Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

The McNeil Show

As I write this morning, I’ve been watching Premier Stephen McNeil set a land-speed record for opening and closing a session of the Nova Scotia legislature.

In addition to worrying about the Lieutenant Governor (who sounds like he ranks among those at highest risk from COVID), I’ve been thinking about a message I received recently from a reader,  who asked why I spend so much time writing about COVID (the threat of which they felt was overblown) and so little railing against the anti-democratic nature of the McNeil government.

This gave me pause, as you can imagine. I cover the COVID briefings because I think people are interested in what the premier and the chief medical officer of health have to say. As for the notion the threat of COVID-19 has been exaggerated, I’m reminded of a quote I heard early on in the pandemic from an epidemiologist, who said that when Public Health does a good job, nothing happens.

Stephen McNeil prorogues the NS legislature, 18 December 2020

Stephen McNeil prorogues the NS legislature, 18 December 2020

But my covering the briefings should not be confused with my thinking that the way McNeil is operating is defensible — it’s not. He’s basically abandoned the post of premier in favor of the post of COVID Czar and he’s been unapologetic about it, often refusing to answer reporters’ questions on non-COVID matters during his COVID updates by saying the pandemic is his sole focus right now while at the same time claiming that these carefully orchestrated media briefings are his way of being accountable to the public. His refusal to recall the Nova Scotia legislature into session during this pandemic is, as Jim Vibert put it, based on “the dangerous fallacy that the place is superfluous.”

But what puzzles me most about McNeil’s insistence on running the province single-handedly, even after announcing his own plans to resign, is the disservice it’s doing his own party. He’s so completely sidelined his ministers this past year that the three vying to replace him — including the former health minister — must first remind Nova Scotians who they are. (Which they’re doing by debating in front of the province’s Chambers of Commerce, answering questions about commercial tax rates and assistance to small business.)

I knew McNeil disliked the press (he’s made no bones about it), and the opposition but this disdain for his own party is an interesting new twist.



I got a Facebook friend request from Kevin Colford, the man behind the Highland Arts Theatre and the redevelopment of the former Sacred Heart Church in Sydney, but when I tried to accept it, I received this notice:

Facebook friend request

First, I’m not sure which is funnier — that Facebook places a limit on how many friends you can have or that that limit is 5,000.

Second, spare a thought for the effect of COVID restriction on those of us with 5,000 friends — how do you pare that list down to 10?

Finally, saving heritage buildings by turning them into vibrant community cultural centers is apparently a good way to win hearts and minds.

Duly noted.


Book Talk

I’m going to take some time off over Christmas and one of the things I plan to do is read. Having limited time for reading makes me very, very picky about the books I choose — I tend to scan end-of-year “best of” lists from critics I trust, ask for recommendations from the biggest bookworms of my acquaintance and pore over prize lists (Booker, Pulitzer, Giller) with a magnifying glass. But this year, I thought an interesting metric to apply would be: books cited by the CBRM mayor and councilors during their CBC Information Morning Cape Breton popcorn quizzes.

If you’re not familiar with the popcorn quiz, it’s a series of rapid-fire questions interviewees are asked to answer with the first response that pops into their heads. Following the municipal elections in October, the newly elected mayor and nine of 12 councilors took the popcorn quiz. Some were asked to name the last book they read while others were asked to name a book that influenced them.

To be clear: none was asked to recommend a good book to read over the holidays and I don’t think even the most dedicated student of local politics would suggest curling up with a glass of eggnog and a copy of the Municipal Elections Act. The idea of using their answers to choose holiday reading is my conceit and mine alone.

With that caveat, here are the books cited by the mayor and council. I’ve amused myself by imagining them coming in gift sets:


For the Hockey Fan

These are interesting books to cite, because both Orr and Fleury have stirred controversy recently — Orr by taking out an ad in the New Hampshire Union Leader endorsing Donald Trump for president (“That’s the kind of teammate I want”) and Fleury for his weird Twitter feed, where he warns both that the COVID vaccine is dangerous and that Canada will be the last country in the G8 to get it. He is apparently equally outraged by both “facts.”

But I’m wary of getting all cancel-culture on them — I’m guessing the councilors who named these books are interested in Orr and Fleury for their insights into hockey (dark insights, in the case of Fleury, who was sexually abused by a coach) not their political views. So let’s just stick the original billing: this is a box set for the hockey enthusiasts on your list. Unless they’re Montreal Canadiens fans.


Junior High

This one is either for an actual junior high student or for someone whose career as a reader ended there. (Are these books even read in school anymore? I have no idea, but I do remember reading once that the reason so many of the books I remember being assigned in English classes in junior high featured male protagonists was that girls would read books about boys, but boys wouldn’t read books about girls. I think To Kill a Mockingbird may be the only real exception to this but the first time I read it, hand to heart, I thought Scout was a boy.)


Be a Prepper

This is for that very special prepper on your list — the one who believes they will not only survive the coming apocalypse, they will emerge as a leader:



This is for the person who has everything because I’m pretty sure even the person with “everything” doesn’t own a gift set containing the Municipal Elections Act and The 5 Love Languages:



Kiddie Korner

This is for a child. Or a person with a child. Or a person who likes reading children’s books. Or a porcupine:

I Need a Hug


That was fun.

But I think I’m going to go back to my tried and true methods of choosing holiday reading.

This year has been weird enough already.


À la prochaine

And that’s me for another year.

I will back in January, relaxed and ready to chronicle another 365 days the life of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality.

As always, I reserve the right to pop up with coverage where necessary, but officially, I’m taking my lead from Zach Churchill and booking an extended holiday break. In addition to catching up on my reading and Quality Street chocolate consumption, I have a lot of personal and business-related administrative stuff to take care of and like the idea of starting 2021 with a clean desk and an empty in-tray.

Thank you for your support during this very long, often trying but never uninteresting year. I wish you and yours a safe and happy holiday season and I will meet you back here early in the New Year!