Stuff and Nonsense: Notes from CBRM


It’s been over two months — 71 days, to be exact — since Nova Scotia’s Information and Privacy Commissioner Tricia Ralph recommended the CBRM release 890 pages of documents to me in response to a 2015, port-related, access to information request.

Of those pages, 28 had been previously released with unnecessary (in the commissioner’s opinion) redactions while 862 had been withheld entirely.

To date, Jim Gogan of The Breton Law Group, the external counsel hired by the CBRM to handle both my initial request and the municipality’s response to the commissioner’s ruling, has released 14 pages to me.

He has promised I will receive everything he deems releasable by January 31. (The initial letter had said January 30 but someone must have realized there were 31 days in January — unfortunately, that same person didn’t notice the 30 and 31 fall on a weekend.)

But on Tuesday, I received an email from CBRM CAO Marie Walsh, who has answered my question as to why, given the initial response to my FOIPOP request was so poorly handled, Gogan was tasked with handling the response to the Privacy Commissioner’s decision. She writes:

We have used Jim Gogan for this review as Jim has been on this FOIPOP file since it was assigned by Michael Merritt. It was much more efficient to have him do this second review as he had already reviewed all the documents and determined the appropriate exemptions that applied.

Which means Walsh either didn’t read the Privacy Commissioner’s decision or didn’t understand it because there is no way a sentient being could read it and come away thinking Jim Gogan had “determined the appropriate exemptions that applied.”

She says I should receive “the lion’s share” of the remaining material today (Wednesday).



Speaking of responses, I had two to the immediate and vociferous reaction by local pols and businesspeople to the cancelation of commercial flights in and out of Sydney’s J.A. Douglas McCurdy Airport.

First, I wondered what it would look like if news that Cape Breton has the highest child poverty rate in the province (34.9%) had prompted similar outrage?

If the “stakeholders” (dreadful word) who signed a petition asking the federal government to provide financial support to the airlines to entice them to continue service to airports like Sydney’s had signed a petition asking the feds to provide financial support to Cape Bretoners to entice them to continue buying food, paying rent and heating their homes?

Or a petition asking the provincial government to increase the amount of money paid Nova Scotians on income assistance? An amount currently so meagre, many who receive it remain “far below Canada’s official poverty line.” So meagre one activist described it as “criminal.

Or a petition asking for funding in support of safe and affordable housing in the CBRM. As I write, I’m listening to Fred Deveaux, director of Cape Breton Community Housing, explaining to the CBC’s Steve Sutherland that the lack of such housing is the biggest factor driving homelessness in our community. The Cape Breton Post is also focusing on the issue in today’s edition. That Post story, by a new reporter, Jessica Smith, includes a quote from Mayor Amanda McDougall who says the CBRM is “applying for federal money which can then be moved to organizations” to address homelessness, which is good, but sounds far less urgent than sending a video plea to the Prime Minister which the airport “stakeholders” have apparently done. (Not that I’m in favor of video pleas, it sounds too “Elle’s application to Harvard Law” to me.)

J. A. Douglas McCurdy Airport, Sydney, NS

J. A. Douglas McCurdy Airport, Sydney, NS, 15 December 2015. (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

What if the mayor were as worried by the negative consequences “going forward” of 35% of our children growing up in poverty as she is about the negative consequences of losing the airport?

Especially since — and here’s my second response — we may not really be in danger of losing the airport at all. We may be being played like a 12-string guitar.

The federal government is working on a bailout for the airlines, but as the CBC reported on December 6, then-Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau (we have a new one as of Tuesday, Omar Alghabra) said the government had imposed conditions on that bailout: the airlines must refund passengers with non-refundable tickets for flights canceled by COVID, they must honor “any orders placed with Canadian aerospace companies” and they must “maintain air connections throughout Canada [emphasis mine].”

But Air Canada — which, as of the writing of that article, had accepted $492 million in federal pandemic wage subsidies — apparently wants to use the bailout money to refund the tickets. According to Bloomberg News, the airline is sitting on $2.3 billion in revenue from ticket sales, 65% of which is from non-refundable tickets.

Air Canada CEO Calin Rovinsecu (who, bless him, decided to forgo his salary for the second quarter of 2020, a sacrifice made possible by his decision last August to exercise his Air Canada stock options and pocket “a whopping $52.7-million” on top of a 2018 compensation package of more than $11.5 million) told Bloomberg News he had “no quarrel” refunding customers “assuming that the terms of the support package are adequate and the terms are appropriate and reasonable.”

John Gradek, a former Air Canada executive turned McGill lecturer, told the CBC:

I think it’s a little bit of gamesmanship that’s being played by Air Canada. They’re insisting that those refunds will only be processed if the Canadian government, through the Canadian taxpayer, is providing the funds for those refunds. Not a good thing.

Gradek says Air Canada had $8 billion in unrestricted liquidity as of September (it made a $1.48 billion profit in 2019) and “does not need government funding” to process those refunds.

Do you suppose that in adding their pleading voices to the airlines’ calls for an immediate bailout, Cape Breton “stakeholders” are actually helping to ensure we citizens pay for those ticket refunds? Have they fallen for Air Canada’s “gamesmanship?”

Short answer: uh, yeah.



I’ve written before about the odd configuration of the CBRM council chamber. Back in 2018, I had reason to watch a town council meeting in Bar Harbor, Maine and:

…it made me realize something about our own council meetings that should have struck me before but hadn’t.

Bar Harbor is a small place, with a population of 5,200, and its council has just seven members, including the chair and vice-chair.

During meetings, councilors sit facing the public, in chairs that are not on any sort of raised platform but at the same level as those of the attendees.

Contrast that with the design of our council chambers, in which councilors sit with their backs to the public, facing a pyramid of senior CBRM staff at the very apex of which sits the mayor.

As symbolism goes, it’s not subtle…

It struck me that, in re-constituting the chamber at Centre 200 to allow for greater physical distancing, the municipality could have opted for any seating configuration it liked. Instead, it simply recreated the existing one:

CBRM Council meeting 24 November 2020

File that under Opportunities: Missed.


Speak up

In my communication with CAO Walsh, I also asked if the CBRM had hired a new spokesperson. The job of Communications/Information Officer was posted on November 6 and applications closed on November 19. As I noted back in November:

The Communications/Information Officer position was last held by Jillian Moore, who left the CBRM pre-COVID and was replaced on an interim basis by Christina Lamey — former spokesperson for CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke turned interim manager of cruise marketing and development at the Port of Sydney turned head of marketing and business development at the Port of Sydney — who was “seconded” to the CBRM in March, just as the axe began to fall at the COVID-devastated Port Corp. CAO Marie Walsh told me at the time that Lamey had been brought on “as with COVID we needed someone right away.”

Almost a year later, a permanent replacement for Moore has been hired but Walsh couldn’t tell me who it was yesterday because staff and council had yet to be informed. Walsh said she’d let me know today, once that information has been conveyed to the appropriate parties.

As of press time, I hadn’t heard from her.