillespie questioned whether it might not be appropriate to include the issue as part of an upcoming Police Review, but the general consensus was that it should be handled separately. Council voted to approve the by-law on first reading.




Cape Breton Partnership logoCarla Arsenault, President and CEO of the Cape Breton Partnership, appeared (virtually) for a “verbal” update on the organization’s activities.

What most struck me about her presentation was her insistence, in response to questions from not one but two councilors, that she has not heard of any international students leaving the island because they couldn’t find work and were not eligible for emergency benefits.

District 10 Councilor Darren Bruckschwaiger said he’d been hearing this was the case but Arsenault was having none of it. Moreover, she suggested the shift to online classes will ultimately “bring us more people” because it “gives students the opportunity to begin their studies abroad before coming here.”

She said students come here in large part because they want to live on the island and somehow (I am not entirely sure how) this means they will be happy to register for online classes from their home countries.

She also suggested that Cape Breton as a “safe” “less densely populated” place might ultimately benefit from the pandemic by attracting more people.

Listening to this, it occurred to me that to be in economic development in Cape Breton you have to be almost ruthlessly optimistic. I hope she’s right, but I can’t say I’m entirely convinced.

Neither was council, which decided to ask CBU President David Dingwall for an update on the situation with regard to international students.


Loose ends

I promised an article on Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) this week and I’ve been working on it, but it’s proved a bigger task than I’d initially imagined — as has an update on rural broadband — so watch for both next week, along with a couple of additional items from this week’s council meeting.

I will have more time for these and other projects because I’ve decided to suspend the daily COVID-19 updates as of today. The epidemiology suggests it is safe, for the next little while, anyway, to focus my attention elsewhere.