Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

Once more to the polls!

I have yet to decide how to cover this fall’s municipal elections in the CBRM. Back in 2016 — the year I launched the Spectator  — I chose to focus on the women running for office in part because I am one person and could not do justice to all the candidates but largely because there has been a terrible dearth of women in pre- and post-amalgamation CBRM politics. (And before you tell me that gender is a construct, let me just say that even if you make a distinction between sex and gender, there has been a dearth of people who are biologically female or who identify as women in local politics. We consistently draw our governments from roughly half the pool of potential candidates and that — particularly in a municipality with a declining population — is just dumb.)

The deadline for throwing your hat into the electoral ring this year is September 8, a mere two weeks from now (WHERE did this COVID-shadowed summer go?), and I’ve yet to hear a woman’s name other than those of Earlene MacMullin, the District 2 incumbent, and, of course, Amanda McDougall, the District 8 councilor making a run at the mayor’s chair. This doesn’t necessarily mean there aren’t women out there getting ready to file papers, but the early (lawn) signs are not promising.

So I may have to come up with another way to add value to the election coverage you will get from outlets like the Post and the CBC and I’m toying with the idea of focusing on the candidates with the most interesting ideas. So far, this constitutes a list of one: Glen Murrant, who is running in District 3 (the seat now held by Esmond “Blue” Marshall) and whose platform includes a renewable energy strategy — based on solar power — for the CBRM. He makes his (well researched) case here. His platform also addresses the longstanding but, post-COVID, urgent need for better broadband internet coverage in under-served parts of the municipality (including Leitch’s Creek, where he lives).

What strikes me most about Murrant’s platform is that, while it is undoubtedly ambitious, it is focused on goals within the municipality’s power to achieve. If we can find the resources to send representatives to China in pursuit of a multi-million dollar container terminal, surely we can find the resources to lobby the province for real action on internet coverage. Or to make a pitch to the federal government for solar project funding (Summerside, PEI did it). Maybe in conjunction with our new central library?  Speaking of which…



Vince MacLean had an interesting opinion piece about the proposed new CBRM Central Library in the Post on Tuesday.

I think he did a nice job of balancing the societal and cultural benefits of libraries with the potential economic benefits (books do make a room and all that, but let’s not forget their primary purpose).

In fact, I found the piece to be quite clear and cohesive until it ventured into the murky waters around the design of the library, which MacLean says cannot be “finalized” until the “services and programs” to be offered are determined and yet is “well advanced.”

All requisite environmental assessment and geotechnical investigations for the library site have been completed. The Indigenized design is well advanced, and the shared intention is to memorialize the legacy of the Mi’kmaq poet laureate Rita Joe within a curvilinear structure that dramatically portrays the world’s largest ceremonial drum. In addition, the new central library will be conveniently located next to the Sydney cruise terminal that attracts upwards of 100,000 passengers per annum. This library would serve as a strategically placed beacon of Reconciliation that will dominate the Sydney waterfront in the place where the Unama’ki Mi’kmaq have welcomed the world for generations.

MacLean neatly sidesteps any controversy over the location — or design — of the library by accepting both as givens rather than elements foisted upon us by Martin Chernin, a private developer who was permitted to lump the library in with his scheme for the entire Sydney waterfront.

As for the “Indigenized” design, it has a rather weird history — architect Spiro Trifos presented a round building as one of three “representative” possibilities for a standalone library in a 2016 Sydney Public Library Feasibility Study. (I went to some lengths back in March 2019 to determine how this “representative” design became the plan for the new library, it’s worth a read if you, too, are puzzled.)

During Port Days (Ports Day? Ports Days? I never know) in 2018, Richard Paul, chief operating officer (COO) of Membertou Corporate Division, appeared during a “panel” discussion on the new library and:

…noted that when Chief Terry Paul saw the architectural rendering (by Spiro Trifos) of the library on the waterfront he said, “That’s a Mi’kmaq drum.” And that drum, said Richard Paul, could take its place on the waterfront next to the Big Celtic Fiddle.

Here’s the image of the library that inspired the drum comparison (for the record, I still think it looks more like the lid of an ice bucket):

Artist's rendering of CBRM Central Library.

Artist’s rendering of CBRM Central Library.

Flash forward another two years (and a couple of evolving artistic renditions) and the library not only looks like a ceremonial Mi’kmaq drum, it is intended to memorialize the legacy of Rita Joe and serve as a “beacon” of Reconciliation.

The cynic in me sees this as a ploy to a) get library funding from Membertou (although as recently as December 2019, CAO Marie Walsh told council that both Membertou and Eskasoni had been asked to contribute to the capital costs of the new library and both had declined) and b) deflect criticism of the site and/or design. How dare you critique a “beacon of Reconciliation?”

I have no objection to the new Central Library honoring the Mi’kmaq but it seems to me that rather than matching Celtic kitsch (sorry, fiddle lovers, but Canada’s love affair with statues of over-sized objects is pure kitsch) with Mi’kmaq kitsch, couldn’t we do it through services and programming? (Think of the great job McConnell staff did of staging Alan Sylliboy’s “The Thundermaker” mixed-media project.) What if — here’s a crazy thought — we provided regular transportation between Sydney and Eskasoni for people who wanted to use the new library?

But the space for critiquing the design or the location of the proposed library is shrinking rapidly. On the heels of a summer in which the McConnell has had to close repeatedly due to its lack of air conditioning and humidity control, those who actually use the library (and I count myself among them), not to mention those who work there, will be grateful to get a new, fully functioning facility no matter where it’s located or what it looks like.

That will be a shame, though, because, this is the kind of public building that could benefit from more public input. And as an added bonus, reopening the debate (or actually, opening it) could help the CBRM address another edifice-related controversy — the location of the new Sydney Central Fire Station.

Remember back in March when local businessman Leo Curry offered to give the CBRM land at the corners of Prince and George Streets provided it scrapped the controversial Fire Station plan, acquired some additional property and used the location — across from the Highland Arts Theatre — for the new library? Why has that proposal never been given a proper airing?

I had this filed under “Interesting” but I’m just going to go ahead and move it to: “Worth a Second Look.”



I might as well round out this building-focused edition of Fast & Curious with an update on my investigation into another waterfront development: the NSCC Marconi Campus.

NSCC Marconi Campus artist's rendition

Conceptual drawing of new Marconi Campus on the Sydney waterfront.

“Investigation” is probably too strong a word, I was just curious as to how and when and by whom the decision to move the campus to the Sydney waterfront was made and I’ve found it surprisingly difficult to pin down answers to any of these Reporting 101 questions. The best I could determine was that Ekistics Design and Planning had done some sort of report on the issue and the government’s decision seems to have been based on it, but when I asked for a copy of the report, I was fobbed off for weeks by the Department of Labour and Advanced Education before I gave up and, on July 16, FOIPOPed a copy.

(Full disclosure: I actually FOIPOPed a copy from the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, which has also been involved in the file and which kindly forwarded it to Labour and Advanced Ed, the department actually in charge of it. It had been so long since my original inquiry, I’d forgotten which department I was dealing with.)

Last week, I got a notice that Labour and Advanced Ed needs an additional 30 days to respond to my request, as it must “consult with another public body.” (How much do you want to bet it’s TIR?)

New deadline: September 14. Meaning construction on the Marconi Campus will be well underway before I discover whatever information the Ekistics report may hold about other possible locations (of which there were two, according to Business Minister Geoff MacLellan).

Watch this space…