Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

The pier, dear

Premier Stephen McNeil officially opened Sydney’s new $20 million docking pier Thursday amid a gathering of politicians from all levels and stripes. McNeil said he’s confident the cruise industry will bounce back and that the new infrastructure, to be called Liberty Pier, will also help attract other business opportunities. The name pays tribute to the efforts of the Cape Breton Highlanders who aided in the liberation of Holland 75 years ago. (Cape Breton Post cut line, September 10)

Artist's rendition second cruise berth Sydney, NSDon’t get me wrong, I find a gathering of politicians “from all levels and stripes” as jolly as the next person, but can a group of elected officials, no matter how nicely rigged out, really take the place of BOATS at a dock opening? Or has COVID inadvertently revealed what I’ve suspected all along, which is that the second berth is not actually intended to do anything for our economy but to serve as physical evidence our pols love us?

Because I’m not convinced the cruise industry will “bounce back” or if it does — using cheap fares to penetrate previously untapped markets like, people who normally walk everywhere — that Cape Bretoners will actually welcome it. Have you seen the polls on opening the Atlantic Bubble? Can you really imagine that less than a year from now we’ll be sanguine about thousands of people from all over the world arriving in our port? I’m not seeing it. (I’m seeing pitchforks and torches, if you want to know the truth.)

But then, as though reading my thoughts, here comes Port of Sydney CEO Marlene Usher to set me straight:

Usher said critics of the project need to get past thinking only in terms of cruise ship business.

“We are working on a number of opportunities from bulk carrier business to a ferry service to harbour tours,” said Usher, in listing a few projects that could be developed.

“Sydney is a harbour city with one main berth. It’s hard to grow with only one berth. We’ve now doubled that capacity,” said Usher.

Usher has been on about “other” port business for, literally, years now, although there is not a shred of evidence to support her contentions — even CPCS, the consultancy paid to find reasons to green light the second berth, struggled to say anything encouraging about its non-cruise possibilities:

[I]t is our opinion that the second berth project has merit. It is not based on speculative traffic, but rather existing business that is growing and is expected to continue to grow. It would also afford the Port of Sydney an opportunity to accommodate certain non-cruise related cargo business outside the cruise season (we nevertheless expect other cargo opportunities to be limited to ad hoc needs relating to project cargo, ship repair, etc.)

Our existing berth doesn’t have enough business to keep it booked year round, but that doesn’t slow Usher’s roll — she’s got endless rabbits in her Port hat.

A harbor ferry! That’s a great idea — I thought so in 2013 when the CBRM commissioned a report on it — but I had no idea the Port of Sydney was “working” on it (if only they’d publish their minutes) and in fact, I’m not sure they really are, Usher may mean “we commissioned a report on it in 2013.”

Harbor tours! But didn’t Dennis Campbell pack up his Harbour Hopper and go home after one season saying he “may have been a bit premature in the market place?”

Fuel for Marine Atlantic ferries! But…weren’t they going to provide fuel to Andrew Prossin’s One Ocean Expeditions? (Are we not talking about OOE anymore? Is it because of the bankruptcy? Sorry, my bad.)

Usher, though, is ready for me and my need for instant economic gratification:

She said the second pier development is a 50-75-year project that will help Sydney become a full-service port.

It’s not like, say, a $1.2 billion trans-shipment hub for ultra-large container vessels which can be designed, built and opened for business in as little as two years, according to what Usher herself told the American Journal of Transportation (AJOT) in 2016:

In an interview, Marlene Usher, chief executive of the Port of Sydney, indicated that CCCC officials were in Sydney for a week in March. “They met local engineering firms and toured the site. They also met waterfront labor.”

“Hopefully, the study will be completed by July and we will be able to fast-track construction for opening for business in 2019,” she said, adding that the process has been facilitated by regulatory approvals and constructive dialogue with local aboriginal communities.

(Are we not talking about the container terminal anymore? Is it because our port developers are AWOL and Halifax just welcomed the kind of vessel it’s not supposed to be able to accommodate? Sorry, my bad.)

You have to hand it to her for sheer gall, though  — “This piece of concrete may not look like much now, but give it 75 years…”

Encouragingly, from my perspective, even the Post seems to be getting wise to the situation. It discussed the economic impacts of the cruise industry in decidedly muted terms — no mention of direct spending magicked by multiplier effects into millions in indirect spending, instead writing:

On-shore visits have aided local artisans who are able to sell their wares in various locations in downtown Sydney on cruise ships days. Such visits also help local merchants, museums and other points of cultural interest across the island.

And look how it quoted Mayor Cecil Clarke:

“We are ready to welcome the world,” cooed Clarke.

There may be hope for us all yet.


Something in the air

COVID-19 illustration, CDC, via Wikimedia Commons

COVID-19 illustration, CDC, via Wikimedia Commons

I noted this elsewhere this week that a number of CBRM candidates have been doing interviews in which they drive around, unmasked, in a car with Rebecca Wall of Ripple FX TV. In the videos I watched (some of which lasted for over an hour) the car windows seemed to be closed.

I think Wall’s idea is great — it’s like James Corden’s carpool karaoke without (blessedly) the karaoke — and she is an engaging personality and at literally any other time in the history of the CBRM, I would applaud her inventiveness and the good sportsmanship of her interviewees but in 2020?


I know the epidemiology is good and the chances any of those involved has the virus are low, but I find it all too easy to imagine us making headlines as the only community in Canada that had to postpone its municipal elections because half the candidates contracted COVID. (Tell me you can’t picture that in 60-point type in the Globe and Mail.)

If Wall were a taxi driver, everyone would be required to wear masks — and her passengers would likely sit in the back seat, not beside her in the front, engaging in often animated conversation. But I’m not sure that even were they wearing masks this would really pass muster, given there is no pressing reason for any of these people to be in a car together.

It made me question the judgement of all involved when I first saw it, but in light of White House coronavirus adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci’s recent comments about the degree of airborne transmission of the virus, I find myself itching to let the air out of their tires. (Figuratively, of course.)

If you want to make decisions on my behalf, you’d better be making good decisions on your own.

[Adjusts mask, climbs down from soap box.]


Don’t be cruel

Elvis impersonator Thane Dunn

Elvis impersonator Thane Dunn

For reasons I’m not sure I can adequately explain, I decided to read a two-volume biography of Elvis Presley this summer and mid-way through the first volume (the happy one, the “making” of Elvis) I ran across this passage which made me laugh and satisfied my reporter’s love of a local angle. It’s from a chapter called “The World Turned Upside Down,” which covers the period from March-May 1956 ( Elvis’ rise was so meteoric, telling the story in three-month increments makes sense.)

Elvis has just returned to his hometown of Memphis after performing, for the first time, in Las Vegas and he stops by the local newspaper office:

“Man, I really like Vegas,” he announced. “I’m going back there first chance I get.” He was nettled at a report that a Halifax radio station had given all of its Elvis Presley records away in hopes that it would hear no more. “I didn’t know that there were any radio stations in Nova Scotia” was his first reaction, reported the newspaper.

Ouch. Dissed by the King himself.

Elvis only played Canada twice — a show in Toronto and a show in Ottawa in 1957 — so I’ve illustrated this item with a photo of an Elvis who has played Nova Scotia, Elvis impersonator Thane Dunn of Moncton.